Rack railway rides
Written by Oryx
In the 19th century, humans found a new way to conquer the mountains: with steel and steam. Today, rack railways still impress with their engineering and spectacular passing scenery.
Snowdon Mountain Railway, UK
Dominating northwest Wales, Snowdonia National Park features rugged peaks and moors where you can enjoy challenging mountain climbs or lakeshore ambles. An easy way to absorb the scenery, however, is on the narrow-gauge railway that takes you 7.6km from the village of Llanberis to the summit of Snowdon (1,065m), Wales’s highest peak. The only public rack-and-pinion railway in the UK has operated for more than a century, and still runs original steam locomotives through dramatic landscapes, at one point passing a spectacular waterfall.
Distance: 5,409 km
Flight Time: 7 hours, 30 mins
Frequency: 10 flights a week
a 2.5-hour drive from Snowdonia.
Mt Washington Cog Railway, USA
This railway in New Hampshire was the first mountain cog railway in the world and is still going strong, though its steam locomotives now operate on biofuel. It takes just over an hour to ascend the western flank of Mt Washington to 1,917m, but is the world’s second steepest rack railway, with some grades exceeding 37%. Spectacular views spread across New England, into Canada, and out to the Atlantic Ocean.
Distance: 10,517 km
Flight Time: 13 hours, 45 minutes
a 2.5-hour drive south of Mt Washington.
Diakofto–Kalavryta Railway, Greece
Running 22km through rugged Peloponnese landscapes, this rack railway (odontotos in Greek) hauls passengers from sea level on a journey of just over an hour through the Vouraikos Gorge to Kalavryta. Opened in 1896 – King George I of Greece took the first ride – its tracks, stations, and other railway buildings are listed historic monuments.
Distance: 2,973 km
Flight Time: 5 hours, 5 minutes
Frequency: 3 flights a day
a three-hour drive east of Diakofto.
Nilgiri Mountain Railway, India
Built in 1908 and still operating its original fleet of steam locomotives, this rack railway in the state of Tamil Nadu is Asia’s steepest and is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It features in many Tamil and Bollywood movies. The train journey is one of the world’s most dramatic and dizzying, packing in 16 tunnels, 250 bridges, and 208 bends, and takes nearly five hours (on the uphill journey) to travel just 46km. It runs between Mettupalayam and the former colonial hill station of Ootacamund, affectionately known as Ooty.
Distance: 2,979 km
Flight Time: 4 hours, 5 minutes
180km west of Nilgiri.
Oigawa Railway, Japan
Trundling through the Shizuoka region’s tea plantations and bamboo forests, and passing cherry trees along the Oi River, this rack railway (the only one in Japan) was opened in 1927 mainly for sightseeing, so it’s no surprise that the scenery is lovely – when you aren’t in one of 60-odd tunnels. The train’s old wooden carriages feature as the backdrop of many Japanese movies set in pre-war days.
Distance: 8,279 km
Flight Time: 9 hours, 30 minutes
60km northeast of Oigawa.