Former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer is an avid train enthusiast and believes there is something thrilling about travelling around the world by train. He answered our questions from a train carriage in Italy.
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Q. What’s the best rail journey you’ve ever taken in Australia?
The Ghan southbound in Platinum class is the very best.
Travel Editor's note: The Ghan runs from Darwin to Adelaide, taking four days for the whole trip or two days to Alice Springs.
Tim gives The Ghan's luxurious Platinum Club lounge interior the thumbs up
Q. What’s the best rail journey you’ve ever taken overseas?
There are many great trips but the Bernina Express is hard to beat. It runs from Tirano to St Moritz.
Travel Editor's note: The Bernina Express can be part of a rail journey between Milan and Zurich but crossing the Alps through the Bernina Pass (and reaching an altitude of 2253 metres without being a cog railway) is the most spectacular part of the journey.
Q. Do you have a preference about sleeping on board versus overnighting in hotels between days on the train?
It depends on the luxury (or otherwise) of the sleeping carriages and if they are narrow gauge, standard or better still broad gauge. In general, I prefer to sleep on long distance trains.
Watch Tim Fischer explore the World Heritage Nilgiri Mountain railway in Southern India
Q. What’s the most exciting rail development in recent years?
The world's newest Transcontinental Adelaide to Darwin (The Ghan) and overseas the Chunnel (Eurostar) so travelling from London to Paris takes just 2¼ hours!
Arising from this is the grand revamp of many huge stations like St Pancras in London, Zurich Hauptbahnhof, Gare du Nord in Paris, and Milano Central in Italy. Conversely the Musee D’Orsay remains just superb as a big ex station and now a great Art Museum featuring Monet and much more. The French do it so well.
Q. Are there any exciting rail highlights on the horizon for you?
Yes, on this trip in fact. Semmering Railway through Semmering Pass remains a special link with a jewel of a new rail museum at Murzzuschlag near the top of the pass.
Travelling through the Semmering Pass in Austria will take your breath away. Completed in 1854, the railway is said to be the world's first mountain railway
Q. What’s the world’s most obscure rail experience?
Every Saturday The Vatican now operates a special train from the Pope's platform in the Vatican to Castel Gandolfo so you travel on the shortest private railway in the world. It came about in part from the 2011 Caritas Express and it earns money for the Pope.
Q. Do you admire any particular rail technological wonder?
My admiration goes to the trail blazers: Shinkansen, TGV, ICE, AVE and now the China Harmony network, all great stuff that has revived rail greatly!
Q. How did you develop your interest in trains?
On a Monday night often I would go with my Dad to Boree Creek to meet the CPH railmotor from The Rock that was carrying the vital Sunday morning newspapers, albeit 36 hours after publication, but it was my early introduction to rail.
Q. Do you have any tips for an offbeat rail trip?
Out of left field I salute South Australia’s Pichi Richi Railway from Quorn to Port Augusta. It’s a superb run that’s frequently steam hauled, sometimes with the restored “Coffee Pot” otherwise known as Steam Motorcoach Number One.
Tim and WYZA's Travel Editor in Iran several years ago – where Tim still found a train station to visit in the city of Shiraz
Q. What’s the best country for train travel?
I am biased (after a posting) but the trains old and new of Italy are hard to beat with mountain narrow gauge as exciting as Austria.
Q. Are you a supporter of Australia’s East Coast High Speed Rail proposal? Will it happen?
Again I salute and fully support HSR Melbourne-Tullamarine-Canberra-Sydney-Newcastle-Brisbane. It can be done.
Q. Is there any rail journey in Australia or overseas that you think is excellent value for the experience?
Well two I’ve mentioned: the Ghan and the Bernina Express are. I’d add that the Coastal Starlight from LA to Seattle is not bad, the Blue Train in South Africa is not bad, and Sri Lanka and India have much to offer as well. Overarching is the Golden Eagle from Moscow across Russia; it is special and memorable.
While travelling on Cape Town's Blue Train, take an excursion around Matjiesfontein
Q. What is your next rail journey?
Over September/October 2016 I’ll co-lead a Captains Choice tour that includes Panama, Cuba, Peru and more, with a train flavour. The trip lectures include local history and how to write a book on family history.
Do you enjoy train journeys? Join the conversation below.