The heart of Australia -- hot, flat, dry and starkly beautiful -- will become more easily accessible to travelers this week when a new transcontinental rail line makes its inaugural run.
On Tuesday, the Ghan is to connect Adelaide and Darwin -- an 1,851-mile journey -- creating Australia's longest passenger-train run. Formerly the Ghan went only as far as Alice Springs, in the center of the nation. Other rail lines, the Indian Pacific and the Overland, provide connections from Sydney and Melbourne to Adelaide.
Here are contacts for selected trains around the world. (Note: Some numbers are for U.S.-based sales agents that have exclusive booking contracts with these lines, but most trains can be reserved by your local travel agent.)
Alaska Railroad: Trains between Fairbanks and Anchorage via Denali National Park; also from Anchorage to Whittier and Seward; (800) 544-0552, fax (907) 265-2323, www.akrr.com.
Amtrak: Though never out of the woods, Amtrak seems headed in the right direction under David Gunn's leadership. It's almost the only way to go if you want to use trains as transportation in the United States; (800) USA-RAIL (872-7245), www.amtrak.com.
VIA Rail Canada: Our northern neighbor's national rail passenger network is in a modest growth mode, with new Renaissance coaches and sleepers entering service. The scenic Vancouver-Jasper-Toronto Canadian remains the gem; (888) 842-7245, www.viarail.ca
Britrail: Train service in England, Scotland and Wales; (877) 677-1066, fax (877) 477-1066 (both toll free), www.britrail.net.
Eurostar: High-speed passenger train linking London, Paris and Brussels; (800) EURO-STAR (387-6782) or 011-44-20-7928-5163, www.eurostar.com. Or see Rail Europe.
Rail Europe: Source of all European rail passes (including British and Eurostar) as well as schedules, individual tickets and reservations; (888) 4-EURAIL (438-7245), www.raileurope.com.
Great Southern Railway: Operator of Australia's coast-to-coast Indian Pacific (Sydney to Perth), the Ghan (Adelaide to Darwin via Alice Springs) and the Overland (Melbourne to Adelaide); (800) 423-2880, (310) 643-0044 or internationally 011-61-8-8213-4592, fax 011-61-8-8213-4490; www.gsr.com.au.
Japan Rail: Four decades of the Shinkansen, or Bullet Train, and more; (310) 618-1181 or, through Japan Airlines, (800) 525-3663, www.japanrail.com.
Queensland Rail: Purchase tickets for the Sunlander or other long-distance services in Queensland, Australia; 011-61-7-3235-1122, www.traveltrain.qr.com.au.
Luxury and cruise trains
Al Andalus Expreso: "Hotel" train that tours southern Spain; (800) 223-1356, fax (212) 686-0271 or (818) 755-9333, fax (818) 755-0999 (these two agents also book El Transcantabrico, which tours northern Spain), www.alandalusexpreso.com.
American Orient Express: Our domestic version of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express has two trains operating on eight itineraries; (800) 320-4206 or (630) 663-4550, www.americanorientexpress.com.
Blue Train: Southern Africa's classic luxury train, recently refurbished and more luxurious than ever, with four routes; (800) 768-9020, www.bluetrain.co.za.
Montana Rockies Rail Tours: Two-day excursions between Sandpoint, Idaho, and Livingston, Mont., with possible motor coach add-ons to Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, other Rockies highlights; (800) 519-7245 or (208) 265-8618, fax (208) 265-8619, www.montanarailtours.com.
Palace on Wheels: Tour India like the maharajahs; (800) 421-5643, fax (818) 990-9762, (U.S. sales agents), www.india palaceonwheels.com or www.indianrail.gov.in.
Rocky Mountaineer: Daylight tours between Vancouver and Jasper or Banff and Calgary, Canada; (800) 665-7245, www.rockymountaineer.com.
Rovos Rail: Luxury rail tours in South Africa with historic coaches, spacious accommodations; (800) 524-7979 or 011-27-12-315-8242, www.rovos.co.za.
Royal Canadian Pacific: Elegant excursions in the Canadian Rockies with refurbished, plush cars once used by railroad execs; (877) 665-3044, www.cprtours.com.
Royal Scotsman: Super-luxury, country house-type experience; (800) 323-7308, 011-44-131-555-1344, www.royalscotsman.com.
Sierra Madre Express: Train tours to Mexico's Copper Canyon; (800) 666-0346, www.sierramadreexpress.com.
Venice Simplon-Orient- Express: Besides the London-Paris-Venice line, the company operates the Eastern & Oriental Express through Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore; the Great South Pacific Express in Australia; and two day-excursion trains in Britain; (800) 524-2420, www.orient-express.com.
Day excursion trains
Algoma Central Railway: Operates Ontario's Agawa Canyon Tour Train, a scenic route from Sault Ste. Marie to northern Ontario, and other service; (800) 242-9287, www.agawacanyontourtrain.com.
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad: Spectacular steam-powered, narrow-gauge railway in Colorado and New Mexico; (888) CUMBRES (286-2737), www.cumbrestoltec.com.