Across Canada by Train–Part Two

(On board incidents from notes taken three years ago when I rode from Vancouver to Toronto on VIA Rail’s flagship train, The Canadian.)

There is a wonderful farmers’ market in Winnipeg, and it’s an easy walk from the train station, but, alas, we are running more than 6 hours behind schedule and Winnipeg will come and go in the wee hours after the locomotives have been re-fueled and the dining car restocked.

Dinner tonight was a choice of soup or salad, three different entrees, and two desserts. The food is all prepared on board from scratch and is excellent. And the steward is happy to run a tab for your wine or other serious beverages.

Note to Amtrak: When people get home after a long-distance train ride, they talk most about the dining experience. So why have you degraded it?

I went back to the Park Car at the rear of the train after dinner and found a free seat in the lounge area. It was next to a gentleman from New Hampshire and for the next hour of so, the conversation was mostly about the Boston Red Sox.

We’ve lost a little more time and the best collective estimate is the train is now running more than seven hours late. 

I’ll acknowledge that the numbers used here are only my best estimate, but they illustrate the problem.  

Since leaving Vancouver, we have been moved onto sidings at least 25 times, giving way to CN freight traffic. Twice, we were on a siding for close to 90 minutes waiting for two CN freights to pass us. Some of those stops were more than 30 minutes long and I’m quite sure I missed some during the nights. 

Canadian National Railway owns most of the track that is used by VIA’s passenger trains. There are so many delays—VIA passenger trains wait while CN freights get priority—that VIA’s Toronto-Vancouver train can only run two round-trips a week instead of three with a corresponding loss of revenue. And we think the freight railroads give Amtrak a bad time in the U.S.!

By the way, I never did see my new car attendant.