Great Railway Journeys

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Great Railway Journeys
Great Railway Journeys.png
Title screen for most episodes from Series 2 onward.
Country of originUnited Kingdom
No. of episodes27
Running time50 or 60 min
Original networkBBC Two
Original release1980 –
Followed byGreat British Railway Journeys

Great Railway Journeys, originally titled Great Railway Journeys of the World, is a recurring series of travel documentaries produced by BBC Television. The premise of each programme is that the presenter, typically a well-known figure from the arts or media, would make a journey by train, usually through a country or to a destination to which they had a personal connection. The first series, which used the longer title, was broadcast on BBC2 in 1980. After a 14-year hiatus, a further three series were broadcast between 1994 and 1999, using the shorter series title. Similar series were broadcast in 1983, Great Little Railways, and 2010, Great British Railway Journeys.

The first series is notable in that it featured the first television travelogue by comedian and comic actor Michael Palin (Confessions of a Trainspotter), who would go on to become as well known for his travel series (such as Pole to Pole and Sahara) as for his comedy.

English musician and sound artist Chris Watson worked as an audio recorder for the fourth episode "Los Mochis to Veracruz" of the fourth season. Having spent between five weeks to a month on the train, Watson used field recordings of the journey for his 2011 album El Tren Fantasma.[1][2][3]


Series 1: Great Railway Journeys of the World (1980)[edit]

Episode summary for Series 1:[4]

Episode No. Episode Title UK Broadcast Date Presenter Details of Journey Countries Visited
#1.0 Introduction (extracts from forthcoming episodes in the series) 1980-10-23 - - -
#1.1 "Coast to Coast" 1980-10-30 Ludovic Kennedy New York City to Los Angeles USA
#1.2 "The Long Straight" 1980-11-06 Michael Frayn Sydney to Perth Australia
#1.3 "Deccan" 1980-11-13 Brian B. Thompson Bombay to Cochin India
#1.4 "Confessions of a Trainspotter" 1980-11-27 Michael Palin London to the Kyle of Lochalsh England, Scotland
#1.5 "Zambezi Express" 1980-12-04 Michael Wood Cape Town to Victoria Falls South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia
#1.6 "Three Miles High" 1980-12-11 Miles Kington Lima to La Paz Peru, Bolivia
#1.7 "Changing Trains" 1980-12-18 Eric Robson Paris to Budapest France, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary

Series 2: Great Railway Journeys (1994)[edit]

Episode summary for Series 2:[5]

Episode No. Episode Title UK Broadcast Date Presenter Countries Visited
#2.1 "Hong Kong to Ulaanbaatar" 1994-01-13 Clive Anderson Hong Kong, China, Mongolia
#2.2 "Cape Town to The Lost City" 1994-01-20 Rian Malan South Africa
#2.3 "St. Petersburg to Tashkent" 1994-01-27 Natalia Makarova Russia, Uzbekistan
#2.4 "Derry to Kerry" 1994-02-03 Michael Palin Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland
#2.5 "Santos to Santa Cruz" 1994-02-10 Lisa St Aubin de Terán Brazil, Bolivia
#2.6 "Karachi to The Khyber Pass" 1994-02-17 Mark Tully Pakistan

Series 3: Great Railway Journeys (1996)[edit]

Episode summary for Series 3:[5]

Episode No. Episode Title UK Broadcast Date Presenter Countries Visited
#3.1 "Crewe to Crewe" 1996-09-04 Victoria Wood United Kingdom
#3.2 "Aleppo to Aqaba" 1996-09-11 Alexei Sayle Syria, Jordan
#3.3 "Great Zimbabwe to Kilimatinde" 1996-09-18 Henry Louis Gates Jr. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania
#3.4 "The High Andes to Patagonia" 1996-09-25 Buck Henry Argentina
#3.5 "Mombasa to the Mountains of the Moon" 1996-10-02 Benedict Allen Kenya, Uganda
#3.6 "London to Arcadia" 1996-10-09 Ben Okri England, France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece
#3.7 "Halifax to Porteau Cove" 1996-10-16 Chris Bonington Canada

Series 4: Great Railway Journeys (1999)[edit]

Episode summary for Series 4:[5]

Episode No. Episode Title UK Broadcast Date Presenter Details of Journey Countries Visited
#4.1 "India East to West" 1999-01-05 Ian Hislop Calcutta to Rajasthan India
#4.2 "Granada to Salamanca" 1999-01-12 Michael Portillo See episode title Spain
#4.3 "Tokyo to Kagoshima" 1999-01-19 Fergal Keane See episode title Japan
#4.4 "Los Mochis to Veracruz" 1999-01-26 Rick Stein See episode title Mexico
#4.5 "Guantanamo to Pinar del Rio" 1999-02-02 Nick Hancock See episode title Cuba
#4.6 "St Louis to Dogon Country" 1999-02-09 Danny Glover See episode title Senegal, Mali
#4.7 "Singapore to Bangkok" 1999-04-06 Stephen Tompkinson See episode title Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand

Great Little Railways[edit]

In 1983 the BBC made a further series on rail travel entitled Great Little Railways, this time exclusively featuring narrow gauge railways.[6] This series relied on narrators rather than presenters who appeared on camera. In some cases, the narrator did not partake in the train journey, and simply recited the writing of that episode's producer.

