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Mexico's improved train service bids for US tourists. When you get hungry, you may be approached by a girl selling jicama

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If the idea of train travel in Mexico conjures up scenes from John Huston's classic film ``The Treasure of the Sierra Madre'' or images of journalist John Reed riding with Mexican revolutionaries, you're just a bit behind the times. The government train system has undergone an overhaul in the last two years. Several routes, including trips from the border to Mexico City, have been completely renovated. From the Texas-Mexico border it's possible to take the top-of-the-line primera especial service at Piedras Negras, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, or Matamoros. A porter in a white jacket with silver buttons brings clean towels and prepares your Pullman bed. Waiters serve full-course meals with a choice of steak, chicken, or fish, along with a drink, in the comfortable dining car. All of this is included in the fare, which costs less than one-third of the price of a one-way airline ticket.

With the recent bankruptcy of Aeromexico, one of Mexico's two airlines, as well as rising air fares, train travel is well worth considering, especially if you want the adventure to begin the minute you cross the border. The Pacific route from Mexicali offers the ambiance of an original Pullman car, with a proximity to local color that is missing in the air-filtered sterility of a plane. This 46-hour, 2,758-kilometer (1,700-mile) trek provides a more leisurely introduction to Mexico.

About $78 pays for a dormitorio, a 3-by-6-foot Pullman compartment with a bed that pulls out of the wall, two green upholstered seats, a window half the length of the compartment, and a small stainless steel sink in a corner.

The ticket includes two meals on the last 12-hour leg of the journey, from Guadalajara to Mexico City. By that time you should be fairly ravenous, since there is no dining car or club car for the first 34 hours. Air conditioning is another luxury you will have to do without. Before boarding the train, buy a couple gallons of frozen water at the station. You're going to need it.


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