In Sudan, I rode the roof of the train for three days: why rail is the best way to travel

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Memorable trips in France, Sri Lanka, Canada and more underline just how superior the train is to taking a plane
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Until the late 1960s a railway station had the kind of allure now only found on film sets: clouds of mysterious steam curling around dark scurrying figures in hats, blackened faces, uniforms, loud blasts on whistles, doors slamming, and then a dramatic pause followed by the deep, urgent grunt of the monster itself. The smell, noise and power were overwhelming. As a toddler I was held up to see the most famous giants, The Flying Scotsman or the speed record holder, Mallard, and can still remember the feeling of awe.

“Your grandfather was a stationmaster,” I would be told, “And your great-grandfather drove a stagecoach.” Railways and travel, they were saying, are in the blood.

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