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What is a Boat Train?

By Ken Black
Updated May 23, 2024
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A boat train is a method of travel that involves using a ship in conjunction with a train to transport passengers over land and water. The travel arrangements are handled by the same company, making it convenient for the traveler because the train schedule is done in connection with the ship's schedule. The trains and ships involved in the boat train provide one way to get from a port location to an inland location, without having to deal with multiple companies or operators. This type of travel is rarely used anymore, but there are some modern equivalents.

The type of ship or boat in a boat train often depends on the type of travel being done. Those who are going across the ocean, or a part of the ocean, may be placed on larger seagoing vessels that may not only hold passengers from the boat train, but other passengers as well. These are known as ferries. Those traveling on a river may find the boat to be somewhat smaller, and the ability to take on other passengers often depends on the capacity.

In the past, some boat trains actually worked by loading entire rail cars on the ships. Those rail cars would then be transported to other locations and put back on rails. The final destination of the passengers may have been the port where they landed, or they may have taken the train to another location. This type of boat train enhanced the convenience because a passenger was able to keep their luggage in the same place throughout the entire journey, minimizing the risk of loss.

The most common place to find a boat train operation was in Europe. Routes between London and Paris were once very popular, but with more modern travel options, routes by boat train no longer exist. Instead those wishing to follow in the same approximate way must travel by train to a port city such as Dover, England or Calais, France. Once there, passengers must then take a ferry to the other side and board another train for the final leg.

In the United States, cruise ships may offer excursions that are very similar to boat trains. In such cases, passengers generally deal with one company and take a train as part of a shore excursion once reaching a port of call. The major difference is that the train generally takes passengers back to the same port they started from, but even this is not always the case. In any case, the phrase "boat train" is not typically used for such journeys

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