The world's best train journeys: Writer tells of his love of life on the rails

Tim Richards' love of train journeys came about the same way that a Hemingway character goes bankrupt, "gradually, then suddenly".

Richards has been a travel writer for more than 17 years, but his love affair with trains really only developed in the past decade. He found he became progressively delighted by the experience before falling head over heels with life on the rails.

"Flashing back to my childhood though, I remember the last of Western Australia's steam trains hauling freight past our farm when I was a few years old. Perhaps a seed was planted then," Richards says.

Richards' new book Heading South is an ode to the great rail journeys in Australia and like any form of travel, its highs and lows.

He tells of floods, cancellations, extraordinary landscapes and forays into personal and public histories – as well as the joy of random strangers encountered along the way.

Aboard iconic trains such as the Indian Pacific, the Overland and the Spirit of Queensland, Richards covers more than 7000 kilometres, from the tropics to the desert and from big cities to ghost towns.

Overseas, Richards' rail highlights include luxurious trains such as Rovos Rail's Pride of Africa from Cape Town to Pretoria, and the Eastern & Oriental Express from Bangkok to Singapore. Catching a regular train from Colombo up to the tea country around Ella is on his wishlist when international travel resumes.

"For less than $10 a ticket, it must be one of the best value-for-money scenic rail journeys on the planet."

Richards believes trains are vastly superior to planes, cars and buses, especially over distance.

"In a train you're in the landscape, but not of the landscape – observing everything as you pass through, unimpeded, along the rails."

Heading South (Fremantle Press RRP$29.99) will be launched at Readings within the State Library of Victoria on August 4 at 6.30pm. Entry free. See