Editor’s Note: Monthly Ticket is a CNN Travel series that spotlights some of the most fascinating topics in the travel world. In January, we’re shining the spotlight on the new experiences 2023 has to offer.
While governments prevaricate over climate change measures, millions of travelers worldwide have been voting with their feet and switching to trains as their preferred mode of transport.
When you add in historically high motoring costs and unpredictable airline reliability, the incentives for switching to clean, green rail travel are more obvious than ever before.
Much remains to be done to reverse decades of underinvestment in rail networks around the globe, but every year sees new routes, more trains and exciting new journey opportunities open up to the adventurous traveler.
Here are 10 thrilling new train journeys for 2023.
Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Train, Indonesia
Indonesia’s first high-speed railway will open in 2023, two years later than planned, slashing journey times from Jakarta to the central Javan city of Bandung from over three hours to just 36 minutes.
The $5.1 billion railway will revolutionize connections between two huge metropolitan regions – Greater Jakarta with around 32 million citizens and Bandung, which now has more than eight million inhabitants.
Developed by PT Kereta Cepat Indonesia China, a joint venture of four Indonesian state-owned companies, and China Railway International, a subsidiary of China Railway Group (CREC) on the same principles as China’s astonishing high-speed rail network, the 142.3-kilometer-long standard gauge line has a maximum operating speed of 350 kilometers (217 miles) per hour.
Almost 83 kilometers (50 miles) of the route is elevated on viaducts above urban areas and farmland.
Approximately 11 CR400AF Fuxing high-speed trains with room for 555 second class, 28 first class and 18 “VIP class” passengers have also been supplied by China.
Up to 44,000 passengers are expected to travel on the trains during the first year of operation.
Brussels to Prague by Sleeper
With demand for overnight trains predicted to explode in Europe in the second half of the 2020s, several start-ups have unveiled plans to introduce exciting new routes. But the Belgian-Dutch cooperative European Sleeper is closest to hitting the rails.
The company is set to launch its Brussels-Amsterdam-Berlin-Prague route in 2023, assuming it can secure and refurbish suitable carriages in time.
European Sleeper is partnering with RegioJet, a highly successful private travel company from the Czech Republic already running daytime and overnight trains across central and eastern Europe, to provide the service.
Linking four of Europe’s most-visited tourist hotspots, seats and berths on the train will be in high demand, especially in the peak summer months for Interrail/Eurail backpackers.
Its renovated and modernized carriages, aimed at travelers on different budgets, are to feature sleeping compartments, couchette beds and reclining seats with modern features such as charging points and Wi-Fi aimed at travelers on different budgets.
European Sleeper is also working with holiday company Sunweb to run new overnight trains from the Netherlands and Belgium to French ski resorts this winter and a route to the French Riviera from summer 2023.
Panda Panoramic Express, China
When we think of panoramic trains, Europe’s Alpine routes or the Rocky Mountains of North America usually spring to mind.
But China will be getting a spectacular new train route with panoramic trains in 2023.
The $3.1 billion railway is to link Dujiangyan with a panda reserve and the Mount Siguniang scenic tourist area in Sichuan province.
Much like its Swiss counterparts, the meter-gauge railway will scale steep mountain sections with the assistance of a rack-and-pinion system mounted between the rails.
The first section is expected to open at the end of 2023, with full operation in 2026, subsequently reducing the 129-kilometer journey from Dujiangyan to Siguniangshan Town from five hours to 120 minutes.
Another impressive civil engineering achievement by China’s rail industry, the line includes 11 stations, 25 bridges totaling 35 kilometers in length and 86 kilometers of tunnels.
The four-car driverless trains are fitted with 145 seats in three classes, with large curved panoramic windows, advanced automation, monitoring and fault diagnostics supported by 5G and satellite navigation.
Tren Maya, Mexico
Visitors to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula should be able to enjoy an exciting new rail route from December 2023.
Tren Maya is a 1,525-kilometer (948 mile) system of new and revitalized railways designed to connect Caribbean tourist resorts such as Cancun with cities, cultural sites and lesser-known destinations inland.
Construction on the initial route from Palenque in Chiapas State via the historic city of Mérida and the world-famous Mayan site at Chichén Itzá to Cancun began in 2020.
Later phases will link Cancun to the resort of Playa del Carmen and Tulum, looping back via Bacalar and Xpujil to join the Palenque-Cancun route at Escárcega.
Global transport giant Alstom is supplying 42 modern multiple unit trains, in three different styles, from its Mexican factory in Ciudad Sahagún.
The “Xiinbaal” (walking) standard regular service trains are fitted with large panoramic windows, the “Janal” (eating) restaurant cars showcase regional cuisine, and the “P’atal” (staying) trains are designed for long-distance journeys, with comfortable cabins for both daytime and overnight travel.
With exterior color schemes inspired by the Mayan art and culture and internal designs influenced by the blue of the Caribbean Sea, the trains will combine tradition and modernity with a strong regional identity.
Switzerland’s GoldenPass Express (GPX)
Switzerland’s newest panoramic train journey was launched on December 11, three years later than scheduled and 150 years after it was first proposed.
The new GoldenPass Express (GPX) directly connects three of the European country’s most important tourist destinations: Montreux, Gstaad and Interlaken, a special route made possible by unique new trains capable of changing the gauge of their wheels and the height of their coach bodies.
GPX passengers can now remain in their comfortable seat throughout the trip, immersing themselves in the ever-changing view through enormous panoramic windows.
