Train buffs are often the sorts of people who like numbers, thought experiments and the poetry of long journeys. Sometimes all three at the same time. Having spoken about the longest passenger train in the world a few weeks ago, today we wanted to speak to you about the longest possible train journey you could take (if you ignore Covid-19 restrictions and the war in Ukraine). It’s been the subject of great debate on various subReddits, with loads of users arguing over a few kilometres you could add here and there. And the general conclusion people have come to? The planet’s longest train trip would come to around 18,755 kilometres, take three weeks, travel through 13 countries and require at least seven different visas.
Certain rules were taken into account. There should be no pointless back-and-forth between two places and no transfers to boats or planes (duh). Unsurprisingly, the itinerary starts at one end of Eurasia – southern Portugal – and winds up at the other end, in Singapore. Between the two, it passes all the way across Russia.
The first train leaves Lagos, in the Portuguese Algarve region, a favourite of English tourists. Next, it’s on to Lisbon, the country’s capital, which we’ve already visited together. But here you should change for Hendaye in the Basque country. Having hopped out to catch a few waves and make the most of the sunshine, now it’s time to head to Paris, the home (and HQ) of Midnight Trains. We’d obviously recommend a brief stop here to take in the splendour of the City of Light. After that, it’s a 40-hour ride to Moscow in Russia (evidently not really a possibility right now).
Here the experience becomes a little more intense. Now your train will travel for a whopping 60 hours to the Chinese capital, Beijing. From here, you’ll move on to Laos, passing through Kunming, thanks to this small mountainous country’s first major railway, which we wrote about recently. It’s worth noting that if this line hadn’t seen the light of day, the route would have been slightly different, stopping in Vietnam instead (and covering a mere 16,898 rather than 18,755 kilometres). Regardless, in Vientiane you’ll hop on board a train to Bangkok, in Thailand, from where you’ll change for Padang Besar in northern Malaysia. Then, to round off this incredible journey, you’ll take a train for Singapore, that stunning city-state just south of the Malay peninsula.
And so you’ve arrived at your destination. But above all, despite the epic distance you’ve travelled and the surreal complexity of such an undertaking, your journey has been much better for the planet than if you flew from Lisbon and Singapore. According to the American site Mashable, taking such a flight would have entailed 1.67 tonnes of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere. Take the train over the same distance, however, and the figure would be just 0.08 tonnes of CO2. Even more astonishingly, according to the railway blog Man in Seat 61, it would only have cost you $1,350, or €1,255, in train tickets. Obviously, you’d have to factor in a few nights in a hotel and quite a few restaurant meals (as you won’t be able to line all those trains up perfectly), and this’ll probably add up fast. But what an experience the journey would be. Fingers crossed it becomes a reality again sometime soon.