VIA Rail Canada is the government run railroad, which operates passenger trains across Canada. Their two, premier trains are Trains No. 1 and No. 2, "The Canadian," which run between Toronto in the east and Vancouver in the west. Train No. 1 is the westbound from Toronto to Vancouver and No.2 is the eastbound, going from Vancouver to Toronto, both trains making several stops along the way, in places like Jasper, Winnipeg, etc.
One of the "features," if you will about "The Canadian," is that all of the train cars were produced in the 1950's and they have a real nostalgia about them. All of the cars have been updated over the years, but there is only so much you can do to these old cars to bring them up to current standards. With new trucks, they probably ride better than when they were new, but they do not ride anything like modern passenger train cars, which really is a huge part of the problem. When pulled at high speeds, over tracks that are not in the best condition, these antiquated passenger cars do not roll smoothly down the tracks, they bounce, sway, lunge, lurch and move VIOLENTLY in every which way, making for a VERY UNCOMFORTABLE, VERY FRIGHTENING and, in my opinion, a VERY UNSAFE ride for the passengers.
I should point out that "The Canadian" trains are known to be habitually late. Between Vancouver and Toronto, it can sometimes be more than FORTY-FIVE HOURS late and I'm not talking break-downs or accidents, I'm talking "just because!" The reason for this, is because the Canadian National Railroad (CNR) owns all of the tracks that "The Canadian" runs on. CNR operates thousands of freight trains daily on these same tracks and gives priority to THEIR freight trains, over the VIA passenger trains. So, whenever there is a freight train coming along, "The Canadian" must stop on a siding and allow the many, sometimes GIGANTIC, 150+ car freight trains to pass, before "The Canadian" can proceed. So, on a cross country run, "The Canadian" finds itself basically "parked," waiting for freight trains to pass a great part of the time.
In all my research that I did before booking our trip, the one thing I never saw mentioned, is WHAT HAPPENS when "The Canadian" is running late. What really happens, is that whenever the engineer has a clear right-of-way in front of the train, they open the throttles and RUN THE TRAIN AS FAST AS THEY CAN to try and "MAKE UP TIME!" Now, I have been assured by many professional train engineers, both in the USA and Canada, that very strict speed limits are in place and that any sort of "speeding" NEVER occurs. Well, that might be the company line and I believe that most all pro railroad engineers will stick up for their colleagues, BUT I feel very strongly, from my experience on "The Canadian," that at several times during our trip, the train was just about FLYING, going very, VERY fast. I will admit that I have no proof of this, only my gut feeling as someone who has ridden many trains. That said, whether there was actual "speeding" involved or not, I do know, for a fact, that at many times during our trip, even if the train was not exceeding the posted speed limit, the train was going TOO FAST FOR THE CONDITIONS! When passenger cars are literally lurching side to side and bouncing up and down so violently, that VIA employees on the train cannot keep their balance, something is TERRIBLY wrong.
As someone who has loved trains all my life, I have ridden many, both in the USA and Europe. I have ridden high speed trains going over 150mph and have absolutely no problem going very fast on railroads, WHEN the equipment and the tracks are suitable for such high speeds.
Having heard for decades about "The Canadian," I had talked it up to my wife for many years and several years ago, we decided that it would be a great 70th birthday celebration for the both of us, to ride this legendary train across Canada. So, in November of 2017, we started planning our trip, booking first class tickets in what VIA Rail calls their "Prestige Class" accommodations. For what was supposed to be a 3 day, 10 hour trip, spending four nights on the train, our fare with taxes was right at $7,000.00 American Dollars. Think about that: $7,000.00 for four nights, meals included. That's a lot of money for a relatively short amount of time on the train. Just think what other types of vacations one might take with a $7,000.00 budget. AND, that is not including our travel from our home in Southern California, to Vancouver and what should have been our trip back home from Toronto. I do believe that most folks would call this a very expensive trip.
The train was due to depart Vancouver at 8:30pm and passengers were requested to be at the station by 7pm. All day long, we tried in vain to contact VIA to find out if the train would depart on time. We phoned VIA, but could not get any information other than the scheduled departure time. We emailed VIA, but got no response. We tried the VIA website, but there was no information. I even contacted our travel agent, but he was unable to get any timely information. So, we arrived at the station by 6:30pm, giving us a 30 minute cushion, only to find out when we arrived, that the train would not depart until 11pm, as the incoming train had been very late. The train actually ended up departing at 12:30 am the following morning, FOUR HOURS LATE!
That night, my wife and I found out, first hand, what happens when "The Canadian" is running late: the engineer opens the throttle and runs the train as fast as the speed limits will allow, which very often times is WAY faster than what could possibly be called "safe" or "comfortable" for the passengers. As a long time train traveler, I must tell you that I was very concerned and my wife was shaking with fear, as our "Prestige Class" sleeping car lurched, heaved, bounced, swayed and lunged so VIOLENTLY, that sleeping was pretty much out of the question.
