I've finished the first leg of my month long Youth 150 Pass trip across nearly the entire Via Rail network. I arrived into Edmonton, Alberta yesterday morning, arriving from Montreal and Toronto. I did not keep notes during my trip on the Corridor train, but below is a summary of my trip on the Canadian. I'll be posting more updates as my trip continues through the rest of the month!
The sixty hours I spent onboard was by far the best times I have ever had while travelling. The sights were incredible, especially from the dome car, but the people I met on board turned my trip so far into something truly special. I realize the atmosphere on board, especially in the coach cars, must be very different than normal with at least 90 percent of passengers part of the Youth 150 pass. Everyone seems to be having a similar wonder about them, with this being the first overnight train trip for nearly everyone, and the first train trip at all for some. The shared experience of everyone going through the same thing, having the same excitement of seeing the vast country for the first time and enjoying the same amazing sights, and being completely disconnected from the outside world for many hours at a time was something I don’t think could be experienced if I was travelling in sleeper class or even in economy class outside of the Youth 150 pass. Not showering for days and sleeping in a seat were minor inconveniences; the experience I’ve had so far has been far beyond incredible, and I can’t wait to continue it in a few days.
My itinerary for the rest of the month is the following, all in economy class.
6 days in Vancouver/Whistler
Overnight in Jasper
Skeena, Jasper-Prince George/Prince Rupert
1 day in Rupert
Skeena, Prince Rupert/Prince George-Jasper
4 days in Jasper
1 day in Toronto
1 day in Moncton/Bay of Fundy
I'll also be posting photos once I begin to go through the ones I've taken so far tonight.
Part 1: The Canadian, Toronto to Edmonton.
2 locomotives, 26 cars
Skyline Dome 8502
Skyline Dome 8515
Baggage 8612 - off at Winnipeg
Skyline Dome 8501 (Touring Class Only)
Diner A 8410
Skyline Dome 8507
Diner B 8408
Laurentide Park 8709
Passenger Count at Winnipeg: 308 in Coach, 143 in Sleeper, 451 Total
I couldn't get an updated consist or passenger count after Winnipeg from the new crew.
We boarded The Canadian at about 10:45pm on Canada Day, Saturday, July 1st in Toronto Union Station. The train was scheduled to depart at 10:00pm, but because the inbound train from Vancouver arrived into Toronto at 3:30pm (scheduled for 9:30am), it was delayed because of the time it takes to prepare the train for departure.
I had returned to the station to retrieve my carry on bag from the baggage check, where I left it for the afternoon after arriving on my train from Montreal. The baggage agent said I needed to be back around 9:00, and when I returned from the CN Tower at 9:10, there was already a lengthy lineup of Youth 150 Passholders waiting to board the train. I decided to skip the fireworks at the Harbourfront, and joined the line. I began chatting with a traveler from Montreal and two from Toronto, all of whom had taken Via before, but only between Toronto and Montreal. The Canadian would be a new experience for all of us, but our new formed group was broken up during boarding since we were going to different destinations. I was placed in the Saskatoon, Edmonton and Jasper car, and they were placed in one of the Vancouver cars.
The boarding process was amazingly smooth considering the drastic increase in economy passengers. I sat next to a student from Toronto who was visiting Jasper, who began working on a Canada 150 crossword puzzle from the Globe and Mail newspaper. This thing was massive, taking up an entire double fold page with over 600 clues. He worked on the puzzle as we departed Toronto at 11:11pm, 1 hour and eleven minutes late.
Many passengers, myself included, were a bit perplexed by the train moving backwards for nearly a kilometer outside Toronto. The crew realized this and made an announcement saying it was normal – the train just needed to back onto the main line. My seat mate and I both settled in for the night as the train departed Washago, Ontario at 1:45am.
For most passengers, this was their first overnight on a train. Many didn’t realize how far their voice carries in a car carrying sixty people. Despite the noise, I got a decent night sleep. It was a bit hard to adjust to the positon of the seat, and it was a minor fight with the footrest to get it into positon, but I only awoke once or twice through the night. I awoke as the train stopped at Capreol, Ontario, which is an extended stop (roughly 30 minutes) where the train crews open the doors and allow passengers to stretch on the platform. As the two locomotives were refueled, I made my way outside before brushing my teeth, knowing this would be my last chance for some fresh air for a while. Some began hiking down an embankment to a small lake in the near distance but with the train about to depart, they didn’t venture far.
The Canadian continued onwards into the Canadian Shield region, and cell service ceased less than a kilometer outside of Capreol. For many passengers, this was the longest they’ve been without internet connectivity in a very long time. Cell service wouldn’t return until Hornepayne, Ontario a solid seven hours later.
