In an age where we are concerned about the environment, taking the train is an increasingly popular travel option. Throughout Europe, Asia, Australia, and even significant parts of Africa, the railway is the way to get around in comfort while seeing the country and enjoying a true local experience.
But how do you know if the train even runs in the country you will visit? And how do you find out if the train goes to a place of interest to you?
This is now easier than at any time in history, thanks largely to a man named Mark Smith. A few years ago, this train-travel-lover set up a website called “The Man in Seat 61". Seat 61 is said to be the best seat on Eurostar chunnel service between Britain and France.
A quick visit to Seat61.com will tell you immediately about the state of train travel in nearly every country on earth. All countries with passenger train service are listed and detailed. Mark Smith does not hide information, and usually right up top lists the actual rail service website for that country. Smith even tells you about reliable ticket services, and urges readers who have recently used lined and services to write in with comments and suggestions.
If, for instance, you wanted to experience the world’s longest train journey, the Trans-Siberian Express, you would start by visiting the Seat 61 site about the various services which make up this fabled set of routes. Smith even provides the routing to get you from London to Hong Kong without ever being on an airplane, bus, or ship.
If you wanted to move all over China, but not use the airlines, you would visit the Seat 61 section on China.
Rail travel is also possible in several African countries, and Seat 61 covers them all: Botswana, Egypt, Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
You can even learn about rail service in Cuba, and find out how to see the country in comfort from end to end. Cuba has a daily rail service from Havana to Santiago de Cuba (near the US concentration camp in Guantanamo Bay) and return. This service usually takes about 15 hours, and can be done during the day or night. Don’t forget to ride the Hershey Express (named for the former chocolate plant) from Havana to Matanzas.
He also has a new book out: "The Man in Seat 61", published by Bantam Press, July 2008, £12.99