Episode No. Episode Title UK Broadcast Date Narrator Writer Details of Journey Countries Visited
1 "The Gold Rush Line" 1983-02-15 Simon Hoggart Simon Hoggart White Pass and Yukon Route Alaska, USA and Yukon, Canada
2 "The Other Poland" 1983-02-22 Brian Blessed Lyn Webster Nasielsk to Pułtusk & Komańcza to Cisna Poland
3 "Slow Train to Olympia" 1983-03-01 Michael Wood Michael Wood Athens to Olympia Greece
4 "The Dragons of Sugar Island" 1983-03-08 Colin Garratt Colin Garratt Negros Island Philippines
5 "Line of Dreams" 1983-03-15 John Shrapnel Gerry Troyna Jodhpur and Jaipur [7] India
6 "Journey to the Land Beyond the Mountains" 1983-03-22 Ray Gosling Ray Gosling Douro Valley (including the Corgo line) Portugal
7 "The Good and The Quick" 1983-03-29 Stanley Reynolds Stanley Reynolds Guayaquil to Quito Ecuador

Great British Railway Journeys[edit]

In January 2010 BBC Two broadcast Great British Railway Journeys, a documentary with similar basic idea to Great Railway Journeys but with a different format.

Journeys are mainly focused on Great Britain, and is presented by the ex-politician and broadcaster Michael Portillo. The first series detailed four railway journeys following an 1840 Bradshaw's guide, split into a run of 20 separate episodes. The first series proved a success and a second series followed a year later in January 2011.[8] A third series followed in January 2012, including five episodes on railways in Ireland.

A fourth series aired in January 2013, also with 25 episodes, with the last five episodes focused again on railways in Ireland. A fifth series following in January 2014 with 20 episodes, making a total airing of 115 episodes across the five series.

Great Continental Railway Journeys[edit]

From 2012 BBC Two has also broadcast series of Great Continental Railway Journeys, a documentary with the same idea as Great British Railway Journeys, also presented by Portillo. It detailed railway journeys in mainland Europe, following a 1913 Bradshaw's guide to European rail travel.

Other similar series followed: Great Indian Railway Journeys in 2018 and Great Alaskan and Canadian Railroad Journeys and Great Australian Railway Journeys in 2019.

Great Asian Railway Journeys[edit]

Starting in 2020, a new series featuring railways and locations in South East Asia is being broadcast on BBC2.[9]

Video and Books[edit]

Although there have been no complete series of Great Railway Journeys released on DVD, Michael Palin's 1980 and 1994 programmes are available individually (BBCDVD1626) and as part of a box set of his collected travel documentaries, The Michael Palin Collection (BBCDVD2214). All seven of the 1980 Series 1 programs, including Palin's Confessions of a Train Spotter, were released in 1986 in cooperation with the BBC on VHS tapes by Pentrex, a California railroad video company. They are now long out-of-print, but occasionally are offered from online sellers. The six episodes of 1994's Series 2 were also released on VHS. Often available in a six-pack of programs, though also out-of-print, they are commonly found for purchase online.

Books have been published to accompany the first three series, with a chapter by each of the presenters on their particular journey:

  • Frayn, M. et al. (1981), Great Railway Journeys of the World, BBC Books, hardcover, ISBN 0-563-17903-1
  • Anderson, C. et al. (1994), Great Railway Journeys, BBC Books, hardcover, ISBN 0-563-36944-2
  • Allen, B. et al. (1996), More Great Railway Journeys, BBC Books, hardcover, ISBN 0-563-38717-3

A similar book was also published on Great Little Railways:


  1. ^ Currin, Grayson; Masters, Marc (21 October 2011). "Turning the World Into Art". Pitchfork. Retrieved 16 August 2016.
  2. ^ Pescovitz, David (4 November 2011). "El Tren Fantasma: ambient recording of a ghostly train journey". Boing Boing. Retrieved 16 August 2016.
  3. ^ Turner, Luke (2 December 2011). "Chris Watson". The Quietus. Retrieved 16 August 2016.
  4. ^ Great Railway Journeys of the World at BFI Film & TV database
  5. ^ a b c Great Railway Journeys at BFI Film & TV Database
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Michael Portillo films Great Railway Journeys". North Yorkshire Moors Railway. 10 June 2010. Archived from the original on 12 August 2010. Retrieved 19 August 2010.
  9. ^

External links[edit]