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which is better? Empire builder or via-rail Canadian?


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#1 s10mk

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 11:50 AM

Hello everyone, I'm starting to think about a cross country trip for the spring. And I was wondering, which route is more scenic, the empire builder or the via rail Canadian? I might even consider making a loop on the two trains, westbound empire builder, eastbound Canadian or vice versa.
I'm aware that the equipment is nicer on the Canadian, and also the cost is substantially higher.

#2 RPC

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 12:13 PM

If you include the Empire Builder, I'd vote for eastbound - you'll still traverse Marias Pass in daylight if the train is delayed. Note that everything between East Glacier and Devils Lake is "big sky country," i.e. remarkable primarily for its expanse.

 

I've never ridden the Canadian nor am I likely to do so until my youngest graduates from college!



#3 pennyk

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 12:31 PM

I have ridden both, but I rode the Canadian in December, and there was not much to see, other than snow, and more snow.  I rode the Canadian back when it was less money than the Empire Builder - and loved it.  I am glad I did it at that time.  True, the equipment and the food is much better on the Canadian, but I am not sure I would pay today's prices.  If you do not need a private room, a lower berth may be more cost effective than a room for one or two.


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#4 jebr

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 12:35 PM

I haven't done the west part of the Builder route yet (will be doing so in less than a month) but VIA's Canadian is "worth it", for me, and if paired with some good discounts (especially with a berth) it could be rather inexpensive (especially compared with a roomette on the Builder.) An option could be to pair it with the Builder with a transfer either in Grand Forks or St. Paul to Jefferson Lines (which runs a route to Winnipeg Airport.) I don't think a same-day transfer is feasible, but you might be able to get it with an overnight. It might wind up costing more after factoring in hotel rooms, though, so check the math on it before going that route.



#5 zephyr17

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 01:17 PM

The Empire Builder is one of my "home" trains, I use it fairly regularly to head to the east.  I also have ridden the Canadian regularly for the last few years.  There is no question in my mind that the Canadian is the superior experience.  And ride it eastbound.

 

You spend most of the day in, or close to, the mountains the first full day, as opposed to the Empire Builder where you are done with the mountains by 10:30 am or so.

 

The prairies through either Saskatchewan and Manitoba or eastern Montana and North Dakota are pretty similar, though I find the long stretches of tangent looking forward in the dome to the next set of grain elevators marking the next little town on kind of hypnotizing.  

 

However, with that said, going as far as Winnipeg gives you the real experience and is a long enough train ride (2 nights).  The last full day through boggy northern Ontario is no great shakes.  I just like being on that train, so I am ok with miles of swamp.

 

Be sure and keep an eye on Via "Sleeper Plus" deals page, http://viarail.ca/en/deals.   For selected departures, you can quite a good deal if you are flexible, the deals only come up 4 - 8 weeks (at most) in advance.  Right now, for instance, you can score Toronto-Vancouver lower berth for the 10/12 departure for $1275 CAD.

 

Also, if you do go, be sure and sign up for Via Preference.  One Toronto-Vancouver trip in a sleeper will give you enough points (spend of $999 CAD) to qualify for the elite (Privilege) tier, which gives you a 50% off coupon you can you use at any time.  Note the 50% is computed on high season full fare, but it is still a good deal.  It usually beats the deals page, and you can book it on any departure in the inventory that still has availability in the "discount" fare level, so it is not nearly as restrictive as the "deals" and you can plan ahead.  Of course, it is kind of passenger railfan crack, as you have to ride at least once a year in order to keep the discount, so they've got me.

 

 

I take the train in the off-season, when it is a "normal" train 8 car train full of Canadians instead of the 26 car tourist monster it becomes in the summer.  Plus you have all day access to the Park car as a Sleeper Plus passenger in the off season. 


Edited by zephyr17, 13 September 2017 - 03:45 PM.

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#6 Bob Dylan

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 01:35 PM

I agree with the previous posters,good advice!

And booking a Lower Berth in a Section in the "Off Season" as was said, ( ie after Canadian Thanksgiving in October and in the Winter)can save you quite a bit of money, as well as being much less crowded on the Shorter consist!
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#7 Everydaymatters

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 01:37 PM

Your question was which is more scenic. I feel the scenery is better on the Empire Builder. Even better scenery is on the California Zephyr.

