There’s something nostalgic and romantic about a train ride — and we don’t mean a crowded subway car or the plane train at the airport. This is travel the way it used to be, moving at a slower pace surrounded by scenic wonders and winding up at intriguing destinations. All aboard for these trips that hark back to the glory days of the rails.
Pacific Surfliner. See Southern California without having to navigate the hairpin curves of the Pacific Coast Highway by taking a seat on the Pacific Surfliner. This sleek, high-speed train travels 351 miles between San Diego and San Luis Obispo, making 27 stops along the way including Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. While on board, enjoy free wireless internet and the Market Cafe that provides light breakfast fare, sandwiches, salads, pizzas, beer and wine. Upgrade to business class, the last coach on the train, and snacks and beverages are included, and the seats are reserved. $60 and up, one way. Santa Fe Depot, 1050 Kettner Blvd., San Diego, California. 800-872-7245, www.pacificsurfliner.com
Trains & Tracks Expo. It’s a sight that train buffs look forward to every year: the arrival of the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum’s double steam engine passenger train in Summerville. They also get the added thrill of watching it reverse course on the city’s railroad turntable — one of the few remaining in the Southeast. For the Chattooga County town, about two hours northwest of Atlanta, the steam train is a highlight of the Trains & Tracks Expo in November. Other attractions include the Chattanooga Modular Modelers’ 30-foot HO- and N-scale displays in the 101-year-old depot where kids can play with select sets. Collectors and vendors are on hand to sell and swap train memorabilia. Each weekend in December, the museum hosts a free Mistletoe Mart and Santa train rides ($19) that include photo opps, chocolate drinks, snacks, storytelling and caroling during a 75-minute ride. Nov. 9-10. Free. Summerville Depot, 119 E. Washington St., Summerville. 706-859-0900, www.summervillega.org
The Bridge over the River Kwai. Immortalized in the star-studded 1957 movie of the same name, this wooden railroad bridge spans the Kwai River near the border of Thailand and Myanmar. The film recounts the harrowing story of how the bridge was built in 1942 by civilian workers and more than 60,000 Allied prisoners of Japan held in Southeast Asia. Of those POWs, an estimated 12,000 died, earning the project the nickname “the death railway.” Though the movie was shot in Sri Lanka, visitors to Thailand can ride the rails over the real bridge on a day trip from Bangkok to Nam Tok, stopping at the River Kwai station near Kanchanaburi along the way to visit local shops, cafes and a museum dedicated to the history of the area and the building of the bridge. $3. Ban Tai, Mueang Kanchanaburi District, Kanchanaburi, Thailand. +66 2 222 0175, www.kanchanaburi-info.com
Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum. About 35 minutes due south of Birmingham, Alabama, this museum is dedicated to the long history of trains in the state. Visitors will find two restored depots and exhibits built around steam and diesel locomotives, freight cars, flat cars used for Army transports, cabooses and a number of passenger cars that showcase how rail travel catered to riders with observation lounges, open platforms and elegant dining areas. Collections of railroad memorabilia and artifacts are also on display. But don’t just observe: Book a seat on one of the many themed outings on the Calera and Shelby railroad that runs along the old Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Alabama Mineral railroad, a line that dates back to 1891. Most Saturdays, a diesel-electric engine takes riders on a scenic, one-hour tour of Shelby County, and longer trips are added during the fall and holidays when the Pumpkin Patch Express and the Santa Special are popular. For an extra fee, sit with the brakeman in the caboose or the engineer in the driver’s seat. Free; train rides $40 adults, $14 children 12 and older, $12 for children 2-11. 1919 9th St. Calera, Alabama. 205-668-3435, www.hodrrm.org
Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. While it’s always fun to ride the rails, the trip is even more entertaining during the fall months when the leaves change. The colors are particularly stunning in the Allegheny Mountains around Cumberland and Frostburg in western Maryland, and foliage fans can get an up-close view of the scenery with a seat on this scenic railroad that runs between the two towns. The three-hour excursions wind across an iron truss bridge, around a horseshoe curve and through a 914-foot tunnel. For a more entertaining ride, take a themed trip and solve a murder mystery, play family games and eat pizza, savor a three-course dinner accompanied by local craft brews or moonshine beverages, and stop to listen to live bluegrass music. Or take a 60-minute crash course with a veteran engineer who teaches the basics on how to drive the train and lets you take the throttle. $46 and up. 13 Canal St., Cumberland, Maryland. 1-800-872-4650, www.wmsr.com
