Do you love traveling by train? Got a friend or relative who loves trains? Maybe you have a kid who’s starting to fall for the charm of the railways. Whether you’re getting them for yourself or others, books about trains are great buys.
Trains and railways prove that traveling is not just about the destination but also the journey. Books and movies depict trains as mysterious vehicles, sometimes filled with wonder, sometimes filled with dread.
A train can bring one to a world of magic and adventure (like the Hogwarts Express) or be a miniature world in itself (like Snowpiercer).
We’re taking you on a ride with this list of books about trains that include classic railway books, non-fiction accounts, and history books. Of course, we included children’s books about trains – you want to spark that sense of adventure at an early age. Hop aboard!
Best train and railway novels
From murders and mysteries to literary fiction and steampunk novels, trains and railroads make for great story settings. If you’re looking for your next exciting read, these amazing books about trains will not disappoint.
1. Murder on the Orient Express (Hercule Poirot #14) by Agatha Christie
Let’s start with the most widely read mystery novel of all time. Murder on the Orient Express is a classic detective fiction by English writer Agatha Christie. It features the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who is one of Christie’s most famous characters.
This best-selling novel takes place almost entirely onboard one of the greatest railways in history, the luxurious Orient Express. The book opens with the train stopped by a heavy snowdrift. The morning after, millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett is found dead in his compartment.
Without a doubt, the murderer is one of the passengers… but the question is who? Hercule Poirot must find out before the murderer decides to strike again.
This is a gripping and mind-boggling locked-room mystery, one that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It will even make you wish you were a detective yourself, or at least be Poirot’s sidekick.
If you’re wondering if you should read the other Poirot books first, there’s no need. This can be read as a stand-alone novel but you’ll likely want to read more Poirot stuff anyway.
2. Iron Council (Bas-Lag #3) by China Miéville
If themes of imperialism, socialism, class-based oppression and politics of resistance sound like your cup of tea, this book is for you.
Iron Council is a fantasy novel by British writer China Miéville, his third book in the Bas-Lag series. However, it’s set roughly two decades after the events in Perdido Street Station and The Scar and makes only brief references to these two so you can start with this book if you wish to.
Combining elements of steampunk and the Western genre, Iron Council is easily Miéville’s most political novel, tackling imperialism, war, racism and homosexuality, and rebellion.
The Iron Council itself, the perpetual train that lays its own tracks as it moves forward, is a symbol of utopia in contrast to the tyrannical rule of New Crobuzon. Definitely a train ride like no other.
3. Mr. Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood
Train rides are great settings for duplicitous friendships like the one in Isherwood’s critically and popularly acclaimed novel.
Mr. Norris Changes Trains opens with two Englishmen, Arthur Norris and William Bradshaw, meeting on a train to Berlin.
The titular Mr. Norris is an irresistible, comical, flamboyant, and unpredictable man. Bradshaw, on the other hand, is a gullible English teacher who unwittingly strikes a friendship and gets entangled in the dubious activities of Mr. Norris.
Set in early 1930s Berlin, this book deals with themes of Communism against the rise of Nazism. Isherwood provides an engrossing character study in an interesting time in history.
4. Orient Express by Graham Greene
Celebrated author Graham Greene has written over 25 novels in almost seven decades of his career. One of these novels is The Quiet American, one of our recommended books about Vietnamese history. But before being recognized as one of the finest writers in the 50s, he had to struggle first in the 1930s.
After writing a couple of unsuccessful books, Greene wrote Orient Express (originally titled Stamboul Train), which became his first successful work.
Orient Express focuses on the lives of several of its passengers as they travel across Europe. These characters, albeit traveling for different reasons, are soon intertwined into each other’s lives through a suspenseful three-day journey from Ostend to Istanbul.
Political, entertaining, and full of social commentary, this book is an exhilarating gem.
5. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Half-historical, half contemporary fiction, Orphan Train is one of the few books about trains that transported children from crowded Eastern cities of the U.S. to foster homes in the Midwest. Between 1854 to 1929, an estimated 250,000 children – some orphaned, some abandoned – traveled by rail to find new homes.
A best-selling novel, Orphan Train highlights the story of America’s largest child migration.
The book focuses on 91-year-old Vivian who was an orphan train rider and seventeen-year-old Molly who is months away from “aging out” of the child welfare system. They meet, build an unexpected friendship, and deal with troubles and questions from their past.
