Toronto to Vancouver … by Train.

I am in Toronto for two days and on Sunday morning will leave this city on VIA Rail Canada’s wonderful train, The Canadian, for a three-plus day journey to Vancouver.

This is a glorious ride, with (heading west from Toronto) the scenery starting out wonderful and improving as you go—from tidy dairy farms to endless fields of grain to the spectacular Canadian Rockies and concluding with a ride through the incomparable Fraser River Valley.

Ah, but the time it takes to complete this journey has stretched out to almost four days, with VIA Rail trains running on track owned by Canadian National Railway, one of two major freight railroads operating north of the border.  And CN seems to operate on the principle that VIA Rail should damn well be grateful that they are permitted to use CN track at all.

I’m not sure which is more frustrating: Amtrak trains being delayed by the host railroad in defiance of the federal law that says very clearly they should be given “preference”  or a freight railroad that casually makes several hundred human passengers wait on sidings until it’s good and ready to release them. 

In the case of The Canadian, what should be a leisurely three-day journey has routinely stretched into four. These days, the train typically reaches Vancouver in the wee hours of Day Four. Rather than roust passengers and send them off to hotels at 2:00 a.m., the train sits in the station until a more civilized hour.

There is another reason for deploring this elongated schedule, however.

On a “normal” run, The Canadian would be traveling through the lovely Fraser River Valley during daylight hours.

We do see the river in the mountains—rushing white water that is a challenge to skilled rafters—but closer to Vancouver, the train follows the river as it winds peacefully through an absolutely lovely valley— verdant fields with cattle grazing in lush knee-deep grass.

Chances are, we’ll miss most or even all of that. Fear not, however, because there is satisfaction in the knowledge that all those Chinese toaster ovens will get to wherever it is they’re going spot on time.