On the west bound EB and CZ you are in the mountains with all of their steep drops and rocky areas and beautiful views from on top of the mountains. On the Canadian you'll be more in the mountain passes and looking up at mountains. But that is just my opinion. Others on the same routes had a different impression.

If you take the CZ, you would have to change trains in Sacramento and go through the Cascades, which is also very nice.

Edited by Everydaymatters, 13 September 2017 - 01:43 PM.

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#8 s10mk

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 02:22 PM

Your question was which is more scenic. I feel the scenery is better on the Empire Builder. Even better scenery is on the California Zephyr.

On the west bound EB and CZ you are in the mountains with all of their steep drops and rocky areas and beautiful views from on top of the mountains. On the Canadian you'll be more in the mountain passes and looking up at mountains. But that is just my opinion. Others on the same routes had a different impression.

If you take the CZ, you would have to change trains in Sacramento and go through the Cascades, which is also very nice.


Thanks for the input everyone, I've already been on the California zephyr and the southwest chief, so I want to ride the empire builder to complete the western US trifecta.....I sort of figured that the scenery would be similar through the rockies on the EB vs the Canadian, but I would like to ride the Canadian because of the classic equipment

#9 willem

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 03:35 PM

Be sure and keep an eye on Via "Sleeper Plus" deals page, http://www.viarail.ca/en/deals .


Lots of good advice, zephyr17. Thanks.

 

When i click on your link, I get a Page not found error. If I copy the text and paste http://www.viarail.ca/en/deals in the address bar (and delete any characters following the s in deals), then it works.



#10 zephyr17

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 03:45 PM

Corrected.  The URL was picking up a trailing space and period, which was messing it up.


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#11 Skyline

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 04:44 PM

I did this circuit back in May...Westbound on The Canadian Toronto to Vancouver, Cascades Vancouver to Seattle, Empire Builder Seattle to Chicago etc. (stopped for three nights at the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex MT near Glacier National Park--a delight for both railfans and hikers!).

 

The Canadian has the far superior trainset, staffing, and food. The dome cars alone make it a better experience but it's so much more than that. The Canadian features on-board scenery and history narrations and daily events like beer tasting, wine tasting, games, etc.Timekeeping is usually (but not always) horrific due to being put in the hole for freight traffic on the often single-tracked route. Because we were so late, we saw all of the British Columbia scenery one would go through in darkness if #1 was on time. Looking at the schedule, assuming eastbound #2 left Vancouver on time, you'd have a better chance for that scenery in daylight. So if I had it to do over, I might have done The Canadian eastbound because you can't actually depend on #1 being 13 hours late!

 

The Empire Builder does have some nice scenery in the west and sometimes offers on-board historical narrations by NPS volunteers, but the Superliners are showing their age and lack of maintenance, on-board services can be graded A+ or F and everything in between depending on the crew, and Amtrak's food can't touch The Canadian's. Having said that, fares are less on Amtrak. Timekeeping on the EB is usually better than The Canadian's (but there are exceptions).

 

If you're going to ride both trains (and you might want to for the variety), do Amtrak #7 (westbound EB) for a better chance at the Glacier National Park scenery, and the eastbound Canadian for reasons noted above. If you have the time to stop at Izaak Walton Inn in Essex MT, at least check their website to see if it is of interest to you (www.izaakwaltoninn.com).



#12 chakk

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 05:25 PM

I rode the Canadian a few years ago eastbound from Vancouver to Toronto and thoroughly enjoyed the four nights on the train. But if I were to do it again, I would probably get off the eastbound train in Winnipeg, take an overnight there at a hotel near the train station, and fly the next day to my US interchange point (Chicago or St. Paul) if I was planning to return west on the Empire Builder thereafter.


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Edited by chakk, 13 September 2017 - 05:26 PM.


#13 neroden

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 07:31 PM

The Canadian is sloooow.  If that matters to you.  Last time I checked, it was faster to take the Maple Leaf, LSL, Empire Builder, and Cascades from Toronto to Vancouver, which is a bit absurd.


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#14 zephyr17

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 08:17 PM

Not quite true, assuming the Canadian is on time (big assumption) and taking using Amtrak trains exclusively, with no Thruway bus connections (you named trains all the way).

 

On Amtrak, you could leave Toronto at 8:20 am on Tuesday and get to Vancouver at 10:50 pm on Friday, with some quite long layovers in Buffalo, Chicago and Seattle for 83 hours, 30 minutes total transit time.  Using 64 (7097), 49, 7 and 516.

