The World's Scariest Train Rides
Minami Aso Railways, Japan
The Ride: The soaring (and occasionally smoking) peak of Mount Aso—Japan’s most active volcano—looms beside the track of this route through the southerly region of Kumamoto. Primarily a sightseeing ride for spring and summer visitors, the journey is even more arresting in early November, when the mountain’s forested foothills are ablaze in magma-hot colors.
Georgetown Loop Railroad, Colorado
The Ride: In the late 19th century, when the northwestern corner of Colorado was rife with silver mines, the narrow-gauge steam train was simply a commuter route (albeit a hairy one, with four bridges over Clear Creek and steep horseshoe curves). The scariest of the bunch is Devil’s Gate High Bridge, partly because of its 100-foot drop, and partly because of how slowly the train wheezes across it.
Chennai-Rameswaram Route, India
The Ride: Short of hailing a helicopter or paddleboat, the only way to get from India’s southeastern coast to the island of Rameswaram is by rail—a pulse-raising trek across Pamban Bridge, a circa 1914, 1.4-mile-long sea trestle that runs right through the heart of cyclone territory.
White Pass & Yukon Route, Alaska
The Ride: Built during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898, this narrow-gauge steam train now ferries thrill-seeking tourists rather than panners and diggers. More than 450,000 visitors per year make the cliff-clinging journey, which chugs up 3,000 feet in 20 miles, and which has been deemed an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway, England
The Ride: The epitome of short and sweet, the Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway delivers on its name, pulling you roller-coaster style up the 500-foot cliff that spans these two southwesterly coastal towns. Eco-fueled by water since 1888, each car holds 40 people and weighs 10 tons when fully packed.
Tren a las Nubes, Argentina
The Ride: Though this train route connecting Salta (in north-central Argentina) to La Polvorilla (on the Chilean border) was approved for construction in 1921, the nearly impenetrable Andean terrain kept it from completion until 1948. Take the journey yourself, and you’ll see why laying the track was so challenging: it passes through 21 tunnels, across 13 viaducts, and around numerous spirals and zigzags.
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, New Mexico
The Ride: This rail route has elicited oohs and aahs since 1880, when it was forged as the Rio Grande Railroad’s San Juan Extension. Departing from the far-north town of Chama, the train crosses teetering trestles, clings to narrow ledges over the 800-foot Toltec Gorge, and winds over 10,015-foot Cumbres Pass (the highest mountain pass reached by rail in the United States).
Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe Train, South Africa
The Ride: This Garden Route train’s scariest episode occurred during its construction in 1908, when a temporary wood bridge collapsed into the Great Brak River (bringing a locomotive with it). Though it’s a much sturdier operation these days, you’ll still catch your breath crossing the Indian Ocean on the 118-foot-high Kaaimans Bridge. The rest of the journey, which brings you past picturesque resort towns, the St. Blaize lighthouse, and the roaring Gwaiing and Malgate rivers, is more soothing.
Argo Gede Train, Indonesia
The Ride: On the three-hour ride from Jakarta’s Gambir station to Bandung (the “Paris of Java”), you’ll wind through emerald-green mountains, deep river valleys…and across sky-high Cikurutug Bridge. The train slid off its tracks here in 2002—although, thankfully, no one was injured. Since then the railway authorities have amped up their commitment to passenger safety.
Kuranda Scenic Railway, Australia
The Ride: The railway has “Scenic” in its name, but “Vertiginous” could also have made the cut. Carved into the dense tropical rainforest in the late 1800s, the Kuranda crosses dramatic trestles, winds past gushing waterfalls, and traverses the sea-deep Barron Gorge National Park in the hour and 45 minutes it takes to get from Cairns to Kuranda. The train runs three times daily, 364 days a year (excluding Christmas—apparently Santa and scary don’t mix).