This one’s an emotional and compelling story about loss, resilience, and courage. It’ll break your heart but also give you hope.
6. The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton
Years before Michael Crichton wrote Jurassic Park, the master storyteller wrote one of his best thrillers, The Great Train Robbery.
This crime novel tells the story of the Great Gold Robbery of 1855, a gold heist that took place on a train traveling through Victorian England. In the story, Edward Pierce is a rich, handsome, and cunning thief who spends more than a year planning this daring heist. Affluent and charming, no one suspects Pierce to be capable of such crime.
The book is a fictionalized representation of true events that happened in 1855 but Crichton took the liberty of changing some details. These changes don’t take away from the suspense (and maybe even made it more exciting) but if you want the facts, you can check out David Hanrahan’s book, The First Great Train Robbery.
7. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
If psychological thrillers and unreliable narrators are your thing, Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train will give you the kicks.
Said girl on the title is Rachel Watson, a 33-year-old alcoholic and divorcee. She catches the same commuter train every morning and every evening and at each time. The train slowly passes through a row of houses, one of which is her old house where her ex-husband and his new family live.
She also begins observing a couple who lives a few houses away from her ex-husband’s house. But she soon sees something shocking and finds herself entangled in a mind-bending dilemma.
Due to its popularity, The Girl on the Train was also adapted into a movie. However, it wasn’t as well-received as the book.
Railroad history books
The development of trains and railways is one of the most defining phenomena of the Industrial Revolution.
Books about trains give us a glimpse into not just the history of trains but how railroads brought political, economic, and social changes around the world.
8. Exploring Britain’s Lost Railways by Julian Holland
The first on our list of historical railway books, Exploring Britain’s Lost Railways offers not just a ride down memory lane for British railway enthusiasts but also a guidebook for walkers, runners, and cyclers.
In this rail book, Julian Holland tells the history behind over 50 “lost” railway lines in Britain which were closed during the 20th century. Holland uses old Ordnance Survey maps and archive photographs to show how each line operated prior to closure.
Historical images are matched with commissioned present-day stills, showing what remains and how some of these lines have been converted to footpaths and cycleways. This book is a gem for history junkies who want to explore old lines and outdoor adventurers who enjoy scenic routes and level terrains.
9. Fire and Steam: A New History of the Railways in Britain by Christian Wolmar
One of the more recent British railway books, Christian Wolmar’s Fire and Steam tells the story of how the world’s first railway network came to be and how it changed Great Britain.
Long before steam locomotives appeared, the world’s oldest railway system was first established with local wooden wagonways in Britain. The first use of steam locomotives was also in Great Britain. By 1930, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened, paving the way for modern railways.
Fire and Steam celebrates this history and examines the social and economic importance of such events. As Christian Wolmar is a pundit on Britain’s railway industry and an award-winning transport journalist, you can expect extensive knowledge and passionate and insightful commentary from this book.
10. Railroads Across North America: An Illustrated History by Claude Wiatrowski
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While not as old as British railways, North America’s railroads hold rich and wonderful history.
Claude Wiatrowski touches on nearly every railroad in the United States and Canada, briefly introducing each line and explaining mergers when applicable. While not comprehensive, it’s a great primer on North American locomotives.
What’s great about this book on trains is the number of memorabilia that accompany the text. From old photographs of steam, diesel, and electric trains to posters, postcards, vintage advertisements, menus, schedules, and maps, it has nearly 600 visual materials that celebrate the glory of the great engine.
11. 100 Years of Classic Steam by Colin Garratt
Are you a fan of steam trains? This beautiful historical photo book captures the appeal of some of the best trains in the world.
Colin Garratt was a world-renowned locomotive expert and a professional railway photographer for most of his life. 100 Years of Classic Steam is just one of the over 40 books on steam and rail that he has written and illustrated.
This book illustrates a century of steam locomotives on plantations, heavy industry, and main lines. It contains 200 photographs from four continents with engrossing text.
12. Rails Around the World: Two Centuries of Trains and Locomotives by Brian Solomon
If 100 years of train history feels too short for you, double it by reading this pictorial history covering not one but two centuries of evolution.
Brian Solomon is one of the most accomplished and prolific railroad historians and photographers today. Rails Around the World is just one of over 25 books that he has written about trains and railroads.
Teeming with visual aid, this book chronicles the history of significant trains and locomotives throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. It covers steam and electric-diesel machines, freight and commuter trains, and how heavy iron has transformed over the last two centuries in more than 30 nations.
