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For the love of rail: A love letter to rail travel

3 August 2020

At Rail Discoveries, we've been singing the praises of rail travel for almost 50 years now. There's an undeniable romance in taking to the tracks, one that harks back to a bygone age of rail travel, when railways opened up the corners of Great Britain, Europe and beyond for the travellers of the time.

Today, it seems like more and more people are rediscovering the innate charms of rail travel - especially now flying may not necessarily be the most convenient option. A train journey eliminates many of the most frustrating parts of travelling; there's no queuing at an airport, no waiting in a crowded departure lounge, fewer restrictions when it comes to luggage, and space to move around on the journey.

Is rail travel the future? We'd certainly like to think so. Not only does it offer a smoother, more relaxed journey, it's a more eco-friendly way of travelling, with around half the CO2 emissions of flying, so it helps to reduce your carbon footprint. Europe also boasts some of the most sustainable railways in the world - Switzerland, in particular, runs a network that is almost 100% electric, aside from a handful of steam-hauled tourist lines. Of course, a flight may be necessary if you want to explore further afield, but in the UK and Europe, we think it's all about the joy of the train journey. A train can take you from London to breathtaking destinations like France and Italy in a matter of hours, travelling through stunning scenery as you go.

The best part of rail travel is indisputably this: taking a train means taking the scenic route, every time. There's nothing quite like a rail journey to immerse yourself in the authentic heart of a destination. Sometimes it's the simple things you wouldn't expect to see; a glimpse at a run-down farmhouse in rural Italy as you glide through the countryside, winding through a quaint village in France, or catching a glint of azure on the horizon as you journey along the Mediterranean coast.

Sometimes, your explorations can even centre around one - or more - fantastic rail routes. Few photos in travel brochures can quite prepare you for the beauty you will experience during a trip on Switzerland's famous Glacier Express, an adventure that whisks you past picturesque meadows, brooding pine forests, and the striking peaks of the world-famous Alps. The Children's Railway in Budapest is another journey that will stay with you, but for a completely different reason. It's a scenic journey, taking passengers up into the hills overlooking the city, but what's really special about the line is that it's run entirely by local schoolchildren.

Of course, while exploring new lands is one of life's great joys, you might just be surprised by the wealth of rail heritage that can be experienced on our own shores. There are renowned trains like the Jacobite, which journeys through the timeless landscapes of Scotland's Highlands and across the Glenfinnan Viaduct, but there are also some wonderfully nostalgic lines filled with charms. Norfolk's Poppy Line, for example, dates back to the 1800s and takes its nickname from the flowers it passes, while Wales' Ffestiniog Railway is run by the oldest surviving railway company in the world.

From railways that showcase some of the world's most spectacular natural beauty to nostalgic lines filled with rich and fascinating history, rail travel throughout Europe and the UK offers something unique; the chance to fall in love with the journey itself.

To end on a personal anecdote; recently, I found myself taking a taxi. The driver was chatty and a little fired-up, and I settled into a journey that seemed like it would consist solely of impassioned ranting about current affairs, US politics, and the one-way system outside Newcastle train station. But, the conversation turned to work, and I told him what I do for a living and the industry I'm in.

The change in his demeanour was incredible. He lit up with almost childlike excitement, instantly asked me about my dream rail journey, and enthused passionately about his (the Trans-Siberian Railway) complete with wistful sighs. We spent the last few minutes of the journey engaged in a quick-fire round about taking a train through the Canadian Rockies (What wildlife can you see? Which is the best route? Do you get to sleep on the train?). It was wonderful to experience. Seeing just how excited somebody can get when talking about trains reaffirmed what I knew already - that rail travel is truly something to be celebrated. Long may it continue.