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Amtrak Writers Residency Launches This Week

Amtrak

This week, Amtrak began selecting applicants for its newly launched Writers Residency.  The national rail service will grant as many as 24 lucky writers with a passion for writing on trains a round-trip, long-distance journey.

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Trip Doctor: Is Train Travel in Europe Safe?

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Recent news from the railroads of Europe has not been good: On July 12, an intercity train derailed at a station outside of Paris, resulting in 6 casualties. On July 25, 79 passengers died when a high-speed train from Madrid careened off the tracks. And earlier this week, two trains collided in Switzerland, killing one and injuring dozens more.

The three fatal crashes give cause for thought: Are European railroads safe?

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Trending: Glamorous Train Travel

Tren Crucero

High-speed rail may be the wave of the future, but romantics seduced by the old-school glamour of train travel have new options, too. In Ecuador, Tren Crucero (pictured) deploys a restored 1900’s steam locomotive along a route from the Andes to the Pacific Ocean, with stretches past the 19,347-foot Cotopaxi Volcano and the Devil’s Nose, a daunting series of switchbacks. The 158-year-old Panama Canal Railway Company—created to haul cargo across the isthmus in pre-canal days—ferries passengers in vintage coaches from the capital to Colón, gateway to the Caribbean coast.

In the Balkans, you can ride between Serbia and Montenegro on the Blue Train, the luxury carriage in which former Yugoslav leader Marshal Tito once entertained Queen Elizabeth and other heads of state. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express has launched its first Scandinavian itineraries; the Art Deco–era icon travels between Venice, Copenhagen, and Stockholm, with guests staying in classic hotels.

Photo courtesy of Ferrocarriles del Ecuador

The Doctor Recommends: Stories and Articles From All Over

Here are a few recent travel stories that piqued the interest of T+L's news team.

Be careful where you shake, folks. USA Today reports that the FAA is looking into possible safety violations after a group Colorado College students lead a Harlem Shake on a recent Frontier Airlines flight. (Amy Farley)

United has launched an official investigation of the crew that threw Live and Let's Fly blogger Matthew Klint off the plane for snapping photos of his business class cabin. Klint's takeaway? The seven words you shouldn't use on an airplane. (Nikki Ekstein)

Farecompare founder Rick Seaney has great advice for people traveling in a group (including families): save money by searching for airfare one person at a time. We’d explain here, but best to just go straight to his brilliant USA Today column. (AF)

Oh, the people you'll meet. Novelist Nathaniel Rich finds himself sharing intimacies, aspirations, and a little bit of heartbreak with his fellow passengers on a two-day journey from New Orleans to Los Angeles on the Sunset Limited train in this weekend's New York Times Magazine. (AF)

What's more lonely than being in a strange hotel in a strange city all by yourself? Being without your beloved $8 M&Ms. In an essay in The Atlantic, journalist David Samuels laments the demise of the hotel mini bar. (AF)

Railroad Revival Tour 2012

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The Railroad Revival tour is being resurrected for 2012, and this year Willie Nelson and Band of Horses are boarding the train. For the unfamiliar, the tour started last year when folk-rock Brits Mumford & Sons, along with L.A.’s Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and New York’s Old Crow Medicine, remembered that tour buses and private jets aren’t the only way to embark on a musical journey.

The three bands harnessed the magic of the U.S. rail system for an eight-day, 2,400-mile concert tour by train—from California to Louisiana. The tour was heralded The Railroad Revival, because it was intent on celebrating the—albeit seldom used—U.S. railway, and urging others to hop on board for their own travels. At each stop, the bands set up a stage, summoned fans to come watch, and delivered an all-out performance in the train station.

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Last Dash to London! Essential Booking Tips for the Olympic-Bound

201205-b-london-cityscape95605583jpgLast Saturday, the Olympic Torch relay set off in Great Britain and began a 70-day journey through the United Kingdom that will end on July 27 at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games. The countdown has begun.

