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I've done much of the trans-Siberian, and it's a great experience.

I'm wondering what other trans-continental train trips still exist. This would have to span the width (or length) of a continent. I'm assuming it's possible to cross the US by switching lines and zig-zigging, but is it possible to head along the same line continuously from coast to coast?

I believe there's an Australian one as well. Not sure that any exist for South America or Africa though?

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In Australia, there is a special spot before arriving in Perth: 478km of straight railroad without any curve. –  mouviciel Feb 9 '12 at 8:50
    
I doubt there are much in Africa. And since many African countries are poor, the infastructure would be quite underfunded and liable to break and be out of service for a while, making gaps. –  Rory Feb 9 '12 at 14:18
    
The best way to cross the US is by car specifically on the longest one the I-90 from Boston to Seattle. –  Karlson Feb 9 '12 at 15:25

11 Answers 11

up vote 14 down vote accepted

There is definitely North America cross continent tours by Canadian Rail although to cross the entire continent you will need to do this in 2 legs. Vancouver to Toronto and Toronto to Halifax.

US has similar but also in 2 Legs:

and then

Australia has: Indian Pacific

I could go on and on but I think Seat 61 provides most of the information about overland and especially rail travel

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@Vince For the US almost every line starts from Chicago What are you talking about? Chicago because of being a commodity hub is probably one of the largest if not the largest rail hub in the US but I don't see how Northeast Lines Start from Chicago at all.... –  Karlson Oct 12 '12 at 12:29
    
I just wanted to point that not only LakeShore Limited and Empire Builder allow you to cross the continent. On Amtrak route atlas (tickets.amtrak.com/secure/content/routeatlas/index.html) we clearly see that most cross-continental lines end up in Chicago, which was what I meant (I think the topic here is not about all the commuter, regional train lines). But indeed again maybe you don't see at all that while your answer only suggests one possibility, there are in fact plenty of cross-continental routes in the US ... –  Vince Oct 12 '12 at 13:24
    
And by the way, I just found this quote in the California Zephyr route guide: "Most Amtrak long-distance trains either originate or terminate in Chicago, connecting to other service." (amtrak.com/ccurl/930/454/… - page 9), that's what I'm talking about. –  Vince Oct 12 '12 at 13:41
    
@Vince When I answered I did see multiple options both going through Chicago and not. I just listed only one. Flimzy listed another and if you are a fan of really long rides you can do Boston -> New York -> New Orleans -> LA, but the generic statement you made in your original comment didn't make any sense. –  Karlson Oct 12 '12 at 14:56
    
ok nevermind then –  Vince Oct 12 '12 at 17:13

I'm really fascinated by the Vivek Express right now. From wikipedia:

... the longest running train in India, and 8th longest in the world ... runs a total distance of 4,286 km from Dibrugarh in upper Assam, to Kanyakumari at the southern tip of Indian peninsula via Trivandrum Central ... 82:30 hours (almost 4 days). There are 52 halts spanning across a total of 615 intermediate railway stations

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Ooh this is a new route, which is longer than the older record holder Himsagar Express route. THAT is quite a journey too, from Kashmir to the southermost tip of mainland India. Technically, not cross-continent though. –  Ankur Banerjee Feb 9 '12 at 16:18
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@AnkurBanerjee Cross sub-continent? ;) –  Ben Parsons Feb 9 '12 at 16:26
    
Going on Himsagar Express ride myself in two months. It's going to be fun! It was still the longest route when I decided to go, I believe Vivek Express was introduced in October or November 2011. –  John Doe Feb 10 '12 at 16:28
    
Sounds great @rlesko. I've never been to India, but lately I've been reading a lot, and am still inspired by the sheer size. I guess these railways really epitomise that idea for me. :) –  Ben Parsons Feb 10 '12 at 16:49
    
Incidentally, that's now the 9th longest, according to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longest_train_journeys –  Mark Mayo Feb 20 '12 at 20:47

In the U.S. Amtrak is the only long-distance passenger train operator, and on their site you can see a list of all of their routes. The route that looks closest to meeting your criteria is:

  • Southwest Chief -- Runs from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California, or roughly 2/3 the width of the continent. If you add the Lake Shore Limited route (New York to Chicago), you can cover the entire width of the continent from New York to Los Angeles, with only a single transfer in Chicago.

And some other possibilities:

  • Silver Service / Palmetto -- Runs from New York, New York to Miami, Florida, covering the entire east coast of the U.S. (but not extending into Canada, so not truly trans-continental).
  • Coast Starlight -- Runs from Seattle, Washington to Los Angeles, California, for a trip across the entire U.S. west coast.
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NY to Miami is down the coast, rather than across the continent...the other route looks promising though. –  Mark Mayo Feb 9 '12 at 3:30
    
For down the coast I prefer this one –  Karlson Feb 9 '12 at 4:52
    
@Karlson: Thanks, added to the answer. –  Flimzy Feb 9 '12 at 5:46
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Amtrak will not strictly meet the criteria; any cross-country trip would require a transfer. All the trains to the West Coast terminate at either Chicago or New Orleans. And I am quite certain there are no other public long-distance train services in the US (you could charter a train, but that doesn't count). –  Nate Eldredge Feb 9 '12 at 15:57
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@MarkMayo technically it's still across the continent, just not in the direction or location usually associated with the term :) –  jwenting Feb 10 '12 at 6:16

In Australia you have The Ghan crossing the continent north-south (almost 3000km from Adelaide to Darwin), and the Indian Pacific crossing it east-west (4350km from Sydney to Perth).

