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The Shortest Railways in the World

8 March 2019

The world's railways can be enigmatic beasts, found in parts of the globe where you'd never expect a train to get to. You've got the Jungfrau Express which creeps to the top of Europe, you've got the Eurostar somewhere deep in the bowels of the channel, you even have an End of the World train in the far south of Argentina. There's an astonishing variety of railways to experience, and the world is a big place. These fantastic journeys all share the same thing in common: someone at some point said 'yes, we need a railway here.'

Sometimes though, it's nice to take a step back and admire those classic railways which aren't quite as impressive, which don't scale the heights or cross countries to far off exotic destinations. This blog is in honour of the little guys, the underdogs of the rail world. Today, we're counting down the world's shortest railway adventures which take the idea of the express service to a whole new level!

The Angel's Flight, USA

With a rather beautiful name, found in the razzle and dazzle of Bunker Hill, Los Angeles, the Angel's Flight is regarded by many as the shortest railway in the world. Travelling only 298 feet between Hill Street and Grand Avenue, this iconic little funicular rail experience is well-worth doing both for the reason that it's one of the classic landmarks of LA, as well as the fact that it's only 1$ a ride. So for just a dollar you can save your weary legs the expenditure of the 33% gradient of this short journey. Two charming trains haul themselves up and down every single day, one named the Olivet and the other the Sinai - both dressed up in cheerful orange. Originally operating over a different part of the street from 1901 to 1969, the Angel's Flight moved just a touch up the road to its current stretch in 1996. It's now one of LA's most favoured and loved attractions.

Stourbridge Town line, England

Far down in the deep green forests of the West Midlands in England lies what claims to be the shortest railway branch line in Europe. The Stourbridge Town line measures a titchy 0.8 miles long with a mere two stops, travelling from Stourbridge Town to Stourbridge Junction. These days, it mainly carries passenger, but it has seen continuous use since its first ever journey in 1879. It impressive longevity as a miniature stretch of railway makes it a favourite of Stourbridge, despite coming under threat from the infamous Beeching Axe. Running six times an hour on two different Parry People Movers, the journey time of the Stourbridge Town Line amounts to a gentle three minute stretch over an uncomplicated stretch of track, save for a deep downhill gradient which has resulted in several (non-lethal) accidents over the years.

The Vatican, Italy

This one is a little bit of a cheat to be honest. The Vatican Island at the heart of Rome has many roles to play in a great many people's lives. The papal residency and the home of Catholicism, it attracts millions of visitors every year to its hallowed white, marble halls. With a population of 1,000 and an area of just 44 hectares, you'd be forgiven for wondering why this island needs a railway at all. But a railway it does indeed have! Opened in 1934, this mini stretch of railway is regarded as the shortest national railway in the world and has only one stop, Vatican city. Used mainly as a freight train, bringing supplies across a viaduct over the Gelsomino Valley, the Vatican Railway begins its journey across the valley at the Roma San Pietro railway station before crossing to the Vatican and stopping just behind the Vatican Gardens.

Princeton Branch or Dinky, USA

Reaching up to a tiny 2.7 miles of track from Princeton Northwest Junction to Princeton University, the Princeton Branch is the shortest railway line in the Grand ol' USA. Nicknamed Dinky by the students of the university, this line was opened as far back as 1865 and even found its way into George Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise novel. Dinky is a firm favourite of the students of Princeton, and it was famously the rail route involved in the Great Dinky Robbery in 1963. This harmless incident saw four men park a convertible on the Dinky's track, before hopping on board with a .38 pistol filled with blanks to abduct four female students in what amounted to an elaborate student prank. They then whisked the students away on horseback  and rode them to town, letting them off unharmed.  These days, you can probably expect to avoid student pranks, but ol' Dinky continues its runs on schedule, carrying students and regular passengers across Princeton.