The Glade of the Armistice. From Gare du Nord in Paris, it’s an hour train ride northeast to Compiègne, where history took place twice in a train car parked in quiet glade of trees on the outskirts of town. Built by the company that also operated the Orient Express, the car hosted its first momentous occasion on Nov. 11, 1918, when Allied representatives met with a German delegation to end the fighting. After the war, the car was moved to the Glade of the Armistice, a permanent WWI memorial on the site of the 1918 signing. When the Germans forced a French surrender in June 1940, Adolf Hitler insisted that his meeting with French officials take place in the same car, which was later transported to Berlin after the memorial was blown up. The car survived that city’s bombings but was eventually destroyed by the German military to keep it from being used again. In the years following WWII, the French rebuilt the memorial and the museum at the glade, and a train car with the same 1918 design was incorporated into the display. The interior was refitted to show precisely where each member of the WWI delegation sat during the meeting. Through photos, artifacts and films, the museum takes visitors through the history of both conflicts and the role the train car played in both. $5 adults, $3 chidlren. Route de Soissons, Compiègne, France. +33 3 44 85 14 18, www.musee-armistice-14-18.fr
Casey Jones Village. In the late 1800s, when trains were the supersonics of the era, no one drove faster than engineer Casey Jones. Ironically, his passion for speed was his undoing: In 1900, on a behind-schedule trip from Mississippi to Memphis, legend has it that Casey drove nearly 100 miles an hour and could not stop in time to avoid hitting another train parked on the tracks. While his passengers survived, Casey was killed. Nine years later, “The Ballad of Casey Jones” immortalized him as a folk hero. Today, visitors to Jackson, Mississippi, can tour his homestead and a museum dedicated to the engineer’s life, with exhibits on the role of railroads during the Civil War and three rail cars, including a model of the one Jones drove that invites kids to climb aboard and ring the bell. The village also includes the Southern-style Old Country Store restaurant, the 1880s-style Dixie Cafe, an ice cream parlor and fudge shop, a farm and a Saturday morning farmers market. $6.50 adults; $4.50 children 6-12. 56 Casey Jones Lane, Jackson, Tennessee. 731-668-1223, www.caseyjones.com
SAM Shortline. The SAM Shortline scenic railway connects Cordele and Archery, the boyhood home of former President Jimmy Carter. Along the 11-mile route, the train stops in Plains, Americus, Leslie and the Georgia Veterans State Park. Riders can hop off and on the 1949-vintage cars to check out attractions that include the Victorian-era Windsor Hotel and the historic Rylander Theatre in Americus, Carter’s 1975 campaign museum in the restored Plains depot, the Rural Telephone Museum in Leslie and various sporting activities at Lake Blackshear. (Not all trains stop at all stations, so check the route before booking.) Reserve a standard seat or upgrade to the premium or VIP cars where drinks, snacks or lunch are served. In addition to its regular runs, in October the Shortline offers its most popular event: a Day Out with Thomas ($17-$22, Oct. 18-27), a 25-minute kid-centric ride on the train made famous in the “Thomas the Tank Engine” books. The blue engine approaches the depot with smoke steaming and eyes rolling. $39.99-$59.99 adults, $29.99-$59.99 for children ages 2-12. 105 9th Ave. E., Cordele. 229-276-0755, www.samshortline.com
The Jacobite Steam Train. Kids too cool to ride Thomas the Tank Engine may consider a ride on the Hogwarts Express. The train that stood in for the fictional transport in the Harry Potter movies steams its way across 84 miles of Scottish countryside. Fans of the films may recognize the Glenfinnan viaduct that soars over the scenery as the bridge that leads to Hogwarts. Get on board at Fort William, close to Britain’s tallest peak, Ben Nevis. Other highlights include views of the continent’s deepest seawater lake, Loch Nevis, and the country’s deepest freshwater one, Loch Morar. $42-$60 adults, $45- $24 children. Tom-na-Faire, Station Square, Fort William, Highland, Scotland. +44 850 3131, www.westcoastrailways.co.uk/jacobite
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