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I've done the Perth-Sydney crossing in 2002. It took 72 hours (three days and three nights) and for the first leg to Kalgoorlie every single signal had a problem which meant the train travelled at about walking pace. We still arrived on time but we lost our long stops with free tours in Kalgoorlie and Adelaide. At the time I was eligible for a discount for being unemployed which no longer exists and think the ticket was only about $110. It's the longest single train trip I've ever done. (Longest single bus is 56 hours). –  hippietrail Feb 10 '12 at 1:34

There's a new train line from Moscow to Paris. Although not across the whole of Europe geographically, it is definitely crossing the whole continent geopolitically.

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In Europe, there is the Venice Simplon Orient-Express (based on the former famous Orient-Express) with many possible routes, including Paris-Istanbul (once a year).

Definitely not for a backpacker on a budget though.

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The Sun Thalys runs during summer and connects Amsterdam (close to the North Sea) with Marseille at the Mediterranean ocean. It only runs during summer and I think it is claimed to be the longest distance direct high-speed line in the world. It more or less crosses Europe from coast to coast.

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If you want to cross South America or Africa on the North-South or East-West axes, you will have to cross plenty of countries. This makes it very difficult to find nonstop trains, as train travel between countries is not always obvious.

Regarding Europe the situation is similar. Within a vast majority of countries you have decent rail networks. However, when it comes to traveling between countries, the situation is a bit more complicated.

Nevertheless you have a some interesting options in Europe too. Okay, they are probably not covering the whole North-South or East-West ranges. On the other hand, the bumpy shape of Europe makes this difficult anyway.

  • From West to East: There is a daily direct train from Amsterdam to Moscow.
  • From North to South: There are direct trains from St. Petersburg to the Black Sea (Sevastopol and Sotchi). These run two or three times a week. If you are ready to accept a train change in St. Petersburg, this route can even be extended beyond the arctic circle.

I know that this is a poor comparison with the Trans-Siberian, but not too bad for European standards ;-)

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Note that the direct train from Amsterdam to Moscow will be withdrawn in the new timetable starting 2012-12-10. The direct wagon from Amsterdam will remain in Minsk. –  gerrit Oct 15 '12 at 13:13

It's stretching the definition of "continent" a bit, but it's certainly coast-to-coast: the train between Luleå and Narvik over the Iron Ore Line runs twice a day connecting the coast of the Golf of Bothnia to the fjords of the Norwegian Sea. Further south there is the Central Line connecting Sundsvall with the Norwegian fjords at Trondheim, but in the 2012 timetable there are no direct passenger trains on this one. Of course, Scandinavia is just a peninsula, not a continent.

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The Eastern and Oriental Express connects Singapore and Bangkok taking 3 days. Well, it costs 1790€ which is a knockout argument for me and probably many others. You can surely do the same trip much cheaper but you have to change trains in Butterworth and Kuala Lumpur as mentioned on seat61.

Further information on Wikipedia

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Several colonial powers had ambitious North-South or East-West projects in Africa but none of them were fully realized, among other reasons because of rivalries between these powers (see Cape to Cairo Railway and related articles on Wikipedia).

Still, there is in fact a railroad going across Southern Africa, coast to coast, starting with Angola's Benguela railway and connecting to the “ligne du Katanga” in Congo and further to Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania and South Africa.

I remember watching a documentary about rail transport in Angola, everything was in a very poor state after the civil war with maybe a handful of old locomotives remaining and damaged tracks. Some work has been done to improve the situation but I don't think there are trains all the way to Congo at this time, let alone reliable passenger services.

On the Congolese side, things are most likely in very poor condition as well but I believe there are trains to Zambia and further to the Indian Ocean coast (in Tanzania or in Mozambique over Zimbabwe). Possibly no passenger service either, certainly no uninterrupted service at the trans-Siberian standard. There is also a railroad from Matadi to Kinshasa but it's only barely operational, with no connections further inland.

Besides, Congo or Angola are really not recommended for tourists, people from my family who come from the region don't want their own children to go there so nothing really useful for travellers at this time but but at least the railroad exists and some day things might get better (hopefully not only for visitors).

A more realistic option could be to travel by rail in South Africa. Of course, it feels a bit like cheating because the distances are smaller but it looks like there are nice trains linking two oceans.

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protected by Ankur Banerjee Dec 10 '13 at 16:16

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