It’s all about the journey, not the destination. Flying around the world is undoubtedly faster and more convenient, but there’s something magical about the sights, sounds and smells of long-distance train travel, including the longest train route in the world. Let’s track the world’s longest train journeys.
When it comes to the history of train tracks, while we think of modern tracks as metal railway lines, the idea of tracked-travel actual dates back much further than the industrial revolution. In fact, the oldest known tracks in the world are around six thousands years old, and were found in the wetlands of Somerset. A paved trackway was uncovered in Greece to transport boats across the Isthmus of Corinth around 600 BC. There were also ancient paved trackways built in Roman Egypt, and wooden rails with sleepers have been found in China dating to around the second century BC.
Over the next 1,800 years, trains and tracks got more sophisticated and were used to move goods and people all over the world. Today, trains move around 40% of the world’s cargo every year, as well as billions of people from city to city and country to country.
Before we get to the list of the world’s longest train journeys, we need to undertake a little bit of housekeeping. The journeys on this list are direct routes. You can, in theory, take a train journey from Portugal’s west coast all the way to Singapore, but it’s not direct and involves a number of overnight city stops. The theoretical longest train ride in the world takes travellers through dozens of countries and would take about three weeks. The distance? A mere 18,755 kilometres!
Here are the contenders for the longest train route in the world.
Aberdeen to Penzance | UK
Distance: 1,245 kilometres | Approximate duration: 13 hours
One of the world’s longest train journeys is from the Scottish city of Aberdeen to Penzance on Cornwall’s western tip. There are thirty-five stations on the route and the train is stationary for around two hours as it drops off and picks up passengers.
Chicago to Emeryville | USA
Distance: 3,924 kilometres | Approximate duration: 51 hours
One of the longest train journeys in the world is from Chicago in Illinois to the California town of Emeryville aboard Amtrak’s California Zephyr. The ride takes passengers through the Nebraska plains to Colorado, through the Rockies and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains and on via Utah, Nevada and finally California. It has been described as one of America’s most scenic train trips.
Dibrugarh to Kanyakumari | India
Distance: 4,282 kilometres | Approximate duration: 80 hours
India’s longest train journey runs from the northeastern corner of India to its southern tip and crosses eight states. The journey is known as the Dibrugarh – Kanyakumari Vivek Superfast Express, but that’s a slight misnomer. The train travels at the rather sedate speed of around 57 km/h and stops 58 times.
Sydney to Perth | Australia
Distance: 4,352 kilometres | Approximate duration: 65 hours
There’s no better seat from where to see the wonder of the Australian outback than from the Indian Pacific, one of the longest trains in the world. Stopping in Adelaide, the ghost town of Cook and the old mining town of Broken Hill, one of the longest train journeys in the world includes the planet’s longest stretch of straight railway track at 297 miles across the Nullarbor Plain.
Toronto to Vancouver | Canada
Distance: 4,466 kilometres | Approximate duration: 95 hours
The journey between Toronto’s Union Station and Pacific Central Station in Vancouver is not only a contender for longest train route in the world, it is one of the world’s most tranquil train journeys. The Canadian takes passengers through the breathtakingly beautiful Canadian countryside, including the Rocky Mountains and the stunning Canadian Shield.
Guangzhou to Lhasa
Distance: 4,980 kilometres | Approximate duration: 54 hours
One of the world’s longest train journeys offers some of the most stunning views in the world. From Guangzhou, known as the ‘south gate’ of China, the three day journey takes passengers through the contrasting landscapes from the south to the north of the huge country and over the Tibetan Plateau to Lhasa, a city in the shadows of the Himalayas.
Moscow to Vladivostok | Russia
Distance: 9,259 kilometres | Approximate duration: 167 hours
By a huge distance, the longest train ride in the world is from Moscow in the west of Russia to the Pacific port city of Vladivostok in the far east, close to the borders of China and North Korea. The world-famous Trans-Siberian Express crosses eight time zones, and the ever-changing landscape takes in sights such as Lake Baikal, the Ural Mountains and the Eurasian Steppes.
The World’s Longest Underground Train Route
The longest train ride in the world that is completely underground is between Wangcong Temple and Lanjiagou stations on Line 6 of the Chengdu Metro in China. The line was completed in 2020 and the journey is 68.2 kilometres long. The longest underground journey in the UK is 27.8 kilometres between Morden and East Finchley on London Underground’s Northern Line.
The World’s Longest High-Speed Rail Service
The longest railway route in the world by high-speed train is the China Railway route from Beijing to Kunming. It is a distance of 2,653 kilometres and the journey time varies between around 11h and 15h.
So that concludes our list of the longest train journeys in the world. If you’ve got the time, there are few better ways to see the world than by train. All aboard!