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13 Jun 2017ALL ABOARD


Living and working in London, I often find myself inadvertently spying on someone's smartphone while on a crowded train. It's not that I'm being nosey; rather, there's often only one or two places that I can turn my face so it is not  A) violating the rules of Tube etiquette, and B) deep into the armpit of someone taller. This occasion was particularly ironic, as the person over whose shoulder I was peering was watching a trailer for the new version of Murder On The Orient Express. Despite Kenneth Branagh's ridiculous moustache, it all looked rather splendid – spacious carriages, beautifully uniformed attendants to wait upon me hand and foot, and plenty of time to stare out of the window as the train makes its way through snow-covered mountains. And as we arrived at another station, and a dozen more people crammed their way into an already overcrowded carriage, I found myself contemplating whether I'd risk being murdered by some nefarious aristocrat just to experience rail travel at its finest. As it turns out, there are numerous ways to do so (provided you can afford it), with an almost 100% chance of survival.

You can still take a journey on the most famous trainline in the world, which travels from London to Venice (via Paris) overnight, or if you want a longer journey, from Paris to Istanbul. The second option is particularly exclusive, as it only runs once per year (toward the end of August), and the cost reflects that (approximately seven and a half thousand pounds). But for this, you get a three-course lunch and a four-course dinner every night, hotel accommodation in Bucharest and Budapest and a few tours at various picturesque locations along the way. But the Orient Express isn't the only luxury train service available. There are quite a few, and in locations all around the world.

The Golden Eagle Danube Express, for example, runs from Austria to Slovakia, passing through the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland over eight days of pure opulence. Or for a longer journey, you can spend two weeks travelling the Trans-Siberian Express aboard the Imperial Russia train from Moscow to Beijing. If you'd rather experience something a little warmer, the Al Andalus train travels throughout Spain, offering the very finest Spanish food on their menus. It's not just Europe that has a love of luxury trains. There are routes all around the world, such as the Maharajas' Express in India. Once the realm of princes and kings, this half-mile long train winds its way on numerous routes through India, from Mumbai to Delhi. Or there's the Shongololo Express in Africa, which is named after the local word for millipede on account of the movement of long, winding train. Visiting countries such as Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa, you needn't worry that you'll miss any of the amazing countryside or wildlife. The rear-most carriages have extra large windows and viewing balconies, allowing you to take in the scenery when you like. And if you get too hot, well, the bar is always open…

It may seem like many of these journeys are the last hurrah of some grand old locomotives. But you might be surprised to learn that the luxury train business is booming. Japan – which, let's face it, has the best trains – has just launched the Train Suite Shiki-Shima, an ultra-sleek, ultra-modern and ultra-luxurious train which has a fireplace, hot tubs and a Michelin-starred chef.

With less people in the entire train than most commuter services have in a single carriage, a luxury train journey can really add a new spin on the holiday experience – provided you can afford it.