During our second breakfast in the dining car, as the Chief Steward was pouring me a cup of coffee, while the train was lurching violently, this senior, professional VIA employee DUMPED the entire cup of scalding hot coffee all over our table, just barely missing my wife and I. He then joked about it. Was the train going the "speed limit?" If it was, it was still GOING TOO FAST FOR THE CONDITIONS!
During our third dinner, we were running down this very straight track and the engineer really had us moving very fast. In this area, it seemed like every 1/8th of a mile or so, we would hit a grade crossing (where autos can cross the tracks) and whenever we would hit one of those, I swear the diner must have swayed THREE FEET from side to side and shook violently. Passengers were SCREAMING--and I'm not talking about kids. Adults were SCREAMING! Profanity was being shouted. The wait staff began serving us wine in water glasses, as the regular wine glasses were not stable enough during this very rough and scary ride.
Right during this scary episode, I told my waiter that the engineer needed to be informed that the train was going too fast. His EXACT words to me were: "We call them every ten minutes and ask them to slow down, but they say that they NEED TO MAKE UP TIME." Am I the only one who sees a HUGE problem with this? They NEED to make up time, and the comfort and safety of the passengers and crew BE DAMNED!
When you look at a map of Canada, you see that the city of Winnipeg is approximately half way between Vancouver and Toronto. When the train arrived in Winnipeg, it was NINETEEN HOURS LATE! Deciding that we did not wish to experience what sort of "making up time" measures the engineer might have in store for us, with the train being so very late, with heavy hearts, we made the decision to leave "The Canadian" in Winnipeg. We spoke with the train "manager," who assured us that we would receive a partial refund for the unused portion of our trip. It took every fiber of my being to control myself and to not start SCREAMING at this gentleman, as I was so tired, upset, angry and disappointed with VIA and their operation of "The Canadian."
We booked a hotel in Winnipeg for the evening and the following morning, I contacted Air Canada and changed our tickets, which were originally booked to take us home from Toronto. Just to change these tickets, it cost us over $800.00 American Dollars. Thank you VIA,for screwing up our "vacation of a lifetime!" We flew from Winnipeg to Vancouver, switched planes and then home to LAX.
"The Canadian" is known for the lush, scenic vistas one can take in, as the train winds through the Rocky Mountains. I'm not going to knock this, as the scenery on this ONE DAY was truly beautiful. That said, once the train moves out of the Rockies, you are in for one of "THE" most BORING rides of your life! Mile upon mile, upon umpteenth mile of brown, grassy plains, dotted with junk yards, rail yards and just plain NOTHINGNESS! If you just MUST ride "The Canadian," I strongly suggest that you do so by taking the train from Vancouver to Jasper. Spend a night or two in Jasper and then take the train back. This way, you see the Rockies, but save yourself the agony of the rest of the "scenery."
You have just not lived, until you are sitting on a siding in the middle of nowhere, watching a 150+ car freight train roll by your "Prestige Class" window. It is SO BORING, but you had better get used to it. Remember those NINETEEN HOURS we were late? Yep, that's NINETEEN HOURS of watching freight trains roll by right next to your window. SHOOT ME!
A few years back, VIA had several of the old sleeping cars converted to what they call "Prestige Class" sleepers. They put rich looking leather seating in the bedrooms and came up with a double bed, where two people can be side by side. But, guess what? FOAM RUBBER PILLOWS! I have not slept on foam rubber pillows since I was a kid at a MOTEL 6! Anyone think that's "Prestige Class???"
Then, they made the windows in these rooms extra large, all the better for one to take in the scenery. Each of these bedrooms has a stall shower, but if you are about the size of the average senior citizen, you will have a great deal of trouble trying to even get in the shower door, let alone take a shower, as it is VERY tiny. Try doing this while the train is performing its gymnastics and you just might break your neck!
My take on these "Prestige Class" bedrooms is that they are a complete and utter waste of money. I truly believe that one would be more comfortable in a non-Prestige bedroom, which can be had for a fraction of the price of the way over rated "Prestige Class" accommodations.
Am I angry? YOU BET! We were BILKED out of $7,000.00, not to mention the other THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS wasted on other travel & lodging we were forced to pay for, just so we could GET to the train. VIA Rail Canada promised us a "RELAXING, ENJOYABLE, COMFORTABLE," trip, but what they delivered was ANYTHING BUT THAT! In addition, I truly feel that VIA Rail Canada UNNECESSARILY PUT OUR LIVES AND WELL BEING AT RISK, ALL FOR THE SAKE OF "MAKING UP TIME!" Don't make the same mistake we made: spare yourself the agony of riding "The Canadian." You'll be glad you did.