VIA’s Different: Someone’s In Charge.

VIA Rail’s premier train, The Canadian, is a class operation. The classic equipment is wonderful and the onboard crew is excellent. Well, they had damn well better be! The on board service manager is a woman in her 60s who reminds me very much of my 5th grade teacher. Miss Jeanette carried a ruler around in the classroom and, from firsthand experence, I can tell you it was not used to measure things.
The female supervisor on this VIA Rail train radiates authority. She is thin, wears rimless classes, and speaks French to our train’s onboard crew in rapid bursts, as her eyes dart from here to there, making sure that everything is right.
The service managers on VIA’s long distance trains do not fill the traditional role of conductor. The actual movement of the train is left to the two engineers, while the service manager is in charge of the on board crew–car attendants and dining car staff–and demanding accountability.
While that may sound as though the atmosphere on our train was up tight, in fact it was a competent and very friendly crew. For example, on my second night aboard, I couldn’t decide between the two dessert offerings, so the server cheerfully brought both to me. Can you imagine that happening in an Amtrak dining car? No, neither can I.
There was an unusual incident involving the Coast Starlight on Friday, involving a bus carrying some teenage kids from Paso Robles, California. The plan was for the kids to board the train in Paso Robles, have lunch on the train as it headed south, then leave the train at it’s next stop, San Luis Obispo. Meanwhile, once the kids had boarded in Paso Robles, the bus driver would head for San Luis Obispo and be there to collect the kids when the train arrived almost 90 minutes later.
But for some reason the female bus driver boarded the train just moments before a conductor called “All Aboard”. The train pulled out with the kids and the bus driver on board, leaving behind the bus that was to meet them in San Luis Obispo. I am sorry to tell you, since I was on the train, I have no idea how that whole mess was resolved . . . except to say I’m quite sure the kids enjoyed it all.
All of which reminds me for the umpteenth time of the comment I got from one of VIA Rail’s dining car stewards several years ago: “You’d better learn to be flexible if you gonna work for the railroad.”

(Apologies for all the typos in the first version of this post. By the time I got to the hotel, had dinner, did some NARP work, and got around to posting something, I was just too damn tired and didn’t go back for my usual proof/correct session.)