Around the world, travelers are flocking back to trains, and demand is increasing across the board for high-speed trains, luxury “land cruises” and long-distance day and night trains. In many countries, rail journeys are now exceeding 2019 levels – a much faster revival than experts predicted.
So what’s causing this rail renaissance?
Our increasingly urbanised global population demands good mobility – within cities and between them. Many of us are also looking for a fast, reliable and sustainable alternative to the misery of congested highways or short-haul air travel. Countries across the globe are investing billions of dollars in new infrastructure that will keep us moving into the second half of the 21st century.
But trains are about more than just the daily commute. For many travelers, the best train journeys are a destination in their own right, an unforgettable experience that can range from a carriage offering a 360-degree panorama of the Swiss Alps to a super-deluxe “hotel on rails” such as the iconic Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.
Here are some of the best new trains you’ll be able to take in 2024.
Links between two of Europe’s most visited capitals have traditionally been pretty poor, with no direct trains since the 1990s. However, that has just changed with the introduction of a direct overnight train operated by ÖBB (Austrian Federal Railways).
Initially running three times a week via Strasbourg and Frankfurt, the “Nightjet” connection will step up to nightly in fall 2024, providing a high-quality direct service for business travelers and tourists.
As with other recent Nightjet routes, demand is expected to be high. Seats starting at just $33 and sleeper cabins from $105 per person.
Paris-Berlin also looks set to gain a daytime connection as SNCF (France’s state railway company) is working with its German counterpart to introduce a direct TGV high-speed train in 2024, taking around seven hours to complete the journey. Expect news on that towards the end of the year.
A year later than expected, Italy’s glorious new super-deluxe train “Orient Express – La Dolce Vita” will welcome its first passengers some time in 2024.
Created by French hotel group Accor, the train is aimed at design-conscious travelers, forgoing the traditional Belle Epoque style of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express for interiors celebrating Italian décor, art and architecture of the 1960s, plus an exterior look inspired by luxury motorboats such as the legendary Riva Aquarama.
It will criss-cross Italy from north to south on six regular itineraries showcasing the country’s myriad historical treasures, from the Italian Alps, Venice and Rome to Matera and Palermo in the south. Journeys to Sicily will include a memorable hop across the Strait of Messina on Europe’s last passenger train ferry.
The hyper-luxurious 11-carriage train will feature a stylish “Bar Car” with live music and games, 12 deluxe wood-lined cabins and 18 master suites complete with double beds, a sofa, armchairs and private bathroom.
Travelers will enjoy five-star service on board savoring Italian gastronomy, regional and seasonal produce and the finest wines.
Opening with six one or two-night itineraries from Rome starting at around $2,000 per person, international routes to Paris, Istanbul and Split on Croatia’s Adriatic Coast will be added later. It promises to be a wonderful experience for the lucky 62 people who secure a place on each trip.
With demand for overnight trains in Europe already outstripping supply, several ambitious startups have unveiled plans to introduce exciting new routes.
Belgian-Dutch cooperative European Sleeper hit the rails in 2023 and will extend its Brussels-Berlin train to Dresden and Prague in May 2024, providing a much needed direct link between cities in western and central Europe.
Linking four of the continent’s tourist hotspots, seats and berths are already in high demand, especially during the peak summer months for backpackers. Renovated carriages feature sleeping compartments, couchette beds and reclining seats aimed at travelers on different budgets, alongside modern features such as charging points and WiFi.
European Sleeper’s Brussels hub also opens up opportunities for British and French travelers to reach central European cities more easily through easy connections with Eurostar international trains in the Belgian capital.
More than four million people per year visit the Roman city of Pompeii in southern Italy, famously destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 79 C.E.. For those using public transport, it’s not always been the easiest trip, requiring a switch in Naples from national network trains to rickety, outdated local transit, the infamous Circumvesuviana trains.
But that’s changing in 2024, with a weekly direct high speed connection from Rome taking just two hours. National rail company Trenitalia has expanded the link after a trial in 2023 using its superb Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) high-speed trains.
Instead of running one day per month, as they did in 2023, the route will now operate a more viable once per week. Leaving Rome just before 9 a.m., the trip allows visitors eight hours to explore Pompeii and still be back in Rome by 9 p.m. for a late dinner.
To save time, entrance tickets and information are available on the train and dedicated shuttle buses speed passengers from the station to the ruins.
The bad news? It only runs on Sundays and selected public holidays.
Despite billions of dollars invested in new high speed connections under the Pyrenees, cross-border rail services between Spain and France are currently dismal with just a couple of trains per day.