 

On Via, you'd leave Toronto at 10:00 pm on Tuesday and arrive 9:42 am Saturday morning, for a total transit time of 80 hours, 42 minutes.

 

All told, I'd rather stay on slow but comfortable and classic Via train number 1 than have to hang around in the Buffalo-Depew station for 10 hours and 40 minutes.  The 4 1/2 hours in Chicago and 8 hours and 25 minutes in Seattle wouldn't be nearly as painful, but that 10 hours in Buffalo is a real deal breaker.

 

With that said CN asked Via to slow their schedule down by about 12 hours and add an extra night on the road a few years ago, and they still won't keep it on time. 


Edited by zephyr17, 13 September 2017 - 08:18 PM.

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#15 s10mk

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 09:03 PM

The Canadian is sloooow.  If that matters to you.  Last time I checked, it was faster to take the Maple Leaf, LSL, Empire Builder, and Cascades from Toronto to Vancouver, which is a bit absurd.

for me, the journey itself is my vacation. Where I'm going is almost immaterial. Plus, the Canadian still uses streamlined cars built by the Budd company, and it's pulled by all EMD power, now that's cool!

#16 willem

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Posted 14 September 2017 - 08:15 AM

All told, I'd rather stay on slow but comfortable and classic Via train number 1 than have to hang around in the Buffalo-Depew station for 10 hours and 40 minutes.  The 4 1/2 hours in Chicago and 8 hours and 25 minutes in Seattle wouldn't be nearly as painful, but that 10 hours in Buffalo is a real deal breaker.

 
Speaking as one who has boarded at Buffalo Depew, I criticize your assessment as being too weak.



#17 zephyr17

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Posted 14 September 2017 - 12:10 PM

 

The Canadian is sloooow.  If that matters to you.  Last time I checked, it was faster to take the Maple Leaf, LSL, Empire Builder, and Cascades from Toronto to Vancouver, which is a bit absurd.

for me, the journey itself is my vacation. Where I'm going is almost immaterial. Plus, the Canadian still uses streamlined cars built by the Budd company, and it's pulled by all EMD power, now that's cool!

 

But too bad the EMDs are F40s, not F9s...


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#18 RPC

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Posted 14 September 2017 - 12:45 PM

<snip/>

 

If you're going to ride both trains (and you might want to for the variety), do Amtrak #7 (westbound EB) for a better chance at the Glacier National Park scenery...

Here I'll have to disagree. #7 reaches East Glacier at 6:45PM and West Glacier at 8:23PM, whereas #8 reaches West Glacier at 8:11AM and East Glacier at 9:49AM. If the EB is running a few hours late (not unknown :)), #7 will pass through Marias Pass in the dark, #8 at mid-day.



#19 niemi24s

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Posted 14 September 2017 - 02:52 PM

Been a long time since I sniffed around for VIA Rail fares, so here's what I found for 1 adult on 25 Nov 2107 (the first date with nothing Sold Out) on the Canadian from Toronto To Vancouver (fares rounded to the nearest CAD$):

 

•  Economy Escape  $445

•  Economy               $880

•  Economy Plus       $1235

------------------------------------

•  Up Berth Disc'd     $877

•  Up Berth               $1328

-------------------------------------

•  Lo Berth Disc'd     $1032

•  Lo Berth                $1561

------------------------------------

•  Cabin 1 Disc'd      $1322

•  Cabin 1                 $2001

------------------------------------

•  Cabin 2 Disc'd     $1983

•  Cabin 2               $3002

------------------------------------

•  Prestige              $8701

 

Other dates may have different fares


Edited by niemi24s, 14 September 2017 - 02:53 PM.


#20 zephyr17

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Posted 14 September 2017 - 03:41 PM

Via's fare don't vary much within a season (they basically have 3, peak, shoulder and off), so those prices should be good for most of the winter.  They don't do complex yield management apart from the number of spaces available at the "discount" rate.  Also, since VIA no longer separates "rail" and "accomodation" charges, there are some differences from how Amtrak would price it.  The Cabin for 2 (Double Bedroom in traditional accomodation-speak) price essentially represents a 50% surcharge charge for single occupancy of the double room since the request was for only one person.  The per person rate for 2 people in a Cabin for 2 would be the same as 1 person in a cabin for 1 ($2001/$1322 CAD).


Edited by zephyr17, 14 September 2017 - 03:42 PM.

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