The spectacular journey, which takes in some of Europe’s most beautiful lakes, secluded valleys and high mountain passes, cuts across the grain of central Switzerland, following a trade route that has existed since the Middle Ages.
Passengers have a choice of three classes with 28 lucky people per trip experiencing the luxury of a reclining leather seat in Prestige class.
First and Prestige class passengers can also book an at-seat service of locally produced food and drink to enhance the journey.
These stunning new GPX trains bring an added attraction to the Golden Pass route that will likely allow many new visitors to experience this underrated gem of a journey.
Amtrak’s new flagship
US travelers will have to wait a little longer for new train routes under President Joe Biden’s $66 billion investment plan.
But a new generation of Acela high-speed trains are scheduled to enter service on the key Northeast Corridor route between Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. in late 2023.
Amtrak is to take delivery of 28 Avelia Liberty trains developed from France’s iconic TGV, to upgrade the speed and frequency of Acela services.
With space for up to 25% more passengers, the new train are to run at a half-hourly frequency between New York and Washington at peak times, allowing Amtrak to increase capacity on the route.
Running at up to 160 miles per hour (260 kilometers per hour) where possible, the trains also have the capability to “tilt” their carriages to deliver higher speeds, greater stability and comfort on curving sections of the route.
On-board features include free Wi-Fi, real time information, charging sockets, better accessibility for all passengers and a Café Car.
Baltic Boost – Krakow-Vilnius
Sustainable travel options to Europe’s three Baltic States – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – are somewhat limited by a lack of rail connections.
As part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in the early 1990s, the relatively limited rail networks of these three nations largely look east towards Russia and share its wider-than-usual tracks.
Longer term, the $6 billion Rail Baltica mega-project will provide a fast link for passengers and freight between Poland, the Baltic States and Finland.
Until then, travelers from central and western Europe have to rely on long-distance buses and airlines to reach these small but vibrant members of the European Union.
However, for the more adventurous rail explorer, there’s finally a daily train link between Krakow and Warsaw in Poland and Vilnius in Lithuania.
Due to the difference in track gauges, it’s not quite a seamless connection, but Polish Railways now runs a comfortable Intercity train as far as Mockawa, where there’s a direct connection into a Lithuanian train to the country’s capital city.
Warsaw to Vilnius takes around nine hours via this new route, with fares starting from around $25, or $30 if you’re traveling to or from Krakow.
For the moment, onward connections to Riga and Tallinn rely on buses, but Rail Baltica will revolutionize travel to and through these countries when it opens in 2030.
Nightjet’s new European routes
Austria’s Nightjet sleeper trains have been the catalyst for a remarkable revival in overnight rail travel over the last few years – and they’re about to get even better.
New routes and a fleet of superb new custom-built trains will significantly expand and improve Nightjet’s services for European travelers in 2023.
Since December, the Vienna/Munich to Milan Nightjet has been extended to the port city of Genoa, while the Munich-Venice/Budapest trains now start back at Stuttgart, offering better connections from southwest Germany and France.
However, the big news for Nightjet passengers in summer 2023 will be the introduction of those new trains on key international routes from Vienna and Munich to Rome, Milan and Venice.
By the end of 2025, 33 new generation Nightjet trains will be in service, adding much-needed extra capacity, greater comfort and increased privacy.
Each new train will feature cutting-edge interior design, including pod-hotel -style mini-cabins for solo travelers, sleeping compartments with en suite showers and toilets and a multi-function car with secure bike spaces and space for bulky luggage and winter sports equipment.
Orient Express La Dolce Vita
If the existing Orient Express seems a little passé these days, travelers have the option to add Italy’s newest super deluxe train to their travel diary for 2023.
Created by the Accor Hotels group, Orient Express La Dolce Vita is aimed at less traditional and more design-conscious travelers, while still keeping the vintage glamor alive.
With interiors inspired by Italian decor of the 1960s and 1970s, and an exterior look reminiscent of glorious varnished motorboats such as the legendary Riva Aquarama, it will likely be a very different experience to the Belle Epoque style of the iconic Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.
The hyper-luxurious 11-car train features a stylish bar car with live music and games, 12 deluxe wood-lined cabins and 18 master suites complete with double beds, a sofa, armchairs and private bathroom.
As you might expect, the restaurant car will serve Italian food, regional and seasonal produce and wine of exceptional quality.
After booking, passengers are invited to contact their private concierge to prepare and personalize their trip in advance.
Operating one or two-night itineraries from Rome starting at around $2,000 per person, La Dolce Vita will visit stand out Italian cities, including Venice, Siena, Matera and Palermo.
International routes are also planned, with visits to Paris, Istanbul and Split on Croatia’s Adriatic Coast.
Great Journeys New Zealand
From January 2023, exploring New Zealand’s off-the-beaten-path regions by train is about to get even easier.
Train operator Great Journeys New Zealand will debut its new multi-day tours, allowing passengers to step off and enjoy guided experiences and overnight stays in various locations.
Itineraries range from six to 17 days and link together three scenic train routes – the stunning TranzAlpine panoramic train from Christchurch to Greymouth, the Northern Explorer between Auckland and Wellington and Coastal Pacific from Picton to Christchurch.
Excursions will include spotting whales, dolphins, and albatrosses in Kaikōura, adventuring along the Punakaiki Rocks and Hokitika Gorge on the West Coast, and wine tasting in the world-famous Marlborough region.
Passengers can choose between the Classic Style Tour through New Zealand’s larger cities and heartland destinations or the Signature Style Tour, which includes higher-end hotels and additional attractions.