After leaving Capreol, I washed up in the restroom with my “shower” supplies, which consisted of body wipes and no-rinse shampoo. While not the same as an actual shower, it did the trick and I felt refreshed.
The views were endless from the Skyline dome. Hot breakfast was available from the Café Express menu for $10, which many opted for, but I stuck with the snacks I had brought. The dome car attendants came through the train in the early afternoon to take reservations for dinner, which on the first night would be served in the lower level of each dome car over five sittings, just like in the dining car. For us economy passengers, the café express menu was served, which ranged from a cheeseburger plate for $10 to fresh salmon with mashed potatoes and vegetables for $12. I opted for the 6:15 sitting and salmon; crews collected payment from passengers at the time of reservation to speed up the service, and all five sittings were packed.
Our next opportunity to venture on solid ground was in Hornepayne, Ontario, a town of about 1,000 in the Canadian Shield region. The train stopped for about 20 minutes, and many ran into the town’s small grocery store to stock up on snacks. After Hornepayne, the train entered into an extremely sparsely populated region, with only a few scattered settlements visible amongst the dense trees and wetlands. I enjoyed my dinner with two travelers from Montreal and one from Vancouver, all of whom were very curious about how I felt regarding the United States’ political climate. Nearly the entire meal was spent conversing about Trump’s policies and his healthcare proposals.
I spent the remainder of the evening in the second dome car, with the first being packed with those seeking refuge from the uncomfortable seats in the firstmost coach car, which was one not normally used for overnight trips. The sunset was incredible, occurring at nearly 10pm as the train continued westward. After dark, we encountered a ton of freight traffic, stopping at nearly every signal for anywhere from 10 to 50 minutes at a time. I wanted to stretch once more at Sioux Lookout, the next extended stop, before going to sleep, but with the delays stacking up, I ended up dozing off in the dome car. I awoke in a very uncomfortable position with my neck bent at a 90 degree angle against the window about 15 minutes before stopping at Sioux Lookout. I brushed my teeth so I could go straight to bed after stopping, and stepped outside for about 10 minutes for fresh air in the small town of about 5,000 residents.
I awoke the next morning still in Ontario. We had made up some time after Sioux Lookout, and were only running about two and a half hours late as we crossed the Manitoba border. The last call for breakfast and coffee went out a few minutes after I woke up, so I headed to the dome car to grab a cup, but held off on breakfast since I wanted to get something in Winnipeg.
We arrived into Winnipeg at 10:30am, and nearly everyone disembarked to explore the city during the train’s extended service stop. The train had to be split into two for all 26 cars to fit onto the platform, and they did it so that sleeper passengers and economy passengers were kept separate. The stop was scheduled for 3 hours and 45 minutes, but staff told us to return to the station no later than 11:45 to reboard, for a noon departure which would be only fifteen minutes late. One baggage car, located between the second and third dome cars, was going to be cut off and left behind in Winnipeg.
I went to the Forks Market, an indoor and historical marketplace with countless shops, restaurants and attractions. Formerly a fur trading post, it’s one of Winnipeg’s most popular tourist attractions, and was a great place to spend some time and to grab breakfast. I had two egg sandwiches and a “large” cup of coffee at Danny’s Homemade Breakfast. Somehow a large cup of coffee was only about eight ounces, so afterwards I found a Starbucks and brought another coffee back to the station when it was time to reboard. Winnipeg station had breathtaking architecture, and was designed by the same architects responsible for New York’s Grand Central Terminal. We reboarded at 12:05, but remained stationary at the platform for nearly two hours. Several passengers were unaccounted for, and the crew did not want to depart without making sure everyone made it back on board. We also had to wait for not one, not two, but seven freight trains to pass before the front section of the train could pull out of the station and reverse to recouple with the sleeper cars. We ended up departing at 2:02pm, two hours and 17 minutes late.
Our next stop at Portage La Prairie, Manitoba ended up adding on more of a delay, as we had to wait for more freight trains to pass by. We were stopped alongside a city park with countless prairie dogs. Watching them made the time we were stopped pass by, and we finally departed the station nearly three hours late.
