On the right track: Rail travel has a new luxe look

Earlier this year, Great Rail Journeys, the largest rail­-based travel company in the U.K., launched its Around the World in 50 Days package, escorting travellers from London westward through the United States, Asia and Europe via train (and plane for one continent hop). The price: £21,995 (roughly $44,000), which includes time on the Venice Simplon Orient-­Express and Tsar’s Gold Private Train departing from Mongolia (though it’s a shame Canada’s own Rocky Mountaineer, the largest privately owned luxury tourist train in the world, famous for its glass­-dome roof that allows passengers to lounge back and gape at the Rockies, bubbly in hand, didn’t fit in the itinerary).

But the high life on the rails is no longer exclusively reserved for epic once-­in-a-­lifetime trips. Luxury touches can now be found everywhere from lounges at central stations to comfort in cabins and via entertainment in dining cars.

“The rail industry is taking cues from the airline industry,” says Melanie Albaric, marketing and communications manager for Rail Europe. The company, particularly in hubs like London, Paris and Brussels, is actively wooing business travellers by investing in amenities such as the Business Premiere lounge, which is kitted out much like a luxe airport lounge. Albaric notes: “[The lounge] is not reserved to business travellers, since this offer is open to travellers who take the train as leisure but who appreciate the same level of comfort offered to business travellers.” Aside from cushy seating, passengers have access to complimentary wifi and an impressive selection of newspapers and magazines, as well as drinks and snacks — all before they set foot on a train.

In Canada, Via, the national rail network, has stepped up its game by making things cozy in the bedrooms on its cross­-country The Canadian route, which travels from Vancouver to Toronto (and vice­-versa). In 2014, the company launched its Prestige Sleeper class, which consists of an exclusive car comprised of six cabins; each one has a leather sofa that transitions to a Murphy bed at night, a private bathroom with shower, and heated cabin floors. (The cost, per person, for the journey is $3,700.) Via Rail’s senior sales manager Josephine Wasch says these cabins have been selling out since they launched.

And on two very specific routes in the U.S., between Chicago and New Orleans and Chicago and New York, luxury has come in the form of slow, enriching holidays. Launched in 2012, Pullman Rail Journeys is reviving historic rail travel in the U.S. by refurbishing old rail cars — including one that began service in 1917 — for a cost of US$750,000 to US$1.2-million each. Keeping in tact the art deco design the company is adding period touches including the conductor and porter uniforms. Fares start at US$500 one way, which on select trips, includes live music thanks to a collaboration between Pullman and Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music.

Whether chasing comfort or curiosity, for a night or for a month, upgraded rail travel is giving customers the opportunity to revel in the the luxury of time. 

Read more from La Carte’s Luxury issue here.

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