Quotulatiousness

December 18, 2017

The Canadian | Mighty Trains

Filed under: Cancon, Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Quest TV
Published on 19 Mar 2017

The Canadian is VIA Rail’s iconic passenger train, which travels between Vancouver’s Central Station and Toronto’s Union Station on a three-day, four-night journey. Mighty Trains takes the 4,466km journey, which traverses much of the country, through the Rocky Mountains, Prairies, boreal forest and lakes of Northern Ontario.

May 20, 2017

On board The Canadian

Filed under: Cancon, Railways — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The Toronto Star‘s Jennifer Bain takes a trip on VIA Rail’s premier passenger train from Toronto to Vancouver:

VIA dome observation car, 2007. Photo by Savannah Grandfather (Wikimedia)

ABOARD THE CANADIAN-That first overnight on the train was a gloriously sleepless blur disrupted by clickety clacks, rumbles, grinding squeals and ding, ding dings. Alone in F-130 in the Château Cadillac car on a Murphy bed pulled down from the wall to fill the room, I stared mesmerized through an extra-large window into the dark depths of northern Ontario and thought deeply Canadian thoughts.

Happy 150th birthday, Canada. This year cries out for a celebratory road trip. I use the term road loosely. A train track will do just fine. Let someone else drive. For four nights on the Canadian, Via Rail Canada’s iconic train from Toronto to Vancouver, I relaxed and watched boreal forest become prairie and then mountains.

Somewhere north of Sudbury that first morning, I threw on clothes and tiptoed down the narrow hall, hands outstretched to brace for sways and lurches, through the Château Dollard sleeping car to the end of the train.

The Laurentide Park car is tricked out with a downstairs lounge and upstairs domed seating area. The DIY tea and coffee station became my watering hole.

Routes of The Canadian: the original 1955 route is in red (on CPR trackage) and the current route is in blue (mainly on CN tracks). VIA took over operation of The Canadian in 1978 and changed to the current route in 1990.

You are in your own world on the Canadian, but not necessarily alone. Work on the lost art of small talk in the dining car when you’re seated with strangers. Play a board game with fellow passengers since there’s no Wi-Fi and often no cell service.

This 4,466-kilometre journey is a throwback to simpler times.

Jason Shron — a train nut from Thornhill that I met through Box — has done the Canadian upwards of 40 times and found “there’s a tendency for people on the train to spill their guts to strangers,” especially if they’re on divorce tours, which can become awkward the next day. “There’s a certain magic to that,” he admitted. He was taking his three kids to Winnipeg to meet his wife and other family for Passover.

Shron owns Canada’s largest model train company, built a section of a full-size Via car in his basement, is restoring two train cars and is writing a book about Via for its 40th anniversary next year. The Crown corporation “doesn’t celebrate its own history and doesn’t celebrate its own people” nearly enough, he lamented, and so he’s “like this one-man Via fan club.”

Make that two. Shron and Box love trains for different reasons — the actual machines and the art of train travel — but they are anomalies. Too many Canadians have never been on a train, much less slept on one.

Trains are not a part of our modern lives or lexicon, so my learning curve is steep. Passenger trains don’t have cabooses, conductors are obsolete and drivers are called engineers. Freight trains have priority in Canada when there’s one line, so passenger trains like the Canadian have to wait on the siding, causing delays.

There are economy-class seats that you sleep upright in, and banks of seats that convert into upper and lower “berths” at night with just a curtain for privacy. There are private rooms, some with a toilet that gets covered when the bed comes out, and a shared shower down the hall. I was lucky enough to experience “Prestige class” in a room with an L-shaped couch, Murphy bed and private en-suite washroom, with access to a trio of concierges, reserved seating at the front of the dome car, meals, booze and all the Earl Grey I could drink.

Part of the reason “many Canadians have never been on a train” is that there are a lot fewer trains running today than in years past: when VIA took over most intercity passenger service, it rationalized a lot of the routes (but not enough to become profitable, hence the federal government’s ongoing subsidies to VIA). Even with those subsidies, passenger trains aren’t a bargain for the average traveller, and usually compare poorly to bus or air travel in both cost and frequency. Most of VIA’s trains lose money, as this table from 2014 shows:

So, how expensive is the trip that Ms. Bain took? I went to the VIA website to find out. Booking a trip from Toronto (in my case, Oshawa) to Vancouver on The Canadian to leave today (Saturday) would cost an eye-watering $9,684.10 per person in Prestige class (including a $500 service fee, but not including HST [Harmonized Sales Tax] of $1,114.10). There are cheaper fares — booking in advance, not taking the Prestige class ticket, other available sales, etc. — but a quick Google search shows return flights in the $600 range (but I could save $226 off that if I booked for tomorrow instead of today).

For a potted history of The Canadian there’s a useful Wikipedia page.

February 26, 2016

Budd Rail Diesel Cars to return to Southern Ontario?

Filed under: Cancon, Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

CBC News reports on a possible re-introduction of RDC service between London and Sarnia:

VIA refurbished RDC Test Run

Dozens of additional passenger train runs should be operating in southern Ontario later this year as Via Rail Canada continues its push to increase the frequency of trips in and out of London, Ont.

Proponents of increased passenger rail service got a glimpse of the company’s expansion plans when Via tested a couple rebuilt diesel cars near Chatham.

Testing out the diesel cars sends a signal of Via’s progress, according to Terry Johnson, president of the Southwestern Ontario Transportation Alliance.

The alliance has been advocating for increased passenger service for years.

“What we hear when we talk to people about what they would like to see done to make passenger service more attractive to use, frequency is a big factor,” Johnson told CBC News.

Via Rail confirmed its plan to add dozens of trips in the region, including four extra round trips between Sarnia and London and several others trips out of Windsor.

More details from the VIA Rail website:

The RDC fleet is being improved to ensure reliable service and upgrade interior comfort.

Structural upgrades include engine, transmission, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and refrigeration system replacements. Our goal is to achieve substantial fuel savings, while extending the life of our trains with new parts.

The trains will also feature fully-rebuilt diesel engines that meet Euro II emission standards and fully-rebuilt air brakes. There will be new cabs at one end of each RDC with new operator controls, and new LED lighting. A new camera system will record the operator’s track view from the cab, enhancing safety and minimizing wait time if a delay-causing incident occurs, allowing VIA to deliver passengers as quickly as possible.

New wheelchair lifts are now available on either side of the cars, allowing passengers to embark or unload at any station, regardless of which side the track is on.

In addition, we’ll be adding a modern touch to interiors with features designed for passenger comfort, including improved accessibility for passengers with special mobility needs. RDC train seats will be treated to new foam and reupholstered in bright new fabrics. As well the cars will feature new toilets with environmentally-friendly retention systems in redesigned, accessible washrooms.

Earlier this week, Hunter Holmes caught a pair of RDC units being test-run on the Chatham subdivision:

Published on 21 Feb 2016

Filmed: February 20, 2016
Chatham Ontario, Canada

On February 20, 2016 two VIA Rail RDC’s were brought to Chatham Ontario to test crossing response to the units and provide a feasibility study of future operations. The units are rare enough being two of only a handful of RDC’s still in revenue service anywhere they are also far from home. Hopefully we see more of these units in the future.

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