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He has long since lost count. "It's been tens of thousands of train miles. But they're never enough when you get the bug," says Mark Smith, a British writer, journalist and traveller. A romantic of the railway. If Basil Zaharoff, the notorious arms dealer, always booked car number 7 of the Orient Express, Smith always asks for seat 61 of the Eurostar, the best window of this convoy that crosses the English Channel. Hence the name of his website – The Man in Seat 61 – from which he preaches train travel, "much more rewarding than taking a flight without a soul" and offers tons of up-to-date train information that is hard to find in an industry, according to him, "obsessed with airlines".

Question. How would you sell the readers of this newspaper the train ride?

Answer. Going by train can save up to 90% of the CO2 emissions emitted by a flight. But it's more than that. People are increasingly fed up with the stress of airports and flights, and are looking for a more relaxing, interesting and satisfying way to travel. That's my message: If you take the train, you're not only doing the planet a favor, you're doing it to yourself, too.

Mark SmithTRAVEL

Q.- Which country can boast of having the best railway system?

A: I'm going to let Japan and Switzerland fight over this. I also love Spain's excellent high-speed, although Renfe needs to seriously improve its website and make sure its trains go on sale six months in advance, not just 30 days. I think competition from Ouigo and Iryo will eventually force this to happen.

Q.- Tell us about your favorite myth...

A: Now may not be the time to travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway (hopefully the war in Ukraine will end soon), but in happier times it was the patriarch of all train travel. I have done it twice and the experience was very different. Moscow-Vladivostok means seven seven days of Siberia: many birch trees! Even I was going crazy. But from Moscow to Beijing was wonderful, a feast of landscapes that include the Gobi Desert and the rugged mountains of northern China.

Q.- What route would you recommend to your best friend?

A.- The Caledonian Sleeper from London to Fort William is the best train in Britain and, in my opinion, one of the best train journeys in the world. It is a travelling hotel linking central London with Scotland's most scenic railway, the West Highland Line. During the journey you have dinner (and a whiskey or two) in the club car before retiring to your private sleeping car. Then you wake up to mountain streams, twisting oaks and deer jumping away from the train as you slowly make your way down the lonely track towards Fort William, the town at the foot of Ben Nevis, the UK's highest mountain.

Q.- What is the most worthwhile scenic train?

A.- I would say the Bernina Express from Chur, in Switzerland, to Tirano, just across the Italian border. It is the most spectacular alpine train journey of all, a narrow gauge route declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco that ascends to 2,253 meters above sea level, passing lakes and glaciers and amazing engineering works, such as the Landwasser viaduct and the Brusio spiral. It is a much slower, but more spectacular alternative to the main line between Zurich and Milan.

Q.- Let's talk about Interrail. Have I missed the rice or am I on time?

A.- There are Interrail passes for adults and seniors. It is not mandatory to carry a backpack and, if you wish, you can buy a first class pass. The Interrail is a great way to explore Europe because its flexibility is unrivalled: if you like a destination, you stay longer, if not, you keep going. In addition, now you carry the pass on your mobile, through an app.

Q.- Do you like the idea of the return of the night train in Europe?

There is no doubt that climate change is causing more people to consider the train and for longer distances than before. Unfortunately, sleeping cars are the type of train that has the most difficulty operating commercially. They require special rolling stock and have to pay expensive track access fees over long distances. But Austrian Railways (ÖBB) has shown that trains with berths can be a success and new players such as European Sleeper are starting to enter the market. Let's hope that one day someone will restore a train with bunk beds between Paris and Spain!

A 'I do' on the Orient Express

"In October 2003 I travelled from London to Venice on the luxurious Venice Simplon-Orient Express for very unromantic reasons," Smith says. "I needed to research the train for Seat61 and at that time the tickets were 25% off. My girlfriend, whom I had only been dating for six weeks, came with me. That beautifully restored old train cast its spell and somewhere in a snow-swept Brenner Pass, I proposed to marry me. At least, that's how she remembers it. I maintain that it was she who proposed to me. Anyway, here we are 20 years later, married, with two children, two cats and a dog. Powerful magic of that train..."

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