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Rail travel is booming in Asia, according to the editor of the Thomas Cook Overseas Timetable, Peter Bass. This month, the "blue book" celebrates its 25th anniversary,. "In China, when the first edition came out we showed only six trains from Beijing to Shanghai, with the quickest taking 19 hours. We now show 16, and journey times have been cut to 12 hours."

Japan's main bullet-train line is now 30 per cent faster. Korea has introduced high-speed trains, and Taiwan is testing a 186mph service.

Elsewhere, the omens are not so promising. In 1981, Canada boasted daily transcontinental services; today there are just three a week. In Mexico, the number of rail services has fallen from 47 to eight, two of which are cruise trains. Of the rest, says Bass, "only the Chihuahua-Los Mochis service can be relied upon" - the Copper Canyon Railway.

Indian Railways still thrive, despite the growth of low-cost airlines. Standards have improved since 1981, when the Timetable warned: "Indian trains become extremely full, though electrification has done a lot to reduce the numbers travelling on the roof."

But elsewhere, rooftop travel is still popular: the introduction in the new edition to the chapter on Ecuador explains that, on the nation's scant railway network, "there are two classes of accommodation, coach and roof, with fares being identical".

Thomas Cook Overseas Timetable, £11.50