Tech that ... keeping track of 200 years of train technology

Keighley and Worth Valley Railway
Keighley and Worth Valley Railway

Rail heritage is the real deal with advances, spanning two centuries, from iron horse steam to today's high speed bullets.

Electric and diesel transport via funicular, this transport of delight through time proves fascinating history, celebrated by Rail Discoveries.

The four-brand Yorkshire based tour operator - / 01904 734 939 - boasts 40-plus years' experience.

Offering worldwide travel on wide range of train types, industry experts showcase fantastic five hand-picked trips from UK, European and global products to chart this rich history.

1) Steam Trains in Yorkshire

The steam engine was invented in Britain by Richard Trevithick in 1804. After a number of modifications, commercial steam locomotives began to run in 1812 along the Middleton Railway in Leeds. Arguably the most famous steam engineer, George Stephenson, built the first steam engine to carry passengers, the Locomotion, in 1825. This ran on the Stockton to Darlington railway. In 1829, Stephenson built his famous Rocket, which powered trains along the Liverpool and Manchester railway from 1830.

Cairngorm Mountain Railway funiculars

Cairngorm Mountain Railway funiculars

To sample steam trains, Rail Discoveries recommends Yorkshire by Steam. This tour includes the heritage Keighley & Worth Valley railway, on which passenger services began in 1867. The trip takes passengers up the Worth Valley to Oxenhope, through rugged hills, picturesque stone cottages and a rural landscape made famous by the 1970 film 'The Railway Children'.

Tour information: 5 days from £375 per person

2) Funicular Trains in Scotland

If you’re going into the mountains, you may see a funicular railway, involving two counterbalancing trains that allow for the smooth ascent of steep slopes. The technology dates from the 1860s, with the first urban funicular opening in Lyon, France in 1862. The year 1875 was an important one in the history of funiculars, with the Tünel in Instanbul, Turkey becoming the first underground funicular in the world, while Scarborough in Yorkshire became the site of Britain’s first funicular railway.

Centovalli Railway

Centovalli Railway

A memorable way to experience funicular trains is to head to Scotland and the UK’s highest railway at the Cairngorm Mountain Railway. Opened in 2001, the track takes a 2Km journey up Cairn Gorm, the sixth highest mountain in the UK and home to breathtaking views. If you want to combine this with a trip on a Jacobite steam train, the Highlands by Steam tour is the perfect choice.

Tour information: 6 days from £595 per person

3) Electric Trains in Switzerland

The introduction of electricity to railways was pioneered by Werner von Siemens in 1879. It was a slow start, with the first electric locomotive reaching speeds of just 13Km/hour, but a crucial first step for a format that would go on to have a major impact on rail travel. Lichterfelde near Berlin, Germany was the site for the world's first electric tram line, which opened in 1881. With steam causing problems in tunnels, underground lines became the focus of much of the early development of electric locomotion. The first electric underground line opened in London in 1890.

Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway

Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway

For a spectacular journey on an electrified line, head to Switzerland’s Centovalli Railway with Rail Discoveries. The name means ‘one hundred valleys’ and the mountainous landscape offers incredible views as passengers roll along a track that connects Locarno in Switzerland to Domodossola in Italy. There is no shortage of bridges, viaducts, gorges and lakes along this magnificent route dating from 1923.

Tour information: 8 days from £1,195 per person

4) Diesel Trains in Wales

The history of rail takes an interesting turn with the introduction of diesel, which had mixed early results. German inventor Dr Rudolf Diesel’s first compression ignition engine was patented in 1898 but it took 14 years before the Winterthur-Romanshorn railroad in Switzerland ran the world’s first diesel-powered locomotives in 1912. Initially this had little commercial success, but after the Second World War, diesel engines saw more widespread uptake due to their superior performance and lower cost compared to steam.

Combine history with scenery on the Railways of Wales tour. The Ffestiniog Mountain Railway, which was founded in 1832 and claims to be the oldest independent railway company in the world, operates both steam and diesel services. Located in the Snowdonia National Park, it runs from the harbour town of Porthmadog along a 13.5-mile route to the slate mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, offering stunning views of idyllic Welsh countryside along the way.

Tour information: 6 days from £525 per person

Mount Fuji and Tokaido Shinkansen view from Shizuoka

Mount Fuji and Tokaido Shinkansen view from Shizuoka

5) Bullet Trains in Japan

From the 1960s onwards, electrification expanded across many main lines, especially in Europe and Japan. Very high-speed services took electrification further, with the Japanese Shinkansen (opened in 1964) and the French TGV (from 1981) the first systems with completely new lines built specifically for high-speed rail. Both systems have proved to be incredibly safe, with neither having experienced a fatal accident during its operational history. China is now home to the fastest bullet trains in the world, but the Shinkansen remains one of the speediest, capable of rapid maximum speeds of 240-320 Km/hour, or 150-200 miles per hour.

You can experience the Shinkansen as part of Rail Discoveries’ Adventures through Japan. Passengers travel from Tokyo to Hiroshima and from Hiroshima to Kyoto on this super-express service, which is unrivalled for both comfort and efficiency, making for an epic experience across one of the most beautiful countries on the planet.

Tour information: days from £3,195 per person.


Yorkshire by Steam

• Fully escorted by a UK Tour Manager from start to finish • All rail and coach travel throughout your tour • 4 nights' hotel accommodation in Harrogate with breakfast and dinner • Guided tour of York

• Journey on the Keighley & Worth Valley Steam Railway • Visit to the Brontë Parsonage • Journey on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway • Free time in Goathland, also known as Heartbeat's 'Aidensfield' • Excursion to Whitby, one of Yorkshire's best-loved seaside towns

The Highlands by Steam

• Fully escorted by a UK Tour Manager from start to finish • All rail and coach travel throughout your tour • 5 nights' hotel accommodation with breakfast and 2 dinners • Excursion to Queen's View and Pitlochry • Blair Castle and Gardens • Jacobite Steam Train (Early departures will make this journey on Scotrail's diesel service) • The Strathspey Steam Railway • Cairngorm Mountain Railway

Scenic Switzerland by Rail

• The services of a professional UK Tour Manager • Return flights to Zurich • Rail and coach travel throughout your tour • 7 nights' hotel accommodation with breakfast and dinner • Excursion to Zermatt • Journey on the Centovalli Railway to Locarno • Journey on the Glacier Express • Journey on the Bernina Express and free time in St Moritz

Railways of Wales

• Fully escorted by a UK Tour Manager from start to finish • All rail and coach travel throughout your tour • 5 nights' hotel accommodation with breakfast and dinner • Ffestiniog Railway • Llangollen Railway • Welsh Highland Railway • Horse-drawn cruise along Llangollen Canal • Tour of Caernarfon Castle with a local guide • Time at leisure to explore in Llandudno and Portmeirion

Adventures through Japan

• Fully escorted by a UK Tour Manager from start to finish • Flight from London to Tokyo, via Dubai, and from Osaka to London, via Dubai • Rail and coach travel throughout your tour • 11 nights' hotel accommodation, with breakfast each day and 1 traditional Japanese lunch • Guided tours of Tokyo and Kyoto and a guided visit to Mount Fuji • See Owakudani volcanic valley & cruise Lake Ashi

• Travel on the bullet train to Hiroshima and Kyoto • Visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Osaka Castle • A walking tour of Miyajima Island and experience a sake tasting • Excursions to Arashiyama bamboo forest & Nara deer park