Back in the 1800s it was the coming of the railroads that opened up vast areas of the USA and allowed the building of the country we know today. Nowadays, the rail system that weaves across the country is still the easiest and most enjoyable way to travel the vast distances. The automobile may epitomise the American dream but, for the leisure traveller, it's the railroads that have the charm, the convenience and the luxury that adds an extra dimension to a holiday, with almost effortless travel and an unequalled opportunity to see the diverse and spectacular countryside.
Railroads have a unique and very special place in American culture and folklore. The Chatanooga Choo-Choo may now be a museum artefact, but many of the legendary lines are now part of a large and connected rail system. And it wasn't just the trains themselves that became legends - so did the drivers, firemen, engineers and brakemen who ran them, often immortalised in songs like Casey Jones and John Henry. Even the hobos who 'rode the freights' from the Depression Era to the time of Jack Kerouac's 'Dharma Bums' and beyond were iconic figures, including our own British super-tramp poet, W.H. Davies, who travelled the USA in this way, sleeping in hobo jungles and eventually losing a foot whilst trying to board a moving freight train.
Most of the famous railroads in the US are now given over almost entirely to freight but the sole intercity passenger rail operator in the US, Amtrak, offers a comfortable - even luxurious - way of seeing the States and there's no better way to do it than on a Great Rail Journeys holiday. You can travel from coast to coast on trains like the Southwest Chief, from Los Angeles to Chicago, which for part of its journey runs alongside the famous Route 66, and continue to New York on the Chicago Lake Shore Limited; marvel at the magnificent Pacific coastline from Los Angeles to Seattle on the Coast Starlight, or take a trip back in time on the picturesque and historic Durango & Silverton Railroad which has been in continuous operation since 1882 and still operates 90-year old steam engines and vintage rolling stock.
If there is one name that epitomises rail travel elegance and luxury it is Pullman and, to celebrate this, Great Rail Journeys offers The American Pullman tour. This includes travelling into the 'Deep South' on a beautiful and meticulously restored Pullman train that recreates the Pullman ideals of style, ambience and craftsmanship, now with the addition of all the expected modern amenities.
Recreating the excitement and anticipation of the classic era of rail travel, on trains where the sleeping car was first introduced, the tour begins in the town of Pullman itself, an elegant venue that was purpose-built to house employees of the Pullman carriage works and still boasts a host of beautiful buildings to admire. Later, aboard the train itself, the true glamour of luxury long-distance travel is evoked, from the welcome cocktail, taken in the comfort of softly upholstered seats, to the unsurpassed views as the magnificent Mississippi is crossed to give way to the elegant colonial-style whitewashed houses of Louisiana.
Dining was always an important part of the Pullman experience and, for today's traveller, this is still the case and included in the tour is a sumptuous meal and drinks in the magnificently appointed Dining Car. Later, the welcome comfort of a lavish, lovingly-restored bedroom, equipped with the most modern of en-suite facilities, awaits to help create dreams of a bygone age when travelling was not just a necessity but a pleasure and an art.