Want the romance of the railways without the anoraks? We spot the world's best trains

1 JÍNÍNG TO TONGLIÁO, CHINA

Duration: 25 hours

Journey: This 997km line through Inner Mongolia to the north of Beijing is the last main line in the world that sees steam traction in normal daily service. It will not last much longer: the Chinese government has decreed that steam travel must be eliminated by the the 2008 Olympic Games. This would not be enough to include the journey in such a list were it not for the staggeringly impressive scenery over the Jingpeng Pass, which requires huge exertion from two, sometimes three, steam locomotives to lift the carriages over the mountains.

Further information: Train tickets for China cannot be bought in the UK.

2 CUZCO TO LAKE TITICACA, PERU

Duration: 10 hours

Journey: The famous railway from the former capital of the Incas to Machu Picchu has overshadowed the southerly route from Cuzco to the world's highest navigable lake. Yet the scenery along the Huatanay River is every bit as spectacular, and easily viewed from the train's new observation, bar and dining cars. Valleys, hills and colonial churches give way to the burnt expanses of the Altiplano before snow-topped peaks announce the train's highest reaches - a head-thumping 4,321m. The track then descends past tiny villages and waving grasses before hitting Titicaca's shores - a boat trip to the lake's islands is not to be missed.

Further information: Find fares at www.perurail.com

3 THE SOUTHWEST CHIEF, CHICAGO TO LA, USA

Duration: 42 hours

Journey: Regarded as Amtrak's flagship train, the Southwest Chief follows a centuries-old route once trodden by Native Americans, Spanish conquistadores and Gold Rush hopefuls. Fields of waving wheat give way to deserts and ranches as the train advances past Dodge City and the Sacramento Mountains, squeezing through canyons only metres wider than the track it travels on. In common with other long-distance train journeys, it is impossible not to sleep through some of the scenic highlights, so stops at places such as Williams (Arizona) for the steam-hauled excursion on the Grand Canyon Railway will enhance the trip.   

Further information: Find fares at www.amtrak.com; UK sales agents include Trailfinders.

4 THE GLACIER EXPRESS, SWITZERLAND

Duration: 7 1/2 hours

Journey: Linking the great skiing centres of Zermatt and St Moritz, the Glacier Express is justifiably regarded as the foremost train journey in Europe. Passengers loaf in carriages while an astounding variety of Alpine landscapes drift by: steep-sided valleys decorated with precarious farmsteads; the wild, treeless country where the infant Rhône meanders; the bizarre, sculptural white stone of the Flims gorge. You have to marvel at the daring of the engineers who used spirals and horseshoe curves to surmount the route's alarming gradients - and at the cunning of the train staff who serve fruity Valaisian wine in glasses with angled stems to compensate for the steep slopes.

Further information: If you plan to do a lot of travel by public transport in Switzerland, invest in a Swiss Pass - then you need only pay the seat reservation surcharge  www.glacierexpress.ch

5 THE CANADIAN, TORONTO TO VANCOUVER, CANADA

Duration: 3 days

Journey: The Canadian is only rivalled by the Trans-Siberian  for giving passengers an uninterrupted impression of the scale of a continent, and even this journey is not coast to coast - purists would need to start 1,800km to the east in Nova Scotia. Wind down in the bar as you cross the prairies before the twists and turns of the track announce the approach of the Rockies, then bag a seat in one of the vista-dome panoramic viewing cars as the driver obligingly slows to extend your views of waterfalls and other scenic treats. From Jasper onwards you'll see bear and moose by the track. It's pure Rocky Mountain wilderness all the way down to Vancouver.

Further information: Find fares at www.viarail.ca; UK sales agent www.1strail.com

6 DELHI TO SHIMLA, INDIA

Duration: 10 hours

Journey: Designed to be the colonial government's retreat from the oppressive heat of Delhi, Shimla not only boasts clean, cool air, but also the majesty of the western Himalayas and the most imposing imperial buildings created in a hill station. After a dash across the plains of Haryana to Kalka - either aboard the Himalayan Queen, or on the more leisurely overnight Kalka Mail - a narrow-gauge train winds through the foothills of the Himalayas for 75km, crossing 800 bridges and burrowing through more than 100 tunnels to get to the summer capital of the Raj.

Further information: Bought locally, tickets are dirt cheap. To book in advance, contact SD Enterprises, IndRail's UK agent www.indiarail.co.uk

7 CHIHUAHUAAL PACÍFICO, LOS MOCHIS TO CHIHUAHUA, MEXICO

Duration: 13 hours

Journey: This 700km journey from the Pacific coast to the former silver-mining city of Chihuahua at 1,412m above sea level was impossible 50 years ago: the railway was only completed in 1961. Now it climbs through the Sierra Madre Mountains, over immense viaducts and through 87 tunnels, as it struggles to gain height. You can't see the volcanically formed Copper Canyon from the train, but a stop is made at Divisadero to allow passengers to walk to the rim and take in the view. And what a view - with the contiguous Urique Canyon, it is four times the length of the USA's Grand version.

Further information: Find fares at www.coppercanyon-mexico.com

8 EASTERN & ORIENTAL EXPRESS, SINGAPORE-BANGKOK-CHIANG MAI, SOUTH-EAST ASIA

Duration: 43 hours

Journey: The luxurious coaches of the E&O, complete with opulently furnished apartments, a well-stocked library and a resident pianist, are the ultimate way to explore both western Malaysia and the route from the Thai capital to the country's northern jungles. On both itineraries, stops are made for excursions to local sights, including the River Kwai and the extensive ruined Buddhist temples of the former Thai capital, Ayutthaya. In keeping with the elegant ambience, you must dress for dinner.

Further information: Find fares at www.orient-express.com

9 CLERMONT-FERRAND TO NÎMES, FRANCE

Duration: 4 1/2 hours

Journey: Arguably the most impressively engineered line in France, this neglected byway deserves greater recognition. The Cévennes Line threads its way through country explored by Robert Louis Stevenson on the back of his donkey Modestine during the 1870s. It is some of the most remote country in France: farms are few and far between, and there is only the occasional ruin of an ancient castle to indicate habitation. Though only 303km long, the line plunges through 106 tunnels and over almost 1,300 bridges, including some of the most impressive masonry viaducts on French railways. Nîmes' Roman Amphitheatre provides a futher reason to visit this attractive city.

Further information: Find fares at www.raileurope.co.uk

10 ROVOS RAIL, SOUTHERN AFRICA

Duration: 1-13 days

Journey: The Pride of Africa eclipses even the legendary Blue Train for luxury. Comprising historic coaches traditionally refurbished and fitted with larger (and, most unusually, some double) beds and modern bathroom facilities, it has ventured as far as Swakopmund in Namibia and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania; its usual stomping ground is between Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban. Stops are made to visit game reserves, tour Pretoria, lunch at the Victoria Falls Hotel, or see the 'Big Hole' at Kimberley. Steam haulage is occasionally used on some sections.

Further information: Find fares at www.rovos.com