World's 10 most spectacular rack railways to travel

MT PILATUS RAILWAY, SWITZERLAND

This 1889 engineering feat near Lucerne – which still uses the original tracks – takes top spot as the world's steepest rack railway, with a gradient of 48 per cent in places (or 35 per cent average) that pins you against your seat and makes your heart thump. It takes you 1635 vertical metres across rock faces to the sometimes ice-encrusted summit of Mt Pilatus for superb views over the Swiss Alps. See www.pilatus.ch 

OIGAWA RAILWAY, JAPAN

Trundling through Shizuoka region's tea plantations, bamboo forest and passing cherry trees along the Oi River, this rack railway (the only one in Japan) was opened in 1927 mainly for sightseeing, so it's no surprise that the scenery is lovely – at least when you aren't in one of 60-odd tunnels. The train's old wooden carriages feature in many a backdrop of Japanese movies set in pre-war days. See www.oigawa-railway.co.jp 

SCHAFBERG RAILWAY, AUSTRIA

Austria's steepest steam cog railway has been hauling passengers from lakeshore St Wolfgang to the summit of the Schafberg since 1893. Replica trains are mostly used, but occasionally vintage steam trains from the late-nineteenth century make the 35-minute run through flower-studded meadows. At the top, you're rewarded with stunning lake, mountain and Dachstein Glacier views that extend over the Salzkammergut region in the heart of Austria's Alps. See www.schafbergbahn.at 

NILGIRI MOUNTAIN RAILWAY, INDIA

Built in 1908 and still operating its original fleet of steam locomotives, this rack railway in Tamil Nadu is Asia's steepest and World Heritage listed. It runs from Mettupalayam to former colonial hill station Ootacamund. The train journey is one of the world's most dramatic, packing in 16 tunnels, 250 bridges and 208 bends and taking nearly five hours (on the uphill journey) to travel just 46 kilometres. See www.indianrail.gov.in 

DIAKOPTO-KALAVRYTA RAILWAY, GREECE

Opened in 1896 – King George I of Greece took the first ride – the tracks, stations and other railway buildings of this route are a listed historical monument. The train runs only 22 kilometres through rugged Peloponnese landscapes, hauling passengers in just over an hour from sea level through the Vouraikos Gorge to Kalavryta along the line of a foaming river. In springtime, waterfalls add to the scenery. See www.ensirmo.gr 

MT WASHINGTON COG RAILWAY, US

AE3F0X Mount Washington Cog Railroad on Mount Washington in the White Mountains New Hampshire USA str5-trav10rackrail

Mount Washington Cog Railroad on Mount Washington in the White Mountains, New Hampshire, US. Photo: Alamy

This railway in New Hampshire was the world's first mountain cog railway and is still going strong, though its steam locomotives now operate on biofuel. It takes just over an hour to ascend Mt Washington's western flank to 1917 metres. This is one of the world's steepest rack railways, with some grades exceeding 37 per cent. Spectacular views spread across New England into Canada and towards the Atlantic Ocean. See www.thecog.com 

SNOWDON MOUNTAIN RAILWAY, WALES

MFG1EE Near Llanberis, Gwynedd, Wales, UK - June 14, 2017: View from the Llanberis Path, with a two trains of the Snowdon Mountain Railway str5-trav10rackrail

View from the Llanberis Path, with a two trains of the Snowdon Mountain Railway, near Llanberis, Gwynedd, Wales, UK. Photo: Alamy

Dominating northwest Wales, Snowdonia National Park features rugged peaks and moors. An easy way to absorb the scenery is on the narrow-gauge railway that takes you 7.6 kilometres from Llanberis to Snowdon's summit at 1065 metres. The only public rack-and-pinion railway in the UK has operated for more than a century, and still runs original steam locomotives through the dramatic landscapes, at one point graced with a spectacular waterfall. See www.snowdonrailway.co.uk 

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CORCOVADO RACK RAILWAY, RIO DE JANEIRO

GR1AKH The picture shows the track of the rack railway to the Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) statue atop Corcovado mountain overlooking Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 05 September 2016. The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will be held in from 7 September to 18 September 2016. Photo: Kay Nietfeld/dpa str5-trav10rackrail

The rack railway to the Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) statue atop Corcovado mountain overlooking Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Alamy

This compact line, opened in 1884, takes you in a short 20-minute haul from downtown Rio almost to the summit of an upthrust rock that is now most famous for its statue of Christ the Redeemer, arms outspread above a dazzling view of the city and its beaches. Go early in the morning before the crowds, and just as the mist lifts to reveal the entire city at your feet. See www.tremdocorcovado.rio 

MT RIGI RAILWAY, SWITZERLAND

Europe's oldest mountain railway opened in 1871 and was soon famous thanks to early passengers such as Queen Victoria and Mark Twain. It runs from Lake Lucerne to the 1797-metre summit of Mt Rigi, from which views extend over several lakes to a 200-kilometre-long panorama of snow-capped Alps. Walking paths link the line's various stations for a scenic hop-on hop-off experience in both summer and winter. See www.rigi.ch 

PEAK TRAM, HONG KONG

The iconic red carriages of this rack railway, inaugurated in 1888, climb behind skyscrapers to reveal glorious views of the city and harbour. Gradients are so steep that the high-rises on either side of the track look as though they're tilting towards the hillside on the ascent. The summit walk around The Peak on a circuit via Harlech and Lugard Roads is a delight, and has spectacular urban outlooks. See www.thepeak.com.hk 

The writer travelled as a guest of numerous tourism offices and at his own expense.

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