- Queensland + The Barrier Reef
- Australia + South Pacific
- The Andes + The Western Wine Country
- Latin America
- U.S. + Canada
- Northwest New Mexico
- New Mexico
The World's Scariest Train Rides
Steep climbs, creaky trestles, and cliff-hugging curves are part of the ride on these
From your open-air seat on the Georgetown Loop Railroad, the world looks pastoral and idyllic.
As you wind through the Rocky Mountains toward Silver Plume, a historic Colorado mining town, tranquil scenes of forested hillsides
and wildflower-dotted meadows glide past—so slowly and languorously that you’re nearly
lulled into a nap.
But just as you’re getting comfortable, you find yourself jolted into alertness—and
fumbling for the Dramamine. Your train car is now teetering atop the Devil’s Gate High Bridge—a replica of the original 19th century bridge—over a 100-foot drop down to a jaggedly rocky riverbed. Though you’re essentially tethered to the earth and the bridge isn’t even three decades old, fears—of the bridge collapsing, and of losing your lunch on your seatmate’s lap—consume you.
Siderodromophobics (people with a consuming fear of trains) can easily point out the various
occurrences—from a collision on the tracks to germ-swathed seats—that can turn a
blissful rail journey into an unchecked nightmare. Even those of us who are usually rational about
such things may feel a nagging anxiety after reading about the occasional train disaster.
But some train rides are disconcerting enough to prompt unease in even the calmest travelers. Alaska’s White Pass & Yukon Route, for
example, seems to chug almost straight up in the air (it climbs some 3,000 vertical feet in just 20
miles); on Argentina’s aptly named Tren a las Nubes (“Train to the Clouds”), the
Andean views are vertigo-inducing at almost 14,000 feet. And on the Kuranda Railway in northern Australia, the steeply pitched mountainside horseshoe
curves can get even stalwart hearts pounding.
The good news is, no matter how frightening such rides may seem, statistics prove that trains
are actually one of the world’s most reliable modes of transport.
“Conventional wisdom is that rail travel is exceedingly safe,” says Warren Flatau,
spokesperson for the Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration. And the
numbers back up the notion: according to bureau statistics, just 24 passengers lost their lives on
U.S. trains in 2008. It’s a small fraction of the number of airplane deaths (502 worldwide,
per the International Air Transport Association) and motor-vehicle fatalities (37,313, according to
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates).
So the only real fear you should have when boarding a train is of being seated next to
an overly chatty fellow traveler. Still, if you find yourself on one of these hair-raising routes,
it’ll be hard to avoid gripping that armrest just a little harder.