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Riding the Canadian 2017, Toronto to Vancouver


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#1 willem

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Posted 27 November 2017 - 11:24 AM

My traveling companion and I booked our first trip on Via's Canadian. One AU member expressed interest in a trip report, so here is some discussion of the actual trip on the Canadian.

I will try to note in this paragraph some differences between the Canadian and Amtrak long distance trains, to help someone familiar with Amtrak and unfamiliar with the Canadian understand some of what follows. The Canadian (in either direction) changes on-board service crews at Winnipeg. This include all attendants (sleeping car, dining car, and Park car). A Manor car is a type of sleeping car that Via often uses on the Canadian. The Park car is the last car on the train and has a dome and a lounge area. I believe the closest Amtrak equivalent is the Viewliner track inspection car, which is rarely on a train and even more rarely available to ordinary mortals. It won't be pertinent in this post, but I understand that a passenger can schedule one layover at no additional cost, a major distinction from Amtrak.

An earlier thread asked about the consist, so I inquired. This train was 1,133 feet long. (Why feet? Canada uses SI, commonly called the metric system. Apparently the railroads resist. There was a lengthy discussion in the Park car about mile markers, not kilometre markers, on the railroad.) I saw a report that gave the length and listed the consist (with the shown line numbers) as engine, engine, baggage car, 102 coach, Skyline A, 110 sleeper, 111 sleeper, 112 sleeper, 113 sleeper, Skyline B, dining, DH sleeper (called deadhead in discussions by other passengers but alleged to provide crew space in those same discussions), 130 Prestige sleeper, 139 Park car.

Our luggage almost satisfied Via's stated size requirements. No one checked any of our carry-on bags for size or for weight. The one bag we checked did not quite fit under a bar that might have been intended to detect an excess size in the longest dimension, but the agent simply tilted the bag to get it under the bar. The agent seemed willing to check it to Winnipeg so we could claim it there, shuffle laundry or other contents between it and our carry-on bags, and then presumably check it on to Vancouver, but we checked it all the way.

When we picked up the voucher to stay the night at the Royal York (because the Canadian would depart Toronto 11 hours late), we were told to be in the Business Lounge by 0700, when breakfast would be served. We were in the Business Lounge at 0700, and at 0745, breakfast (bagel sandwiches, which were good) appeared. A dining car attendant walked around the lounge taking "paired seating reservations" (which meant that we would be first seating at lunch and supper, or second seating at lunch and supper, or third seating at lunch and supper). Boarding started about 0815 and the train departed at 0900.

Still within the greater Toronto area but some miles after starting our journey, we made a backing move onto a different track. The conductor said this was normal procedure; the track from Union Station did not permit all-forward travel onto the tracks to Sudbury and points west. I happened to be in the Park car for this an a similar backing maneuver into Edmonton and enjoyed hearing more knowledgeable passengers talk to the conductor, who was required to watch the track and be in contact with the engineer. (The conductor on Via normally rides in the engine, or so I have been told.)

Our cabin for two seemed a bit smaller than a Superliner bedroom, and the daytime configuration has two chairs with armrests, so a nap would be difficult. This might be an advantage of Prestige class, which (the description claims) has a sofa, or a cabin for one, which I discuss later. The en suite toilet feels just a bit larger than the en suite toilet of a Superliner bedroom, but has no nightlight (and no shower). There is a luggage area above the toilet; it is smaller than a Viewliner roomette's "attic" but sufficient for our two small-to-medium bags. (I stored a 23x15x10 bag and a 19x15x7 bag there during the day.) The two chairs are not bolted to the floor and so can be moved about the cabin, and in my opinion are not as comfortable as Amtrak seats (bedroom, roomette, or coach). They fold and are stored under the lower bunk when it is down. (The lower bunk is hinged near the corridor like a Murphy bed. The upper bunk is lowered from the ceiling somewhat like a Viewliner roomette's upper bunk. However, the upper bunk cannot be lowered unless the lower bunk is in the down position.) The sole electrical outlet is located near the sink. There is a magazine holder on the wall near the electrical outlet, which can hold electronic devices as they are charged.

