The allure of train travel has been ingrained in the American psyche since the 19th century when the Transcontinental Railroad first opened. Trains have always offered a sense of boundless adventure. There's romance and mystery in the plaintive whistles that echo in the breeze and the way the hulking yet graceful coaches snake through changing landscapes.
Over the years, pop culture has helped keep the romance of the rails alive. Music celebrating trains is ubiquitous. Trains have been the setting in countless films, and TV shows and movies — from James Bond flicks to "Thomas the Tank Engine" — continue to foster new generations of train buffs.
"Train travel is what connected America until the era right after World War II, but people still love to travel by train," says Bill Kluver, longtime chairman of the Western Railroad Museum in Suisun City, California. "It's part of who we are."
What's different is that today, modern luxury train travel isn't so much about arriving at a destination, but rather discovering a timeless experience our ancestors enjoyed and gaining a new and different perspective. "It's a great way to relax and see the country," Kluver says.
Rocky Mountaineer offers the rare opportunity to travel back in time. The only all-daylight passenger train to follow the historic route that united Western Canada with the east, it passes by Canadian Pacific Railway's last spike in Craigellachie, British Columbia. The luxury line also rolls through engineering marvels, such as Yoho National Park’s Spiral Tunnels, and over impressive bridges. On board, hosts point out these and other landmarks, detailing the historic locations.
Some of the Rocky Mountaineer coaches themselves are historical artifacts: refurbished 1950s-era train cars that previously crisscrossed the continent. But don't expect dusty relics; along with the vintage coaches, Rocky Mountaineer has dozens of state-of-the-art cars, and locomotives weigh in at 265,000 pounds with 3,000-horsepower engines. The train length varies by trip, but the longest train featured 41 cars, and the collection totals 59 pieces of rolling stock.
What you can expect on board Rocky Mountaineer is to relive the days when well-heeled travelers would span the continent amid opulence and five-star service. Two premium levels of service, GoldLeaf and SilverLeaf, deliver similar luxury. Think reclining leather seats, outdoor vestibules, and, for GoldLeaf passengers, an elegant dining room separate from the seating area on glass-domed bi-level coaches. On the menu? Locally sourced cuisine like prime Alberta beef prepared by chefs trained at Michelin-starred restaurants. Even the carefully selected craft beers and wines reflect surrounding regions.
"The first-class treatment is a throwback to the Golden Age," said Kluver, who worked as a porter on several trains when younger. "It was very competitive. Each line tried to outdo each other with the best service and freshest food. That's how people chose which one to ride."
Today, choosing Rocky Mountaineer is a no-brainer, but not only for its world-renowned service and amenities. Part of our fascination with trains is their ability to go where cars and planes cannot, allowing us to see nature's most magnificent and otherwise off-limits wonders up close. "Traveling by train gives us the ability to enjoy the scenery of our curvaceous land. It allows us to notice the little things out our windows and adventure through tunnels, up mountains and through woods without leaving the ground or comfort," says Julie Klarin, curator of the Lomita Railroad Museum in Lomita, California.
On board Rocky Mountaineer, you can drink in the breathtaking Canadian Rockies and Pacific Northwest scenery from your seat or, with GoldLeaf service, from one of the outdoor vestibules that serve up fresh mountain air with the stunning vistas. Or, settle inside a bi-level, glass-domed coach to take in even more immersive views. The gentle speed of around 30 mph ensures you won't miss a thing.
However, nature isn't the only thing you'll connect with on board Rocky Mountaineer. One aspect of rail travel that has always captivated people is how a train uniquely allows you to connect deeply with travel companions as well as meet fellow travelers. One can't help but wonder who's on the train in front or behind and the stories they could tell.
That's especially true on Rocky Mountaineer, which draws passengers from around the world and all walks of life. Maybe it's the unhurried pace or the comfort that encourages these connections. Maybe it's that traveling by luxury train harkens back to a friendlier time before smartphones and tablets when people would talk to pass the time or get lost in their thoughts and reconnect with themselves. Or, perhaps the linked coaches act as a metaphor, reminding passengers that everyone has something in common.
Whatever it is, Rocky Mountaineer, with its four main routes and more than 65 package options, is an uncommon experience that helps you fully grasp the magic of trains and our ongoing fascination with them. If you weren't a train buff before climbing aboard, you will be after.
For additional information about how to experience the magic of luxury train travel in breathtaking Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest, visit www.rockymountaineer.com.
– Bob Young, Tribune Content Solutions