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, 2012 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. Feb 9, 2012 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, 2012 at 15:25

13 Answers 13


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, 2012 at 12:29
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    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, 2012 at 13:24
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    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, 2012 at 13:41
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    @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, 2012 at 14:56
  • ok nevermind then
    – Vince
    Oct 12, 2012 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. Feb 9, 2012 at 16:18
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    @AnkurBanerjee Cross sub-continent? ;) Feb 9, 2012 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.
    – rlab
    Feb 10, 2012 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. :) Feb 10, 2012 at 16:49
  • Incidentally, that's now the 9th longest, according to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longest_train_journeys
    – Mark Mayo
    Feb 20, 2012 at 20:47

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). Feb 10, 2012 at 1:34

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, 2012 at 3:30
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    For down the coast I prefer this one
    – Karlson
    Feb 9, 2012 at 4:52
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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). Feb 9, 2012 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, 2012 at 6:16
  • The Amtrak Sunset Limited from LA to New Orleans is perhaps the closest to cross-continent, in that it at least goes from the Pacific coast to Gulf Of Mexico, which is really just an extension of the Atlantic anyhow :) FWIW, there are some other passenger trains in the US, but they are mostly suburban/commuter services - eg. METRA in Chicago, Long Island Railroad and Metro North in NYC, and a few others. Amtrak is the only long-distance provider, though.
    – BrendanMcK
    Feb 10, 2012 at 11:58

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.


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.


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 ;-)

  • 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, 2012 at 13:13
  • There is still a direct train from Paris to Moscow. Incidentally, the number of countries isn't the issue. There were many direct trains across Europe, at a time when these countries weren't particularly friendly. But many of these services were abandoned in the last few decades just as Europe became more integrated. Nowadays most rail operators prefer point-to-point high-speed services rather than long trans-continental trains.
    – Relaxed
    Jan 21, 2015 at 10:57

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 was claimed to be the longest distance direct high-speed line in the world at the time (EDIT this may have been true in 2012 but no longer, as there are now longer services in China). It more or less crosses Europe from coast to coast.

  • (+1) Another similar service will soon link London to Marseille.
    – Relaxed
    Jan 21, 2015 at 11:02
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    I do not know where you got the "longest distance direct high-speed line" claim from, but I think in China, there is a train that goes from Beijing to Shenzhen (next to Hong Kong) in about 10 hours. This is 2200km, almost twice the Amsterdam-Marseille distance. Mar 4, 2017 at 14:49
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    @IliaSmilga That line opened after I wrote this answer. At the time I think I got it from a travel website. I have updated.
    – gerrit
    Mar 4, 2017 at 21:32
  • Oh, you're absolutely right! I tried to check this but misread the numbers. Sorry! Mar 4, 2017 at 23:14

The Panama Canal Railway offers one-seat passenger service across the North American continent, with a travel time of one hour.


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.


In addition to the Vladivostok-Moscow train going through the entire Trans-Siberia Railway, there is also the China Railways K3/4 train which goes from Beijing to Moscow through Mongolia. After departing Mongolia, the train enters the Trans-Siberian Railway at Ulan-Ude, Buryatia, Russia, and follows the same route as the Vladivostok-Moscow train.

You can thus (almost) cross Asia southeast to northwest, beginning in Hong Kong (or Hanoi, if you prefer). Take the Z98 train from Hung Hom Station, Hong Kong, and you'll get to Beijing West Station. Then take the aforementioned train to Yekaterinburg (requires a change of stations, but nothing too bad), right to the east of the Ural Mountains, which is the Asia-Europe border. If you prefer to start in Hanoi, take the China Railways train number Z6 at Ga Gia Lim, Hanoi, and you'll arrive in Beijing West Station after 3 days. The soft sleepers (which I recommend; they are pretty nice) on the Hong Kong to Beijing train costs around 950 RMB (~137 USD) per ticket, and if you want something cheaper you could go for the hard sleepers at around 750 RMB (~108 USD). I don't know about the Hanoi to Beijing train, but it can't be much more expensive than this.

Unfortunately, there is no passenger rail transportation in Laos and very limited passenger rail in Cambodia, so you can't go farther south. If you begin in Singapore, you could get as far as at the Thai-Lao border on rails. If you manage to go across Laos and into Vietnam by other means, you'll eventually get to Hanoi, where you could hop on a train to Beijing (and eventually Yekaterinburg).

There are two ways to cross the North American continent from East to West within the United States. You either: take the Cresent Train from New York City, Philadelphia or Atlanta to New Orleans, and continue on the Sunset Limited to Los Angeles; or: take the Lakeshore Limited or the Cardinal from New York City or Washington, DC, then continue on any one of the Empire Builder, the California Zephyr, the Southwest Chief, or the Texas Eagle trains to Los Angeles.

There's also this luxurious Rovos Rail from Cape Town, South Africa to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In principle, you should then be able to take a few train trips to get to Alexandria, Egypt on the northern rim of Africa (via Addis Ababa, Aswan, Cairo, etc). In practice, I haven't found viable train route yet.


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


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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    There is continuous track from Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania to Cape Town in South Africa, but there are no trains crossing the Zambia/Zimbabwe or Zimbabwe/South Africa borders, so there's about 40km of walking involved from Livingstone to Victoria Falls and Beitbridge to Musina. There are probably six or seven trains separate services involved. Sadly, the Tanzania and Kenya/Uganda rail systems are not connected. Jan 20, 2015 at 20:08

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