4 famous rail journeys featured in films


North by Northwest (1959)


Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense thriller starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason is a classic tale of mistaken identity. Roger Thornhill (played by suit-clad Grant) is an innocent man chased across the United States by agents of a mysterious organisation. In an attempt to elude his pursuers, Thornhill sneaks onboard the 20th Century Limited, a luxury train service operating between New York and Chicago, where he meets Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint).


Follow in their tracks

Built for style and stardom, the 20th Century Limited operated from 1902 to 1967 and travelled west on the Water Level Route alongside the Hudson River and the shores of Lake Erie. Described by the New York Times as “the world’s most famous train”, the iconic railroad would roll out a crimson carpet to welcome passengers onto the train, giving rise to the phrase red carpet treatment. Rarely did the Century move without a quorum of celebrities on board. Passengers were treated to cocktails in the observation car, dinner with views of the Hudson and breakfast in bed or in the dining car.


With the red carpet all rolled up, catching Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited service from Penn Station, New York, to Union Station, Chicago is about as close as you’ll get to reliving the 20th Century route (it even travels on the same rails). What it lacks in its predecessor’s fanfare, the 19-hour journey makes up in views, passing through South Bend, Cleveland and Buffalo, along some of the most picturesque shorelines of the USA including the south shore of Lake Michigan, the Mohawk River, and the Erie Canal.


Most luxurious car

Relax without the fear of espionage in a private Viewliner Bedroom, with private toilet and shower, and watch New York’s skyline fade as you head along the Hudson River. When you return after dinner in the Dining Car, your compartment will have been transformed into a cosy bedroom. If you’re travelling as a family, the Viewliner Bedroom Suite is made up of two Viewliner Bedrooms combined together.



Murder on the Orient Express (1974)


This British mystery film based on the 1934 novel by Agatha Christie was directed by Sidney Lumet and stars Albert Finney as detective Hercule Poirot and an all-star cast of suspects including Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins and Ingrid Bergman. Hercule Poirot is travelling on the Orient Express from Istanbul to England when the train is trapped in deep snow. A piercing scream cues drama when one of the passengers is discovered murdered and Poirot immediately starts investigating.


Follow in their tracks

Murder and suspense aside, long-distance international train travel doesn’t get more romantic than the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Today the principal routes link London, Paris and Venice. (The service to Istanbul ceased in 1977.)


Vintage splendour at its best, the two-day train journey from London to Venice leaves London’s Victoria Station aboard the British Pullman, welcoming passengers with Bellinis and brunch while travelling through the Kentish countryside. After crossing the Channel, you swap trains and decades, boarding the brown and cream Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and stepping back into the 1920s. Using original carriages from the 1920s and 30s the train is outfitted with white-gloved attendants, the occasional guest in period costume and call bells to complete the setting and echo Agatha Christie’s mysterious voyage. There are wooden lavatories at the end of the corridor, no showers and a no jeans policy. The original luxurious dining car, where scenes for Murder on the Orient Express were filmed, now resides in The Railway Museum of Thessaloniki in Greece. However, the four-course French-inspired dinner in the Simplon’s wood-panelled dining car leaves no-one wanting. Just hope you don’t get trapped in deep snow…


Most luxurious car

The Cabin Suites combine two private interconnecting cabins that create a private lounge with a banquette sofa, footstool and table in one cabin and an upper and lower bed for sleeping in the other. All suites have washbasins, however, there is only one lavatory located in each carriage. A steward service is available 24 hours a day.




Doctor Zhivago (1965)


Based on the novel by Boris Pasternak and directed by David Lean, Doctor Zhivago stars Omar Sharif and Julie Christie in the story of five young people living through the Russian Revolution. Wrapped up in oversized overcoats Zhivago (Sharif) and Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin) board a heavily guarded cattle train through contested territory in an attempt to escape Moscow and seek refuge in the Ural Mountains.


Follow in their tracks

Doctor Zhivago experienced freezing temperatures, grimy passengers and potato stew in his long train ride across the bleak landscape of northern Russia. Today, however, the same route can be experienced in first-class comfort. Well, almost – because the film was made at the height of the Cold War the real locations couldn’t be used and the film was shot in Finland and Canada. But you get the idea.


The Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express is Russia’s only fully ensuite private train and is one of the world’s longest train routes, travelling an epic 10,000 kilometres across eight time zones, from Moscow to Vladivostok (and vice versa). The Golden Eagle soars through the vast and unique landscapes that connect the east and west in just 13 days, over the Urals, across the Russian steppes and alongside the shore of the world’s largest fresh water lake, Baikal. Day tours are included in your journey, and from Vladivostok you can jump on a ferry and be in South Korea within 36 hours.


Most luxurious cabin

The most spacious cabins onboard the Golden Eagle are the Imperial Suites, which are 11 square metres in size and fitted out with king size beds, lounge areas, DVD/CD players and dressing tables. Under-floor heating warms cold nights and a dedicated butler will fetch you a complimentary chilled vodka, among other premium drinks.




Darjeeling Limited (2007)


Directed by Wes Anderson and starring Owen Wilson, Adrian Brody and Jason Schwartzman, this eccentric film tells the story of three brothers, one train and a lot of baggage. A year after their father’s death, the Whitman brothers, Francis, Peter, and Jack, come together in India for, in the words of Francis, a “spiritual journey” in the hopes that a long train journey will bring them closer.


Follow in their tracks

The interior of the train used in the film was hand painted with elephants, temples and cricket matches, and the brothers travelled in a lavish ochre and blue suite. Alas, there is no such thing as the Darjeeling Limited. The trains in the film were part of Indian Railways’ North Western Railway, dressed up to match Anderson’s vision.


But if you are inspired to go on your own journey of “self-discovery”, you can embark on a seven-night voyage on board the Maharajas’ Express. Departing from Delhi and travelling through Jaipur, Agra, Varanasi and Lucknow, you’ll be given guided tours of UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the Taj Mahal, take part in an elephant polo match, journey on a jungle safari to see tigers in the wild and take a cruise down the River Ganges. Creating it’s own glamorous microcosm with red carpets and high tea, the train accommodates just 88 people. It has five carriages including two fine dining restaurants that serve a different meal each day.


Most luxurious cabin

The lavish Presidential Suite spans an entire carriage. The only one of its kind in the world, it has a master bedroom, living area, twin bedroom and spacious bathrooms fitted with a bathtub and showers. The suite comes with interconnected cabins and can accommodate up to four guests. Not that you’ll need help sleeping in these surroundings, but the high-tech pneumatic and hydraulic suspension system ensure a smooth ride.

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