Parts of this blog entry was written after the fact, and some was written in present, so you may find a switch from present tense to past tense because of this reason, and why the entry may flip around a bit.
Saturday Feb 2. Day 1.
Toronto was not as I imagined. Granted I admit I did not see much of it, just the area around CN Tower and Union Station. It was too busy, and too many people for me. I was expecting a city more like Vancouver and less like Los Angeles.
Union Station is under construction so there was not much to see there, everything was behind scaffolding or plywood barriers, but it looks like it was a most awesome building, and I hope whatever they do to it doesn’t ruin this historic awesome.
I was overly impressed with Union Station, especially the fact there is nothing in the Via Rail departure concourse, you have to walk a good bit to get anything to eat or drink, and I could find no water fountains at all, so ended up having to buy drinks for Mcdonalds each time.
The train arriving from Vancouver was late, so we departed late. We were scheduled to depart at 2200 from Toronto, but we didn’t actually depart until 1230am, so 2 ½ hours late.
The rest of this day was spent sleeping, and trying to find the most comfortable way to sleep.
Day 2 I awoke early before most other passengers, and decided to take this opportunity to freshen up since all the bathrooms were available.
Then I went to the dome car and took a seat and waited for the sun to rise, although we are going west, the dome car allows you to see behind you and above and to the side, its an awesome way to see the passing country side.
For lunch I bought a ham sandwich for $6, it included a small bar of cheese, and small bag of carrots. The sandwich was decent and tasted good, I felt the value was there for the price being charged.
After lunch I went back to my seat and took a brief nap and then the rest of the day was spent between my seat, the dome car and walking around the 3 cars coach passengers are permitted entry to.
For dinner, I had a turkey sandwich with all the same on the side as lunch.
I will say this, Ontario is huge, as I write this at 7:00pm, we are still in Ontario but nearing the Manitoba border, but we still have a couple hours before we get to Manitoba which we do sometime tonight as we wake up in Winnipeg at 8am if we are on time.
This part of Ontario is the land of frozen lakes, trees and snow this time of year, the landscape doesn’t change much and there are no large towns, just small towns some very small with only 1,500 people. I now see why the train is important to these towns, its the only way out for some since there is no large city near any of them with an airport, its also a very remote and desolate place in these parts. The train follows a path where most towns are there because of the early days of trains and the need to have places to service them in between large city’s.
I woke up early before the sun to find that we were still in Ontario, Sioux Lookout, Ontario to be exact. Here I decided to use a water bottle and wash my hair, and it worked, when there is no shower available gotta improvise.
I had rice krispy’s for breakfast. Yum.
They made an announcement at approx 9am to inform us that we had departed Ontario and were now in Manitoba. By this point we were still behind schedule 3 ½ hours and would not have a 4 hour break in Winnipeg. We got into Winnipeg around 1130am and departed at 1pm, a bit later then scheduled.
In Winnipeg I decided to buy a sandwich and have lunch since the sandwiches looked nicer and were the same price as the train. It wasn’t too bad, I enjoyed it. Winnipeg station is a bit of a dump, there is not much there at all. Outdated and needs some improvement, but appears to be right downtown which is nice, but unfortunately because we had such a short time there, I was not able to venture out of the station and see much of the city.
Manitoba is flat, and white this time of year there is not much to look at, and I have a feeling this portion of the train ride will go a bit slower.
We are currently waiting for a freight train to pass us so we can continue. Most delays on Via Rail are caused by waiting for freight trains, Via Rail doesn’t own the track in which it operates, so the Via trains are at the mercy of the rail road who happens to own the track. Our next stop is Portage La Prairie.
So far here is my take on taking a train across a country this size.
Via Rail does its best to keep the trains on schedule, and to be honest if your taking the train time is obviously not of great importance, and no reason to be upset when the train is late, and from my fellow passengers I have not seen anyone upset over the train being late, the train is the trip, its not the transportation to the vacation, the train is the vacation, and if you keep that in mind, the train is a wonderful way to travel.
Travel by coach is not horrible, the seats are comfortable and leg room is ample.
Then dome car is nice way to spend time, it provides an awesome view, and plenty of possible options for those who want to take photos.
The staff has been up to this point has been wonderful, friendly and announce places and things of interest such as provincial borders, rivers, lakes etc.
Food in the cafe car is not bad, 6 bucks for a sandwich, the dining car is more, dinner starting at 22 dollars and lunch around 15, which was too much for me, so I did not try the dining car.
The coach cars are comfortable and offer basic amenities such as electric outlets for lap tops, cell phones etc at each row, at least the car I was on. (Car 8104).
In the skyline car for coach passenger use is the dome car, as well as the snack car which is basic offerings such as sandwiches, cereal, soda, beer, chips etc. Don’t expect a full meal from the snack bar, for that you must eat in the dining car.
Lunch in the dining car starts in the $15 range for a burger, drink.
Dinner starts in the $22 range with soup and sald.
The offering is limited, and since I haven’t eaten in the dining car, I will not go into detail regarding the basic.
Going through Ontario can be a bit tedious, it seems as if your never going to leave. But you do, and into Manitoba the landscape is boring,currently its flat, and covered it snow, mile after mile looks the same, there is not much variety in this part of the trip and you can tell people are more easily bored, as more are sleeping then have been in other more exciting segments.
If going all the way from Toronto to Vancouver or vice versa the first part of the trip and last part are the nicest scenery wise. The middle part is flat, and mostly boring in winter.
Via has some on-board entertainers and on this trip we had the singing group The Blue Warblers, they were good and I passed some time and passengers seemed to enjoy the show.
