Thomas Bywater finds a route for four scenic rail journeys you've never considered.
Jasper-Prince Rupert, Canada
This 1200km journey is possibly
— and for wilderness fans that's ideal. The overnight service crosses the continental divide at the Yellowhead Pass near Mt Robson — the highest summit in the Rockies. The single track winds through prime bear county. Stopping only occasionally to pass haulage trains, you'll have the vast landscape to yourself. Equipped with a scenic dome car and refreshments carriage, the Jasper-Prince Rupert line is the most comfortable way to hurtle headlong into the Canadian wilds.
El Transcantabrico, Spain
Following the tracks of Spain's northern pilgrim trail — Santiago to San Sebastian — the Transcantabrico is far removed from the arduous 30-day Camino de Santiago. Passing through Spain's mountainous and green north, it's a corridor of Iberia that is rarely seen. And as for the views on board the Gran Lujo train, they are immodestly luxurious. You can pray for penance when you get to San Sebastian. Until then enjoy the deluxe cabins with en suite showers and silver service in the Gran Lujo carriage, which is straight from the set of a Hercule Poirot murder mystery.
Desert Express, Namibia
Experience seven days on the rails on a round trip from Windhoek to Swakopmund through Africa's most ancient landscape. If you stumbled across the blue Desert Express you'd think it was a mirage — the 24 five-star carriages stand in startling contrast to the smooth white sands of the Namib, the oldest desert in the world. Passengers are given the opportunity to stay at the converted Swakopmund desert railway station, which was built in 1902. There's no risk of dying of thirst with two bars — the Spitzkoppe and Stardune — and a well-stocked wine selection allowing passengers to travel in comfort through the moon-like landscape.
The Eastern and Oriental Express, Bangkok to Singapore
Overshadowed by the similarly named Paris-to-Istanbul Orient Express of Agatha Christie fame, the Eastern and Oriental is a luxury gem in its own right. Journeying from Thailand into Malaysia via Burma, the train crosses the infamous River Kwai, where an optional excursion visits the neighbouring Burmese Death Railway, on which 12,000 POWs perished as forced labour in WWII. The dark chapter behind the railway's construction brings much-needed historical context to a remarkable three-night passage — separating bustling Bangkok from the futuristic metropolis of Singapore.