10. Gornergratbahn: Gornergrat, Switzerland: 3,090 metres high (the highest open-air railway in Europe) 1898
The Gornergratbahn, or Gornergrat Railway (Gornergrat meaning Gorner ridge), is a thrilling way to explore the Alps. Connecting the resort town of Zermatt with the peak of the Gornergrat, the railway is often used by hikers and mountain climbers being surrounded by several Alpine mountains and a handful of glaciers – all tempting daredevils to adventure – one of the former being the Matterhorn, which can be seen from Gornergrat on a clear day.
9. Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad: Leadville, USA: 3,414 metres high (Highest Adhesion railway in North America) 1800s
The Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad is an old one – the depot dates from 1896, the line itself is somewhat older – but it has found its niche in modern times. Now used primarily as a tourist service, the line is a firm favourite with historians, train buffs and sight-seers alike, offering each a unique and fascinating opportunity to experience railroad riding at altitude. There are both closed and open carriages, and the line offers some spectacular views, including sights of Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive (Colorado’s highest mountains) and breath-taking snowy panoramas.
8. Jungfraubahn: Jungfraujoch, Switzerland: 3, 454 metres high (highest railway in Europe, continues underground from 2350 metres up) 1912
The thought of taking a train journey that is predominantly underground might sound boring, and not at all a fun thing to do. In most cases, this would be correct, but in the case of the Jungfrau Railway it would be a mistake to plan to sleep through the journey. This unique tunnel, which bores through the Eiger and Mö nch mountains, has two stations built inside the tunnel, stations which have windows offering spectacular views of the icy peaks. Enjoy the sight of thick snow, foot-long icicles and even blizzards from the cosy comfort of indoors.
7. Lanzhou-Xinjiang High Speed Railway: Qilianshan Number 2 Tunnel, China: 3,608 metres high (highest High-Speed railway) 2014
The baby of this list age-wise, the Lanzhou-Xinjiang high-speed railway is feat of superb engineering with a top operating speed of three hundred and fifty kilometres per hour. This means that at top speed, trains could cover the full 1, 776 kilometre range in a little over five hours – connecting distant areas and opening up potential lines of business and leisure for all who can access it. As well as having to overcome the altitude issues, the engineers had to consider the fact that the railway runs through an area near Shanshan, where a powerful wind blows much of the time. A lengthy windbreak has been constructed to prevent accidents, running alongside the tracks for nearly seventy kilometres.
6. Salta-Antofagasta: La Polvorilla, Argentina-Chile: 4,220 metres high (Tren a las Nubes tourist service between Salta and La Polvorilla) 1948
Also named Huaytiquina, an old nickname for the pass on which the railway is built, this track connects Argentina and Chile along the Andes Mountains. It was originally built for purely practical reasons, among them the need to service the nearby borax mines, but it is now used for pleasure too. The tren a las nubes, which means ‘the train to the clouds, is a fifteen-hour round trip which covers four hundred and thirty kilometres, from Salta to the Polvorilla viaduct and passes through and over many bridges, viaducts, and tunnels – there are even two spiral sections of track!
5. Manitou and Pike’s Peak Railway: Pike’s Peak Summit, USA: 4,301 metres high (highest railway in North America) 1891
Manitou and Pike’s Peak Railway, being perhaps the second oldest on this list, could easily be assumed to have been built for purely practical reasons: cargo, connecting important towns, or servicing industries. In fact, it was built with tourism in mind from the off! It has been a success throughout its whole existence, adding enough stock to run a steady six to eight trains per day. In 2006, the railway began to stay open year round, instead of closing down for several months from December to March. However, winter demand is much less than in summertime and trains can be as few as once per day on Saturdays and Sundays.
4. Cuzco-Lake Titicaca: La Raya, Peru: 4, 313 metres high: 1999?
Owned and operated by PeruRail, this line runs through some spectacular Andean scenery, starting by the coast and meandering north-east to the highest lake in the world, Lake Titicaca, the line then continues north, but swings eastward, travelling to beautiful Cuzco, from where wonderful Macchu Picchu is a mere eighty kilometres.
3. Rio Mulatos-Potosi: Condor, Bolivia: 4,786 metres high
While the exact date of the railway’s construction is unclear, railways snaked across Bolivia in the mid-1800s, many of them to enable the more efficient mining of local silver. It is home to Condor station, one of the world’s highest train stations.
2. Lima-Huancayo: Ticlio, Peru: 4,829 metres high (highest railway in the Americas) 1851
Kabelleger / David Gubler (http://www.bahnbilder.ch)
Another example of a line built to enable the reliable and swift transport of bulky mine ore, the Lima-Huancayo railway is still in use primarily as a freight operation. However, acknowledging the many spectacular views offered by the route, the owners offer regular tourist sightseeing rides, even though the line no longer offers passenger transport as standard.
1. Xining-Golmud-Lhasa: Tanggula, China: 5,068 metres high: 2006
This line connects the Tibet Autonomous region to – well, essentially, to the rest of the world! Being so high and so mountainous, the area had long been isolated with engineering restricted by the vagaries of nature. Building on permafrost is always risky, if even possible, and the altitude means the air is thinner. This not only affects people, but machines too, and even the laws of physics might not be as reliable as they should be! Not only the highest railway, this line peaks at the Tanggula pass, the highest point on any railway. The line is widely used to carry passengers, goods and tourists.