By Sue MacDonald
If you're worried about air rage, road rage and rising gas prices this summer on vacation, why not take the train?
Granted, travel by rail is not the most popular mode of transportation on American soil. But trains can provide a great vacation alternative or a major source of high-speed pleasure in foreign countries, where they are integral to the transportation networks. Seats are roomier than airplanes. Scenery can be enjoyed at a leisurely pace. Get up and walk around, or take a trip to the panoramic observation car.
Amtrak can take you on a leisurely trip from the Midwest to the nation's capitol or on a lengthy cruise through the majestic Canadian Rockies.
In Australia, explore the 1,900-mile eastern coastline on the Great South Pacific Express, or snag a 17-country Eurailpass for a summer riding the rails in Europe (and snicker at the airline passengers waiting in long lines for lost baggage as you roll on by).
Here's the lowdown on some of the major sources of information on domestic and international train travel:
· www.amtrak.com is the place to go for American train travel aboard Amtrak. Now a private corporation, Amtrak is trying to lure new travelers, build existing routes and add new ones. New this year: the North American Rail Pass valid for 30 days of travel in coach/economy along 28,000 miles of track in U.S. and Canada (sleeping car upgrades are available). Prices range from $471 (January through May) to $674 (June-October) for U.S. travelers.
Amtrak also offers a reward program, similar to a frequent-flyer program on airlines. Earn credits toward free train travel, airline miles, hotel stays, car rentals and other travel services. Or take advantage of a three-ticket promotion for travel through June 15 (except for April 12-16 and May 25-29). Buy a full fare, get the second ticket at half price and a third ticket free.
A third promotion gives U.S. veterans a 10% discount on Amtrak travel with a $10 Veterans Advantage Membership Card. Information, 1-800-USA-RAIL or contact your travel agent (1-888-842-7245 for Canadian travel). Still in force from 2000: a service guarantee that promises on-the-spot resolution of problems or, if that doesn't work, a voucher for a free Amtrak trip in the future.
· www.raileurope.com is the gateway for North American travelers to the European rail system, which encompasses 60 different railroad companies that serve Europe and Great Britain. The Web site offers information on routes, fares and options, including the popular Eurailpass (three countries, 5 countries or 17 countries, from $240-$388) and more. Call 1-877-456-RAIL in the US or 1-800-361-RAIL in Canada or 1-877-EUROVAC (in US & Canada for air, car and hotel)
· www.rail.co.uk is the Web site for Railtrack, the guide to rail travel in the United Kingdom, with information on schedules, stations and fares.
· http://alaskantraveler.com/Alaska-Railroads.htm is the site to click if you're heading north. Get information here on the Alaskan Railroad Corporation in Anchorage (firstname.lastname@example.org) or White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad in Skagway (1-800-343-7373 or email@example.com).
· Visiting South Africa? Click on http://www.spoornet.co.za/Passengers/mlps_routes_page.htm for information about the South African railway system and routes (toll-free 086-000-8888).
· For general information about travel, visit Erick M. Young's Adventure Travel site on about.com at http://adventuretravel.about.com/travel/adventuretravel/cs/traintravel/
· If it's the legendary Orient Express you're interested in, visit http://www.orientexpress.ru/ for contact information at the Moscow-based Orient Express tours from Moscow-Beijing, and myriad exotic places in between (phone ++7 (095) 262-1717, 262-7393 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org). The contact site for the American Orient Express is at http://www.reefnrail.com/Amorexp.htm (1-800-928-7070 or e-mail email@example.com). Ride deluxe and historically restored railcars through Western National Parks (Yellowstone, Glacier, Rocky Mountain), across Canada or through the antebellum South.