Topics covered include the Consolidation Type, early applications of Edison, Tesla, and Siemens, Germany’s Flying Hamburger, Japanese Shinkansen trains, the Soviet M62 diesel, and more.
Best train books for toddlers and kids
Trains have always conjured a sense of adventure and wonder. So, it’s not hard to see why kids around the world are enamored by these machines.
If you have a train-obsessed child in your life or a young reader who likes exciting tales, the following books about trains come highly recommended.
13. The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
Published in 1906, this British classic continues to captivate generations of readers.
The Railway Children tells the story of three well-mannered siblings, Roberta, Peter, and Phyllis, whose lives are greatly altered when, one evening, two men arrive at their house and took their father away. They and their mother were forced to live in a country cottage near a railway station.
The trio’s days are soon filled with adventure, thanks to the friends they made including the porter and the station master. They come to imagine the train itself as a dragon that carries love to their missing father. In an exciting twist, it is this train that solves the mystery of their father’s disappearance.
Carrying a timeless warmth and charm, this much-loved book of trains for kids is worth reading whether you’re young or old.
14. The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
The Little Engine That Could is much more than a kids’ book about trains. It’s an icon of inspiration.
The Little Blue Engine is a determined and hardworking protagonist who agrees to help pull a train full of toys and goodies for children. Despite being small, she presses on, pulling a long train over the mountain, all while repeating the famous mantra “I think I can.”
The story of this small but optimistic engine, now almost a century old, remains inspiring and enlightening for kids and kids-at-heart.
15. I Dream Of Trains by Angela Johnson
In the 19th century Mississippi, a young African-American boy toils all day long in the cotton fields. He finds respite in watching the trains go by in the nearby tracks, hearing it whistle, and imagining himself aboard with his hero, the legendary (and real-life) engineer Casey Jones.
But when Jones dies in a train crash in 1900 while saving the lives of his passengers, the boy and his dreams are shattered. The boy’s father reassures the boy that heroes are lost, then found, and dreams can still take wing.
Award-winning author Angela Johnson weaves landscapes of mountains and seas and paints a picture of love, loss, heartbreak, and hope through this eloquent and stirring narrative. Anyone who’s had a hero will find this endearing.
16. Peacebound Trains by Haemi Balgassi
While there’s a considerable number of books about the Korean War for kids and teens, few take place on the railway.
This makes Haemi Balgassi’s Peacebound Trains an important work not just for readers of Korean heritage but for anyone who wants to know more about this important time in history.
This children’s book features Sumi and her grandmother who takes care of her in the absence of Sumi’s mother. As Sumi longs for her mother’s return from the U.S. military, she watches trains passing by.
The train’s whistles remind her grandmother of her painful past and prompt her to tell Sumi of a climactic ride she and her Sumi’s mom took long ago during the Korean war.
Sumi’s grandmother tells her how she and her family rode the train to Busan to escape war-torn Seoul. The story is poignant and touching, made even more evocative and gripping by Chris Soentpiet exquisite watercolor illustrations.
Short stories about trains
Short story collections are great alternatives to novels if you have limited time. These books introduce you to more railway stories in the shortest possible time.
17. Mugby Junction by Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens, one of the greatest novelists of all time, was said to have never liked trains. And he probably hated it more after experiencing a train crash that killed ten people. And even though he still traveled by train afterward, he was always nervous about it and would use an alternative means when possible.
It is perhaps not surprising that Dickens’ short stories on train journeys hardly paint a cheery picture.
Mugby Junction contains eight short stories, four written by Dickens and the other four by Andrew Halliday, Charles Collins, Hesba Stretton, and Amelia Edwards. Of these eight, Dickens’s The Signal-Man is the most popular.
The Signal-Man was partly inspired by Dickens’ own train crash experience as well as other rail accidents like the deadly Clayton Tunnel crash of 1861. It tells the story of the signalman who is haunted by a ghost, each appearance followed by a terrible accident.
18. Thrilling Stories of the Railway by Victor L. Whitechurch
Clergyman and writer Victor L. Whitechurch was known for his well-constructed detective fiction. In Thrilling Stories of the Railway, he put together 15 electrifying short stories set during the golden age of steam.
Nine of these 15 stories feature Whitechurch’s best-known character, vegetarian detective and railway expert, Thorpe Hazell.