We have behind schedule for the entire trip and just have not much of a chance to catch up much time, we had left Toronto 3 hours behind schedule, but as of this writing, we are only 2 hrs 15 minutes behind right now, so we have a chance not to be super late tomorrow into Jasper, but our 1 hour 45 minute stop might be shorter.
Since leaving Toronto the theme of this train has been delay, delay delay. We have for the most part been 3-5 hours behind schedule. We arrived into Saskatoon in the middle of the night, 3am or approx 4 hours behind schedule, we woke up this morning still 6 hours from Edmonton and currently sitting in a small town, we should have been in Edmonton at 6:37am and its currently 12:15pm, so approaching 6 hours late. But it is a train, and everyone is taking it easy, and nobody seems overly upset. Via didn’t cause these delays and have no control over them, we have had to wait at points over an hour for a freight train to pass.
Today (Tuesday) I decided to eat in the dining car for breakfast and the cafe car is running out of food, and I can’t survive on just snacks. The price for breakfast was $12 which included juice and coffee. I had the stuff french toast, it was some of the best food I have ever had, no complaints at all. For the price the portion was well worth the price, and it was nice experiencing the dining car.
You may have notice little mention of Saskatchewan, this is simply because we passed through this province completely in the dark, so I was unable to see anything. I venture a guess its flat.
We arrived into Edmonton at approx 1345 local time, 7 hours and 15 minutes late. Edmonton train station is very well boring, nothing there around it. Its right off the Yellowhead Hwy in an industrial rail area, the whole part of coming into Edmonton is all industrial and not really a good impression for the city if one has never been there.
We were scheduled to go through the Rockies during the day, but due to the delays we are now very likely going to be passing through in the dark. The most scenic part of the trip, and it will be completely dark. Oh well, hopefully we get a glimpse of some mountains in the morning before we get to the lower mainland, but only time will tell.
We did end up through the Rockies during the night hours, but we got a special treat as we started down the Fraser Canyon at dawn and got to see an even better sight and scenery in my opinion, so in the end it was worth the delay.
The last morning of the trip as we had been running behind schedule for so long, Via provided everyone in coach breakfast in the dining car without charge, I thought this was a very thoughtful thing for Via to do, and it made pretty much everyone on the train happy. Overall a few people were upset over the delay but in the end we got to Vancouver, had an excellent time and trip, and made a couple new friends along the way.
My thoughts on Via Rail Canada.
I have to say despite the delays which I do not blame Via Rail for, they did everything they could possibly do to keep us on time, the service on-board the train was excellent and the staff friendly and they certainly went out of their way to make sure you had a pleasant experience. Both crews that we had went above and beyond and show what customer service should be.
Travel by train is the most leisurely and stress free way to travel, you get to a point where you don’t want the trip to end.
You meet people you would otherwise have never met. I met several people and had several wonderful conversations, we had a musician on board who played some wonderful music for us, (find you tube eugene smith.) The was an older couple who were taking the train to spend a few days in Vancouver, nd then taking the train back home. There was a lady who sat across from me who just recently discovered trains, and is taking the train and spending 2 days in Vancouver before taking the train back.
People from college students from other countries, to retired seniors enjoying retirement and everyone in between, all enjoying a train ride across Canada.
People on trains will talk, have conversation, its the complete opposite of flying, where people are stressed, don’t talk to one another, and certainly don’t take a delay easily. Those who take the train are not concerned with time, we take the train for the train itself and seeing places that we would otherwise never see. The train went through towns that were 100+ miles from the nearest highway, places you would never see by driving across the country.
Via Rail is reliant on the Government of Canada for a good chunk of its funding, passenger fares cover the remaining costs , but its not possible for passenger trains to be operated at a profit, and why we don’t have private railroads operating passenger trains, but we should not allow passenger rail to ever die in this country, I would urge everyone in Canada who reads this to tell their MP to support Via Rail funding, and every Canadian should take the time, and take the wonderful 4 day trip across Canada, on Via Rail’s “The Canadian” train number 1 going Toronto to Vancouver and Train # 2 Vancouver to Toronto.
They also operate Montreal to Halifax on the “The Ocean” and of course if you love Polar Bears they also have Winnipeg to Churchill where in the fall, polar bears can be seen in their natural wild environment.
Take time to take a rail adventure, make the train the vacation, not the destination.
There is a fare and budget for just about everyone, and if you catch a sale, its not unheard of to be able to travel across this country one way for under 200 dollars for a coach seat.
I know some might be wondering how coach is for 4 nights, 5 days since coach passengers have no access to a shower, my answer is simple, its doable and its not hard to stay fresh.
Baby wipes are your friend, and they can provide a refreshing way to cleanse and keep up on personal hygiene. Take a small water bottle with you, and its possible for most with short to medium length hair to wash their hair in the bathroom sink. I did this on day 3 and it worked just fine. And bring extra clothing and change clothes, and when all this is combined, you will be just fine without a shower.
Sleeping in coach is not all that hard, the rocking and sound of the train literally rocks you to sleep. Everyone in coach seemed to sleep find, walking through the car late at night to stretch and everyone is sound asleep. The seats are comfortable, recline a decent amount, and of course have ample legroom, even at my height 6’4, I found that I had more then enough space.
If looking to save money, bring your own snacks, and no perishable foods. Via ail is very liberal on their baggage policy, free of charge they allow 3 checked bags up to 50 pounds each, and a carry on plus personal bag such as a back pack, bring just one change of clothes in the carry on, and you have plenty of space for food and snacks.
There is no internet available, and cell coverage for the majority of the trip is non-existent, but the trains do make stops in a few stations that do have free wi-fi (Winnipeg, Edmonton for example) and when in towns if you have a smart phone, you can probably check email in the larger towns that have cell coverage.
So pack your bags and don’t hesitate and take a trip you will not forget and take Via Rail for your next vacation.