The "A Train" is only a song, but the "A" places - Ashland and Australia - are on the schedule for Town Crier Train Tours in 2006. From June 28 to July 2, the group is scheduled to travel to Ashland, Ore., for the Shakespeare Festival. In the fall, which is late spring Down Under, the group will take the legendary Ghan railroad across Australia's mid-section. Dates for the Ghan trip are Sept. 3 to 14.
"This will be the third time our popular Amtrak adventure to Ashland has been offered," said Town Crier publisher and train buff Paul Nyberg. "The trip is a day longer this year in order to include a stop at Train Mountain, a haven for people interested in garden railroads" (scale models large enough to ride on).
Longtime Los Altos residents Fred and Tom Vertel are inviting members of the tour to be their special guests for the day. The Vertels now live on a privately owned 10-acre hobby railroad complex within the Train Mountain grounds. Town Crier Train Tours' arrival coincides with a Triennial International Train Meet, during which garden railroaders from all over the world gather to show off their handiwork. There will be scores of models in action - steam trains powered by oil, wood, coal and propane; diesel models; and battery-powered trains. Train Mountain accommodates the trains on 25 miles of various gauge tracks running through more than 2,000 acres of forested hills.
The trip to Australia is a first for Town Crier Train Tours. Participants will spend two days in Sydney before continuing to Adelaide to board the train. While in Sydney, visitors will tour the Sydney Opera House and attend a Graeme Murphy production of Puccini's opera "Turandot."
The Ghan railroad connects Adelaide in the south with Darwin in the far north, a distance of 1,740 miles. Travelers disembark midway and fly to Alice Springs to visit an Outback outpost and Ayers Rock, one of Australia's landmark natural features. Ayers Rock is significant in the spiritual life of the country's Aboriginal population.
Begun by the British in the 1880s, the Ghan takes its name from Afghan camels and drivers imported to cope with the extremes of Australia's desert. The final 882 miles of track between Alice Springs and Darwin were completed in 2004.
Australia's great red center is as beautiful as it is daunting. In the region near Alice Springs, the sand turns red, reflecting the palette of colors one sees when sunset melts over an endless horizon.
Darwin, with its tropical climate and harbor on the Arafura Sea, has much in common with nearby Indonesia. Town Crier Train Tours participants explore the northern city before returning to Sydney or flying to Cairns on Australia's eastern coast for an optional extension to the Great Barrier Reef. The extension includes four nights aboard the Coral Princess, a boat designed for swimming among the reef's myriad corals, cays and islands.