The prairies of Manitoba were the flattest terrain I’ve ever experienced in my life, but it was stunningly gorgeous. Endless field of wheat, canola and flax extended as far as the eye could see, and the weather was perfect with sunny skies illuminating the yellow canola fields even more. I inquired about dinner reservations, but unfortunately the new crew who came aboard in Winnipeg weren’t planning to do another sit-down dining car style dinner. The same menu was offered in take out format, but still with an odd reservation system in staggered 45 minute intervals. No one came through the dome car to take reservations, so when I asked again around 5pm, they said they could only take my order right then or after 8pm since they had too many reservations for the 5:15, 6:00, 6:45 and 7:30 “sittings” already. I placed my order and brought my meal up to the top level of the dome car, which was the same meal as the previous night: fresh salmon with mashed potatoes and veggies, although it was a more generous portion but equally as delicious.
After dinner, I played a round of Cards Against Humanities: Canada Edition with six of my fellow passengers. Each dome car had a selection of board games and card games available for passengers to use. The game was a blast, and being the Canadian version of the game, the different cards were hilarious and made for constant laughs all the way into Saskatchewan.
We ran out of cards in the deck right as we arrived into Melville, Saskatchewan. While it’s not a scheduled extended stop, we were allowed off the train for about 10 minutes to stretch and catch a glimpse of the town of about 4,000. The sun was setting, but no one had a concrete idea of what time it was. Saskatchewan is always in standard time, and with some phones and watches automatically changing the time based on location, everyone’s devices said something different. My phone said 5:50pm, different crew members said it was both 6:50pm and 7:50pm, and others said it was 8:50pm. I reboarded the train having no clue how late we were, and went back to the dome car to watch the sun set for our third night on board.
The sunset was incredible, but what was more stunning was a massive thunderstorm developing just to the south of the train. The land was still flat as can be, and visibilities had to be at least 25 miles in all directions. Others who had better cell phone reception than me said the storm had a tornado warning, and as the sun set on the right side of the train, the storm continued to become more ominous on the left side. It was a dream come true to see a storm like this from the dome car of a train, and as the skies got darker, the lightning became more and more frequent, and mammatus clouds began to poke out of the storm on its western edge. Found only in extremely severe thunderstorms, often ones with tornadic signatures, it was an absolutely incredible sight to see.
With the sun fully set, lightning was still visible in the distance for hours. I grabbed a backwards facing seat in the dome and watched the lightning while chatting with a few other college students, including one from Arizona who was the only other American I have met onboard so far. Many curiously asked how I heard about and how I was able to get a Canada 150 Youth Pass, thinking it was only for Canadians. This, along with critical discussions about Trump’s presidency were the most common questions others have asked me so far.
The train continued westward, and it hit me how we haven’t had to stop for a freight train for hours, the last being in Portage La Prairie. Freight trains were just as numerous, but they were stopping for us, instead of the other way around. With a better idea of what time it was, I calculated we were about two and a half hours late as we arrived into Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where I walked the length of the train on the platform with one of my fellow travelers who had gotten on at Winnipeg. The 25 cars ended up being about a kilometer and a half round-trip walk during the 40 minute stop at Saskatoon.
I stayed up for a bit more in the dome car, watching the stars and chatting with other passengers. Before returning to my seat for the night, I asked the crew what time we were expected into Edmonton. We were expected to arrive about two hours late shortly after 8am, so I set my alarm for 7:30 to have enough time to wash up and get my belongings together.
I ended up waking up before my alarm near Viking, Alberta, but didn’t try and fall back asleep. I brushed my teeth, washed up and got my duffle bag repacked before heading back to the dome car for coffee. An announcement was made that we were fifteen minutes away from the station, but we stopped shortly after for freight train traffic. The minutes ticked by, and we finally were on the move after a 45 minute stop. But we stopped again just a few minutes later just meters away from Edmonton station, this time not for freight train traffic, but because the engineer ran out of allowable time to operate the train.
A new crew had to be brought in just so the train could back up into the station, which resulted in another hour of delay. We finally arrived at 10:23am, four hours and one minute late. I said goodbyes to the travelers I had been hanging out with, and disembarked and watched my bags get offloaded from the baggage car. Hertz had sent a shuttle to pick me and five other passengers up, but there wasn’t enough room for all of us and our bags to be brought to the pick up location downtown, so we split up, our bags, myself and one of my fellow travelers in the shuttle, and the rest in a cab for the 15 minute ride into downtown.
We all picked up our rental cars, and for me, this was my first time driving a car that only had metric units. It was a little nerveracking, especially with the lack of speed limit signs I’ve encountered so far in Edmonton, and the extreme prevalence of speed enforcement cameras on city streets. Now I have a few days to explore the city, with plans for Elk Island National Park, the West Edmonton Mall, and a few sights in downtown.
I’ll have another update after the next leg of my journey when I arrive into Vancouver.