That’s set to improve in 2024 as both Spanish and Italian train companies ramp up their competition with French TGVs, which currently operate the route. Spanish national rail operator Renfe introduced new routes from Madrid and Barcelona to Lyon/Marseille in 2023, and Trenitalia has announced plans for a Paris-Barcelona-Madrid link in 2024, using its 249 mph Frecciarossa trains.
Trenitalia already operates successfully in France and Spain and the new Paris-Barcelona route would provide expanded high speed journey opportunities linking with its separate Iryo operation, which competes with Renfe on several routes radiating from Madrid.
According to Luigi Ferraris, CEO of FS Italiane, Trenitalia’s parent group, the company also has its eye on new rail routes connecting Spain and Italy via the south of France – a busy corridor currently dominated by airlines due to the lack of fast, direct trains.
Four continents, 13 countries, and seven luxury trains across 80 days – the ultimate experience for rail travel connoisseurs is due to depart in late 2024.
Specialist travel company Railbookers has compiled a monumental new itinerary taking in seven of the world’s most iconic trains: the Rocky Mountaineer in Canada, The Belmond Royal Scotsman, Venice Simplon-Orient Express, the Golden Eagle Danube Express across Central Europe, The Maharajahs’ Express in India, Rovos Rail in South Africa and southeast Asia’s most luxurious train, the newly revived Eastern & Oriental Express (see below).
“The demand for luxury rail continues to grow, and in response we’ve created the ultimate bucket-list trip,” said Frank Marini, CEO and president of Railbookers, in a statement released to media. “As we’ve seen a trend to combine itineraries to include multiple luxury trains, we’ve tailor made this itinerary along with smaller, customizable itineraries featuring these iconic trains.”
Travelers taking the entire 80-day trip, starting at $119,599 per person, will set off from Vancouver on August 28, continuing through more than 20 cities in Europe, India, South Africa and Malaysia to their ultimate destination in Singapore. Hotels, luggage transfers, flights, most meals and off-train tours are handled by travel specialists, leaving you free to relax and enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime journey around the world.
The return of the E&O
One of the world’s greatest luxury train journeys is returning to the rails in 2024 after a four-year gap. Belmond’s glorious green and gold Eastern & Oriental Express will once again thread its way through Malaysia’s ever-changing landscapes on its journey from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur before continuing north to visit Langkawi and Penang.
During the hiatus, the train has been meticulously refurbished and restyled to maintain its reputation for five star luxury and incredible cuisine. The iconic open-air observation balcony at the rear of the train and its legendary piano bar remain an essential part of the E&O experience.
A trio of “Essence of Malaysia” trips will run in February, November and December 2024, with prices starting at $3,410 per person. Sadly, the E&O won’t be revisiting its old route over the border to the Thai capital, Bangkok, just yet – although it is hoped this will be possible in years to come.
Over the past few years Austria’s Nightjet sleeper trains have been the catalyst for a revival in overnight rail travel that few would have predicted a decade ago. Now, new routes and a fleet of 33 new custom built trains will significantly expand and improve Nightjet’s offer to European travelers in 2024.
Routes from Vienna and Innsbruck to Hamburg will be the first to enjoy the new 143 mph capable trains, but they will gradually spread to other routes linking the Austrian capital with Italy, Switzerland, Germany and France by 2025.
Each new train features cutting edge interior design including capsule-style mini cabins for solo travelers, sleeping compartments with en suite showers and toilets, and a multi-function car housing a café-bar, accessible cabins, secure bike spaces and space for bulky luggage and winter sports equipment.
Their debut will allow Austrian Railways to retire older trains that no longer meet passenger expectations, but the trains will primarily allow ÖBB to expand Nightjet operations to serve new routes including Zürich-Barcelona from December 2024.
Zermatt’s newest exclusive travel experience combines a nostalgic rail journey to see Switzerland’s iconic mountain with a feast of culinary delights from the region. The Gornergrat Railway’s “NostalChic” train takes just 22 guests per week to Europe’s highest open air railway terminus at 10,170 feet above sea level, enjoying incredible panoramic views over the Matterhorn and dozens of other Alpine peaks.
Starting with Swiss drinks and snacks in Zermatt, the six-hour VIP experience includes Insta-friendly photo stops, a guaranteed window seat on a beautifully restored 1960s cogwheel train to Gornergrat and a local guide. There’s also a four-course gourmet meal, with wine pairings at the four-star Riffelhaus 1853 spa hotel in Riffelalp, between Zermatt and Gornergrat. Available just once a week, the experience costs $365 per person.
Alternatively, a standard return trip (on a regular train) from Zermatt to Gornergrat costs $115 per person with 50% discount for Swiss Travel Pass holders.