Willie and Joe Would Dine Here.
The Canadian is VIA Rail’s flagship and it does indeed deserve the title. In fact, this train sets an example for all other trains for which the general public can buy tickets. There are fancier trains . . . trains with newer equipment . . . trains with accomodate that may come at a lower price . . . but this is not an ordinary train . . . this train is the VIA flagship.
I remember a drawing by syndicated cartoonist Bill Malden, who made career out of cartoons which were literally drawn on the battlefields of Europe during World War II. Malden’s two regular characters were known to the world as Willie and Joe. In one of the cartoons, the two soldiers are slouched in a muddy fox hole, and one says to the other, “The hell this ain’t the most important foxhole in the world. I’m in it!”
I know it’s a stretch, but my point is that anyone who travels by an Amtrak train over one of the longer distance routes would like to feel as though that particular train is one of the more important trains in the world. I’ll wager that most of the people traveling in sleeper class on the Canadian have that feeling.
And no wonder!
The railcars are vintage stainless steel, but are kept in near-perfect condition. Sleeping accommodations are compact, but comfortable. Car attendants somehow know when you’ve left your accommodations for breakfast, because when you return, everything is restored to daytime configuration.
In the compact kitchens which occupy about half of the available space in VIA dining cars, the chefs and their staffs manage to produce a different set of choices for every lunch and every dinner. Think about that: there are four lunches and four dinners served on each trip (two sittings each), and there are three or four different choices for each meal. There is even some variation to the breakfast offerings.
Yes, of course it’s not a fair comparison, but Amtrak dining cars offer the same choices every day, day after day, for every meal on every long distance train.
On my personal scorecard, Amtrak doesn’t do so well comparing dining car food offered in the dining cars on five long-distance Amtrak trains. In fact, we’re getting our butts kicked! That, however, is not my point, which is very simple;
If VIA can do it, why can’t Amtrak do it?
The Canadian makes two round-trips weekly, the Empire Builder makes seven. The Canadian caters primarily to wealthy, foreign tourists while the Builder is a workhorse of reliable, daily transportation serving a much larger compliment of coach passenger.