Another Ride on VIA Rail’s Flagship.
I have just booked another ride on VIA Rail’s transcontinental train, The Canadian. As with most of my previous rides on this wonderful train, I’ll be boarding in Toronto for the ride to Vancouver.
The rationale behind that choice is simple: the scenery keeps getting better as you go—first rich farmland, then the incredible wilderness area above our Great Lakes. Next comes the great plains with countless acres of grain, much of which is sent to Eastern Europe. Then it’s the magnificent Canadian Rockies as the train crosses the province of Alberta and on into British Columbia.
However, VIA Rail must cope with the same problem that Amtrak has: freight railroads—owners of the track—giving priority to their trains by diverting passenger trains onto sidings.
There is one critical difference: to minimize delays to passenger trains, the American freight railroads are obligated by law to give preference to Amtrak trains. There is no such law in Canada and, as a result, The Canadian faces repeated delays as it makes its way over its route.
In confronting that issue, VIA made the only responsible decision open to them: they added extra hours to The Canadian’s schedule to allow for the inevitable delays.
Unfortunately, one result of that extended schedule is that it’s probably going to be dark when the train passes through the lovely Fraser River valley
However, instead of arriving in Vancouver in the late afternoon or early evening, the train typically reaches its destination in the wee hours of the morning.
This, by itself, is not a problem because the train remains in Vancouver station and passengers are permitted to sleep in until 8 o’clock.
The extended schedule is disappointing, however, because when the westbound train emerges from the mountains, it follows the Fraser River for miles through a lovely valley, with tidy farms and snow-capped mountains as a backdrop (See photo above). These days, thanks to all the time spent on sidings waiting for freight trains to pass, the westbound Canadian passes through this lovely valley in the wee hours of the morning.
On balance, however, I still prefer the westbound journey. And I enthusiastically recommend it.
VIA has some very specific protections under the Canadian Transportation Act of 1967. It has used them successfully against Canadian Pacific and a short line railroad. It could probably use these provisions against CN, if VIA managers had enough guts to do so.