Check our pick of the world’s dangerous and most exhilarating train journeys.
1. Tren a las Nubes, Argentina
Completed in 1932, the “Train to the Clouds” is one of South America’s great railway journeys. It is a 16-hour, 270-mile round trip that departs once a week from the Argentinian city of Salta. Initially built for economic reasons, it now operates solely for the benefit of tourists. The line passes through tobacco fields and lowland ranches, 29 bridges and 21 tunnels, before climbing to more than 4,200m at La Polvorilla viaduct, making it the third highest railway in the world.
2. White Pass and Yukon Route, Canada and US
This 110-mile route connects the Alaska port of Skagway, now a popular stop for cruise ships, with Whitehorse, the capital of the Canadian territory of Yukon. The narrow gauge railroad was completed in 1900 at the tail end of the Gold Rush, and features steep gradients, dozens of bridges and a number of cliff-hanging turns, all with a glorious backdrop of glaciers, mountains and waterfalls.
3. Nariz del Diablo, Ecuador
The “Devil’s Nose” train travels between Alausi, close to the Andean city of Riobamba, and Palmira, around 50 miles to the south. The train chugs along at a very leisurely pace, giving passengers plenty of time to enjoy the sight of Ecuador’s “Avenue of the Volcanoes”. Unfortunately, travellers are no longer allowed onto the roof of the train, where the best views are to be found. The “Devil’s Nose” itself just a small part of the route, consisting of a steep climb up a series of switchbacks, and a nerve-shredding descent.
4. Georgetown Loop Railroad, US
Just 4.5 miles long, the Georgetown Loop has nevertheless been a popular tourist attraction for more than a century. It takes passengers from Georgetown, Colorado, to the neighbouring town of Silver Plume, gaining more than 600 ft in elevation and passing through spectacular mountainous terrain. It operates from April until December.
5. The Death Railway, Thailand
More than 90,000 labourers and 16,000 Allied prisoners of wars died during the construction of a 258-mile railway between Bangkok and Myanmar, a horrific episode that forms the backdrop for David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai. A ride on a surviving section of the route is now a popular activity for visitors to Kanchanaburi, to the northwest of the Thai capital. The train hugs the sides of sheer cliffs, and passes over a number of rickety wooden bridges.
6. Pamban Bridge, India
The town of Rameswaram, on Pamban Island, is connected to the Indian mainland by a one-and-a-half-mile bridge, which makes for a breathtaking home straight for travellers arriving here from the Indian city of Chennai. Rameswaram itself is a holy Hindu site, and a popular pilgrimage.
7. Bamboo trains, Cambodia
In an effort to deal with the country’s notoriously primitive and unreliable rail network, Cambodians have taken matters into their own hands by creating their own service, using “trains” built from bamboo and abandoned parts. The spartan contraptions travel up to 25 miles an hour, generating power from tiny engines, and can carry dozens of passengers at a time. The only issue is when two trains cross paths. There is only one line, so the one with the lightest load has to be taken off the tracks so the other can pass.
8. The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, US
Found in the southern Rocky Mountains, this route operates throughout the summer months and takes passengers from Chama in New Mexico to the Cumbres Pass, the highest rail pass in the United States. Numerous loops, trestles and tunnels must be negotiated before the train passes through the Toltec Gorge and reaches its terminus at Antonito in Colorado.
9. Kurunda Scenic Railway, Australia
Completed in 1891, this route runs from Cairns to the town of Kurunda, a one hour and 45-minute journey. The track cuts a path through the Barron Gorge National Park, past waterfalls and tropical forests and through 15 tunnels.
10. West Highland Line, Scotland
The most iconic section is the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which stands 30 metres above the ground and offers superb views of Loch Shiel.
11. Outeniqua Choo Tjoe, South Africa
Completed in 1928, the spectacular Outeniqua Choo Tjoe connects the towns of George and Knysna in South Africa’s Western Cape. The 42-mile route takes around two hours, hugging the country’s Garden Route coastline before crossing the lagoon at Knysna. Unfortunately the train ceased operations last year, although South African ministers have spoken of their desire to get the service up and running again.
These steep and, in some cases, poorly maintained cable railways were not built for vertigo sufferers. Some of the most famous examples can be found in the colourful Chilean town of Valparaiso, Switzerland, California and Naples. The Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway in North Devon, is one of Britain’s best-known examples(pictured).