Set on making it across the pond this summer? It’s not too late—but you must act now! To inspire you procrastinators to begin booking, we present our last-minute get-to-London guide.

The good news: flights to the city’s hub airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, London City) are still available. Right now, a search of round-trip fares from major U.S. cities range from $1,100 to $1,500. Departing from Chicago, you’ll fork over about $1,200 for a round-trip economy ticket on Virgin Atlantic Airways (a seat in the carrier’s newly revamped Upper Class cabin will cost you $2,800).

These fares are steep—and getting steeper—but they aren’t higher than this time last year. “I don’t think airlines are price gauging,” says George Hobica, founder of AirfareWatchdog.com, a site that monitors ticket prices. “It’s still the summer season and we’re seeing reasonable fares for this time of year.”

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Italy's New High-Speed Train

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It may not be faster than a speeding bullet, but Italy’s new Italo—which connects Turin and Salerno, as well as Rome and Venice—sure looks like one. The sleek design is no surprise: Ferrari chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo and Tod’s owner Diego Della Valle are behind the project. Prices mimic the tiered structure of airlines—but perks such as free Wi-Fi for all and a cinema car are better than what you get in the sky.

Brooke Porter is an associate editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo Courtesy of NTV

The London Underground Gets Real

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A few years back, when I called South Kensington home, I distinctly recall trundling through London's Underground knowing, even with map in hand, that I had been misled. Eyeballing the official Tube map insinuated that Heathrow was the same distance west of South Ken as Tower Hill was to the east. So you can imagine my surprise when we rolled past Monument station towards Tower Hill 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

True—one should never assume subway diagrams bear any resemblance to street level. But admit it: we all do. An NYU study in 2011 found that passengers put their faith in transit maps far more than they do in their own travel experience. But shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t our maps clearly illustrate that the amount of time it takes to walk from Queensway to Bayswater beats switching lines by almost six minutes?

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The Futurist: China Leads High-Speed Rail Plans

BBC Travel - Passport Blog |  With the 30 June opening of the high-speed rail between Beijing and Shanghai, China became a leader in new rail developments.

Despite lagging for years behind Japan’s new maglev trains and the continuously expanding TGV in France (the just-announced Paris to Bordeaux link will cut travel time from three hours to two), China’s newly opened route is the first in a network expected to grow to 10,000 miles of track by 2020. China already built around 6,000 miles of track since deciding in 2006 to pursue high-speed rail over maglev and other technologies.

The country’s expertise in the required technologies has made them a major player among the consortia that bid for high-speed rail contracts. In March, a group of Hong Kong and Shanghai-based businesses put in a tender for the long-awaited San Francisco to San Diego line, and Russian Railways announced that it is very likely China would win the public bidding for the high-speed rail network Russia plans to have in place for the 2018 FIFA World Cup....

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The Train in Spain: Brand New Service Zips from Madrid to Valencia in Just 95 Minutes

Renfe-Operadora

In a city like Madrid, where the passion for food and drink is met by a vast number of bars and restaurants that serve any regional specialty you care to sink your teeth into, it may seem slightly odd to say that the best place to go for a truly genuine paella Valenciana could be...the train station?

And yet, the brand new high-speed train link between Madrid and Valencia might just make this statement true. Inaugurated on December 18, it's the latest addition to the AVE network, which radiates from the capital to key destinations on the peninsula such as Barcelona (3 hours) and Seville (2.5 hours). Now, with 16 daily departures travelling at speeds in excess of 200mph, this smooth ride can get you to the Mediterranean coast in little more than one and a half hours.

That's probably less time than you will spend at the table. And since Valencia—already known for excellent produce, fresh fish and world-famous rice—just chalked up its thirteenth Michelin-starred restaurant, the table is without a doubt a good place to be.

Tomas Martin is a research assistant at Travel + Leisure.

Photo by Renfe-Operadora.

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