The Daily Telegraph - Travel
Ride the railroads to the Rockies and LA
Travelling by train in Canada and the US is the best way to go, says rail expert Anthony Lambert. Here are his top 10 trips
There are probably not that many things that Michael Portillo and Billy Connolly share in common, but one is a passion for train travel, and, in particular of late, train travel in the United States. The former politician and the Scottish comic actor have both featured in television series this year in which their exploration of America has focused on journeys by rail.
In his programmes for ITV, Connolly encountered an extraordinary range of characters and landscapes as he took the mighty “Empire Builder” from Chicago to Seattle, one of the continent’s epic train journeys. Michael Portillo for his part, in his programmes for BBC Two, danced the Charleston and met the Amish in his journeys from New York to Philadelphia and Gettysburg and beyond.
What both presenters revealed was just how much more you can see of North America when you travel by train rather than plane and, even to some extent, by road (much of the most spectacular scenery cannot be seen from the highway). Of course, you need time to do so – the distances covered are vast and as a result of the volumes of freight traffic (which takes precedence), punctuality is not an Amtrak strong point. I would not recommend scheduling a tight onward connection. But if you do have time, the rewards of travelling by train in the United States, and arguably even more so in Canada, are considerable.
When it comes to passenger comforts, Amtrak Superliner trains may not match the standard of Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer, but they still knock spots off planes. Besides the pleasure of the landscape, train travel is much more sociable thanks to lounge and dining cars. And there’s plenty of scope to learn about what you are seeing along the way. Some Amtrak trains screen movies and many have a National Park ranger to provide insight into the more scenic areas and their ecology.
Here is my selection of the best 10 train journeys in North America. All aboard! landscapes of British Columbia and Alberta, with overnight stops in hotels so none of the scenery is missed. In partnership with Holland America Line and VIA Rail, dozens of packages are possible within the two provinces, travelling between the Atlantic and Pacific, or taking an Alaskan cruise. Circular packages from Vancouver are popular, and Rocky Mountaineer’s most recent service is south from Vancouver to Seattle. All three routes through the Rocky Mountains are spectacular, but perhaps the most varied is the two-day Rainforest to Gold Rush route from North Vancouver to Jasper. It begins with a succession of scenic highlights, such as the idyllic views across the waters of Howe Sound and the coastal mountains, the