Stories like The Affair of the German Dispatch-Box, Sir Gilbert Murrell’s Picture, and The Stolen Necklace highlight Hazell’s skills and knowledge of the railway.
19. Let it Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, & Lauren Myracle
A deviation from what is otherwise a somber list, Let It Snow is a collection of three young adult romance novellas from three best-selling YA authors, John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle.
The book opens on Christmas Eve, with a snowstorm that stops a train in one small town. One of the passengers ventures out of the train, setting off a chain of events that affect many other passengers. The stranded train ultimately brings the characters from the three stories together.
Perfect for light reading, Let It Snow has plenty of hilarious, romantic, and cozy moments. A charming and feel-good read.
Non-fiction books about trains
For a more accurate picture of how trains and railways changed and are continuously changing the world, non-fiction books about trains are worth considering.
Be ready to daydream of your future train adventures, too, with these inspiring pieces of travel literature.
20. The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
Paul Theroux’s 1975 classic is a prime example of entertaining travel literature. Strange, at times funny, at times poignant, generally engrossing, The Great Railway Bazaar is a railway odyssey like no other.
Theroux’s travelogue takes readers from London’s Victoria Station to Tokyo Central, recounting his experiences on some of the best trains in the world – the Orient Express, the Khyber Pass Local, the Frontier Mail, the Golden Arrow to Kuala Lumpur, the Mandalay Express, the Trans-Siberian Express. He then returns from Japan via the Trans-Siberian.
The four-month journey is full of Theroux’s signature humor, wit, and charm. This book about trains is hard to put down but will also make you wish you were traveling instead of reading.
21. Amazing Train Journeys by Lonely Planet
If you are not yet planning on traveling by train, you will, by the time you finish this brilliant guide from Lonely Planet.
Detailing 60 of the world’s greatest and most unforgettable train journeys, this book takes you on classic long-distance trips like Western Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer and Darwin to Adelaide’s The Ghan, to little-known gems on regular commuting lines.
Each journey includes practical information like ticket options, timetables and stops, and inspiring images and maps that will make you start rewriting your bucket list.
22. Great Train Journeys of the World by Time Out Guides
A travel guide for the train lover and the would-be train lover, Time Out’s Great Train Journeys of the World covers 40 stunning train journeys, from short to long, luxurious to simpler trips, nostalgic steam lines to the techie and state-of-the-art locomotives.
This book about trains covers a variety of interests and is divided into sections like Crossing Continents, Cultural Experiences, Scenic Spectaculars, and more.
Includes plenty of insider tips, packing guides, itinerary suggestions, and more. The only downside is its lack of maps.
23. Around the World in 80 Trains: A 45,000-Mile Adventure by Monisha Rajesh
If you’re a fan of Indian railway books, you’ve likely heard of Monisha Rajesh or even read her book Around India in 80 Trains. She returns with another book on train journeys, this time circumnavigating the globe.
Rajesh’s route covers 45,000 miles and coasts along the world’s most remarkable railways from Tibet to Venice to even North Korea. The ensuing journey leads her to meet new people, swap stories with new friends, while taking in unforgettable views.
While Around the World in 80 Trains is by no means a travel guide (it’s really more of a memoir), it’s one of the most inspiring books about trains and it perfectly encapsulates the wonder of train journeys.
24. Trains: The World’s Most Scenic Routes by Publications International
One of the most visually captivating books about trains, The World’s Most Scenic Routes features over 70 beautiful, historic, and useful train routes, accompanied by in-depth descriptions and high-definition photographs.
This book takes the readers to Asia, Australia, North America, and Europe, traveling through history via passenger and freight services, from horse-drawn rail carriages to modern locomotives. The vivid images appeal to rail buffs, both young and old.
25. Riding the Trains in Japan by Patrick Holland
It has to be said that the title of this book is quite mistitled. Patrick Holland’s book does include events in Japan but the journey takes him to China and Vietnam, too.
Mislabeling aside, this is a compelling travel narrative of the Far East, a deep reflection of the Asian landscape. The journey threads through rivers in Saigon, mountains in the Chinese Himalayas, and cemeteries in Japan, all the way through the flat plains of Australia.
This collection of essays, musings, and self-reflection is made worthwhile by Holland’s skillful description of the aesthetics of the places he’s been to.
And there you have it! We hope this list of exciting books about trains helped you find something to add to your reading list or gift list. Bon voyage, dear reader!