Seven sustainable train journeys new in 2022: from the Swiss Alps to Scottish Highlands

Slow travel, scenic views and journeys that are better for the planet – these new railway trips are guaranteed to fuel your wanderlust

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There’s something about travelling by train that stirs the soul. Whizzing along as you enjoy ever-changing scenery, speeding over viaduct bridges and waking up in a city that isn’t the one you went to sleep in are just some of the appeal. Train travel also conjures up images of a bygone era rich with romance, adventure and opportunity.

And all of that is before we even touch on the sustainable side of travelling by rail. Train journeys emit much less carbon per kilometre than going by air or road.

With the world having been forced to slow down owing to the global pandemic, today might be a good time for everyone to make a move back to those times of the past, rethinking how we make our way around the globe when travel does become a viable option again.

Looking ahead at what’s new in train travel, it’s important to keep in mind that the pandemic may lead to some of these journeys being delayed, changed or even cancelled depending on restrictions around the globe.

But to fuel your eco-conscious wanderlust, here’s a round-up of seven of the best new train journeys for 2022.

1. European Sleeper: from Brussels to Prague

Wake up in Prague on European Sleeper's new summer service from Brussels. Unsplash / William Zhang

If seeing more of Europe has been on your to-do list for a while, this new train journey from Brussels to Prague could be what you've been waiting for.

Dutch-Belgium start-up European Sleeper is launching a budget-friendly service this summer that will set off from the Belgian capital, whisking holidaymakers, day-trippers and business travellers through Antwerp, Amsterdam, Berlin and Dresden before arriving in Prague in time for breakfast the next morning.

Trains will depart on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and the journey takes around 15 hours. Each ticket will include complimentary Wi-Fi, breakfast, and a lie-flat bed.

The service, offered in partnership with Czech company RegioJet, says its new night train service to Prague will reduce carbon dioxide emissions for the journey by 75 tonnes. Tickets are earmarked to go on sale in April 2022, with launch dates for the service to follow soon.

Fares to be confirmed; www.europeansleeper.eu

2. All aboard the luxurious Habsburg Express

Travel with Golden Eagle Luxury Trains aboard the luxurious Habsburg Express. Photo: Andrea Peto

After a triumphant comeback to Europe’s rail tracks, the restored Danube Express is all set to embark on a brand new itinerary for 2022.

Golden Eagles Luxury Trains is launching Habsburg Express this summer, with the first journey scheduled to depart from Vienna on Wednesday, May 18, subject to Covid-19 restrictions.

Offering travellers a journey between lakes and forests, filled with dramatic scenery and rich history, the all-inclusive, eight-day holiday incorporates the Balkans, Germany and Austria with plenty of off-carriage excursions in each destination.

Start the trip by exploring Vienna, nicknamed the City of Dreams, with luxury accommodation and a welcome reception dinner. Step aboard the beautifully restored steam carriage train, which dates back to 1887, and where guests will have their own private en suite cabin, as well as enjoy access to the lounge bar and restaurant carriages as they whizz through the mountains to Salzburg.

From here, it’s onwards over the Julian Alps of Slovenia and into the capital city of Ljubljana. Next, the train will depart for Rijeka in Croatia before travelling to Sarajevo then to Mostar, a historic city in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The trip winds up in Dubrovnik, where a night’s stay in a luxury hotel and dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant on the historic city walls are a fitting end to the itinerary.

Prices from $11,795 including private on-board accommodation, all meals and beverages, excursions and hotel accommodation pre and post-trip; goldeneagleluxurytrains.com

3. No planes needed: London to Morocco by rail

Ditch the air miles and travel from London to Morocco by ferry and train with Responsible Travel.

Travelling from the UK to Africa without having to board a plane is not a trip for the distant future; it is one that tourists can take this year, albeit dependent on Covid-19 travel restrictions.

Responsible Travel’s eight-day excursion from London’s St Pancras International station in the heart of the UK capital includes a Eurostar journey to Paris, and onwards train travel to Barcelona. From Spain’s bustling Catalonian capital, get set for a slower scenic ride down the tracks towards Andalusia, where a ferry ride across the Strait of Gibraltar will take you to Africa.

And when you arrive in Morocco, there are plenty more delights awaiting aboard the Marrakesh Express. Head first to Casablanca in the country’s south, where Moorish architecture blends with traditional Moroccan-style buildings, then travel by train towards the Atlas Mountains and Marrakesh, where a heady blend of colour, culture, history and hospitality are sure to leave a lasting impression.

Even better is that all of Responsible Travel's trips support communities and preserve nature, so you can travel without upsetting your eco-conscience.

From $1,626, year-round departures; responsibletravel.com

4. Ski-resort rail hopping in the Swiss Alps

Ski-resort rail hopping in the Swiss Alps by train is set to commence in 2022.

If winter holidays in Switzerland are your thing, the GoldenPass Express is about to make your annual European excursion much more sustainable.

Set to launch in December, the new train is designed to make hopping between the ski resorts in the Bernese Alps more eco-friendly, as well as a whole lot more scenic.

