Perhaps the most frightening railway lines in the world today are the 300 mile per hour French TGV or the Chinese 280 mile per hour Maglev that swoosh across the level countryside. But their speed negates the tingling roller coaster experience and the dizzying heights when trains moved along spindly bridges, across narrow railroad trestles, over the thunder of pounding surf or splashed through the mist of a water fall, and wound along the curves of a zigzag railroad helixe to climb mountains. Several of these legendary railroads are fully operating lines; others operate today only as tourist attractions.
Here is a sampling showing some of the most scenic and perhaps the most dangerous railroad right-of-way segments in the world.
Kurandra Scenic Railway, Australia: This scenic railway offers beautiful views along the Barron River in North Queensland but also has a dizzying right-of-way. Etched in tropical dense rain forest since the late 1800′s, the railroad has an amazing trestle framework that takes the train above waterfalls that sometimes spray the train as it makes its way through the Barron Gorge National Park.
Argo Gede Railroad , Indonesia: Running from Jakarta to Bandung the right-of-way passes over the sky-high Cikurutug pylon trestle bridge in Indonesia, above the expanses of emerald green fields in the lush subtropical valley. The last major derailment on the line happened in 2002.
Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe Railroad, South Africa: One of the first accidents on this line occurred in 1908, just after the initial run over the right-of-way. Considered a marvel of concrete work at the time the tracks carried the train over the Kaaimans bridge high above the Indian Ocean with sweeping views of Mossel Bay. After a major mud slide in 2006 the route was shortened then finally abandoned and is no longer in operation.
Chennai-Rameswaram Route, India: The Rameswaram right-of-way runs along the southern coast of India crossing the rebuilt Ramaswaram sea bridge over the Indian Ocean. Because of the strong prevailing winds, the slow speed run, 1.4 mile pass, from one side to the other takes over fifteen minutes. Built in 1914 the original right-0f-way has been the scene of many unfortunate accidents the last on occurring in 1964 when a full train was swept away in a storm that demolished the existing bridge.
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, New Mexico: In 1880 the Denver & Rio Grande moved along the old railroad bed balancing on wooden sleepers holding the narrow gauge track as passed along the narrow ledges of the mountain. Today, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad (C&TS) is a narrow gauge heritage railroad running between Chama, New Mexico and Antonito, Colorado. It runs over the 10015 ft Cumbres Pass, the highest point on a US passenger railway. In 1970 the C&TS began to take tourists on six-hour trips between the two towns.
Tren a las Nubes Railroad, Argentina: This “Train In The Clouds” connects Salta in north-central Argentina to La Polvorilla on the border of Chile. It began construction in 1921 and was completed in 1948. The right-of-way meanders through 21 tunnels and crosses 13 high-line bridges and 13 viaducts It moves along 2 spirals and 2 zigzags. Because of the design decision not to use a rack-and-pinion for traction, the route had to be designed to climb steep grades. The zigzags move the train back and forth parallel to the slope of the mountain 13,850 ft above sea level, the third highest railway in the world.
Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway, United Kingdom: Begun in 1887 this fantastic piece of Victorian engineering is a funicular water powered railway that connects Lynton, high up on the cliffs with Lynmouth down by the sea. A roller-coaster of a line it moves up and down and along steep 500 foot cliffs along the right-of-way between the two English towns on the rugged coast of North Devon.
White Pass & Yukon, Alaska: Built during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898 along 9000 foot high cliffs stretching for more than twenty miles across the rugged landscape and inverse compression bridges. Now a tourist line the WP&Y it is now considered an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Trains plying the rails are now ridden by more than 450,000 visitors a year.
Georgetown Loop Railroad, Colorado: Built in the late 19th century to bring miners to silver mines in the northwestern part of Colorado the lines right-of-way crosses several high-line bridges. The most famous is the Devil’s Gate High Bridge, 100 feet in height. Now a narrow gauge heritage railroad it is located in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and carries tourist between the communities of Georgetown and Silver Plume, a distance of 2 miles.
Aso Minami Route, Japan: The scenic railroad lines right-of-way moves across the bedrock of Japan’s most active volcano to connect Takamori to Tateno. Tourists prefer early fall trips when the forest near the line is aflame in fall colors and the cool weather makes it easy to watch steam rising from the hot magma activity of the Mount Aso volcano.