The idea of linking Lake Geneva, Gstaad and Lakes Thun and Brienz dates back to 1873, but the stumbling block has always been that different-width tracks exist along these routes, meaning travellers always had to stop and change trains.

The GoldenPass Express has been designed to be able to whizz seamlessly from narrow to standard gauge tracks, allowing winter sports enthusiasts easy travel between ski resorts in Montreux, Gstaad and Interlaken.

The train owes its sleek lines to Pininfarina, the Italian company that designs cars for Ferrari and Maserati.

As well as the advanced technology that enables it to run on rail tracks of various sizes, its coaches have floor-to-ceiling windows to ensure that those on board are guaranteed epic views of the surrounding Swiss countryside. Anti-reflection technology on all the panes also makes sure there’s plenty of opportunities to get some epic footage for your #travelgram.

And if you want to travel in true luxury, book a seat in Prestige class. This carriage will have only 18 seats, each of which is raised and fully rotatable so that passengers can enjoy 360-degree views, accompanied by a first-class menu of meals made with premium local ingredients.

Launching December 11; fares not yet announced; mob.ch

5. Fly like a bullet to Japan’s hot springs

(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 9, 2019, JR East's new test bullet train "ALFA-X" is seen in Rifu, Miyagi prefecture. A prototype of Japan's next-generation Shinkansen bullet train, set to be the fastest train on wheels when it enters service, reached speeds of 320 kilometres (198 miles) per hour on a test run on May 16. The train, code-named ALFA-X, will eventually hit 360 kilometres per hour when it begins to take passengers in about a decade, according to East Japan Railway. - Japan OUT
 / AFP / JIJI PRESS / JIJI PRESS

Japan’s world-famous bullet trains will welcome a new member to its railway family this year when the Kamome vehicle begins operations.

Running on a brand new stretch of the Shinkansen high-speed line on Japan’s Kyushu island, the train will whisk travellers at top speed from Nagasaki Station to Takeo Onsen in the country’s Saga Prefecture.

With a name meaning "seagull" in Japanese, the newest bullet train is expected to start operations in autumn this year. Beautifully designed, the gleaming white vehicle has its name emblazoned in Japanese syllabary on the exterior, alongside a bright red stripe that darts over the carriages. Inside, golden seats are arranged in two rows, with two reserved seats on each side of the aisle.

An artist's impression of the new Kamome Shinkansen train. Photo: Kyushu Railway Company

Traditional Japanese motifs decorate the train’s 396 seat covers, though those travelling on the speedy service are more likely to be enthralled by the stunning archipelagos surrounding the city of Nagasaki.

The train will whizz through stunning vistas, eventually taking travellers to Takeo Onsen station. Once complete, this station will be the gateway to the hot spring town which has more than a 1,300-year history as an onsen – or hot springs – destination.

Fares and final launch date to be announced; railpass.jp

6. A self-guided grand rail tour of Scotland

11 Sep 2009, Scottish Highlands, Scotland, UK --- United Kingdom, Scotland, Highland, the Jacobite Steam Train, better known now as the Harry Potter Train, crossing the viaduct of Glenfinnan with loch Shiel in the background --- Image by © BOISVIEUX Christophe/Hemis/Corbis

Responsible Travel’s Grand rail tour of Scotland launches this year, offering a 14-day self-guided sustainable journey touring the country’s Highlands and islands. Indulge in the dramatic beauty of Scotland’s islands, including the scenic Iona, the rugged charm of Skye and the rich history of Orkney.

Starting in Glasgow, get set for a car-free trip that unfolds on the railway lines that traverse the Scottish Highlands, including a ride on an ancient Jacobite steam train, and a few ferry and boat journeys added into the mix.

Speed along the West Highland Way and stop in Oban, then hop on a ferry to visit the islands where you’ll be accompanied by expert guides, before returning to the tracks to head for Inverness and the far north coast. Whizz through the Cairngorm National Park, and enjoy a stopover in Perthshire before winding up in Scotland’s historic capital.

From $3,520 excluding flights, year-round departures; www.responsibletravel.com

7. Fall asleep in Austria, wake up in Romania

Austrian Federal Railways' new express train to Romania takes you from Vienna to Cluj-Napoca. Photo: OBB

If a European holiday from Austria’s beautiful capital to the largest city in Romania’s Transylvania appeals, then OBB’s new express train is one to consider.

Operated by Austrian Federal Railways, start your journey enjoying all that Vienna has to offer – from exploring the city’s ornate palaces to tucking into tasty Viennese strudel. Then, board the overnight train and settle in for the evening. When you wake up, you’ll be in Romania’s Cluj-Napoca, a city known for its medieval architecture and the setting that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Covering a distance of nearly 600 kilometres, the journey takes around 11 hours. Budget travellers can book seats from €34.90 ($40) but we recommend splurging for a bed in a cabin where prices start from €59. If you want your own private compartment, tickets are from €139 and include breakfast.

Fares from $40; launching June 2022; oebb.at

Updated: January 25, 2022, 7:30 AM