Note that two cabins for one cost the same as one cabin for two, and one passenger on the train strongly recommended that a couple traveling together get two cabins for one. The bed in a cabin for one is similar to the lower bunk in a cabin for two, but more easily handled. (The beds in the cabin for two require a special tool, while the bed in a cabin for one has a handle like an upper bunk in a Superliner.) This is nice because the bed in the down position in a cabin for one covers the toilet; the passenger said it is simple to get up in the night, raise the bed, use the toilet, and lower the bed. The seat in a cabin for one (according to the other passenger) is much more comfortable that the folding seats in the cabin for two, and the padded toilet cover can serve as a footrest.

Our room had two shower kits, each with two bath towels, a soap bar, and a shampoo bottle. (The room also had two wash cloths and two hand towels hanging from a bar inside the door to the toilet, and there might have been a washcloth in the shower kit.) The towels and wash cloths were refreshed after the first night (with the first crew), but only the wash cloths and hand towels were refreshed after the second and third nights. (The journey is normally four nights and three days, but ours was four days and three nights because of the late start.)

A Manor car has one shower for six cabins for two, four cabins for one, and three upper and lower berths. The shower and its dressing area each felt slightly smaller than the downstairs shower of an Amtrak Superliner, but the dressing area is better laid out. Because each passenger has a shower kit, it is not necessary to store towels and washcloths in the dressing area. There is a "laundry chute" for used towels and washcloths, so there is no need for the large bag or box that Amtrak provides. Thus the dressing space of the Via shower is available to the passenger, making it feel larger. The shower itself, on the other hand, does not have a seat and does have a fixed shower head. If I could, I would take the shower room from Amtrak and the dressing area from Via, but the differences are minor.

Since we rode in the off season, we had unrestricted access to the Park car. During the high season, non-Prestige sleeping car passengers only have access during certain hours. Coach passengers never have access. One other passenger suggested that the crew car is between the diner and the Prestige sleeper to discourage occupants of the regular sleepers from making the hike to the Park car.

The beds, at least in the cabin for two, are comfortable but I wished the sheets and blankets were wider; there was little overhang. The blankets themselves are like a duvet but with an insulation that can shift. One morning, one of the blankets was essentially two layers of thin fabric at one end and a large clump of insulation at a far corner.

There is no place to take a nap when the cabin for two is in the daytime configuration. (A senior Via customer service agent, who was traveling on the train on her own time, said that we should call the attendant to put the bed down, put it up, and repeat as often as we like.) After the first night, we asked the attendant to leave the lower bed down. Both beds were remade to their original presentation. After the second night, and with the new on-board services crew, we again asked that the lower bunk be left down. The upper bed was remade, but the lower bed was untouched. (This was the morning when most of the insulation in the blanket was clumped in one corner of the blanket.)

Our cabin for two had no temperature control that I found. There was a vent control for the new air (and it worked!), but we had no control over the baseboard heat. Every night, the baseboard heater and the room got too warm for my taste. (The last night, I covered most of the heater with a bath towel and that seemed to help.)

The side and top glass in the Park dome is optically impure, in some cases significantly distorting the view. It somewhat defeats the purpose of riding in the dome.

We never saw a route guide in English, and we saw only two used route guides in French (in the hands of other passengers).

We asked for a water bottle (so we would have water available to drink overnight; we had one bottle already). The sleeping car attendant said that Via does not provide water bottles, but then said he thought he could find some, and returned with two. Later, I found a couple of cases of the same type of water bottle in the coach dome (along with a type of tea that was available neither in the sleeper dome nor the Park car).

The Park car is the rail fan window spot on steroids. There are 11 seats, each with its own power outlet, and windows on each (curving) side and out the back. (As far as I could tell, there is no electrical outlet in the dome itself.) There is a self-serve stand with coffee and hot water for tea, and just up the car are complimentary snacks (fresh fruit, muffins, and various individual serving packages of shortbread, cookies, crackers, and such). There are also soft and hard drinks for sale; I understand that all drinks are complimentary for Prestige class customers.

When we were about 100 km out of Vancouver, the train crew announced that we would arrive in four hours. I was surprised, but the prediction turned out to be optimistic. We arrived at Pacific Central Station at about 1830 and then waited about 20 minutes for our checked bag to appear. We had departed Toronto Union Station 11 hours late, and we made up just over two hours during the trip, arriving in Vancouver nine hours late. One of the other passengers commented that he saw no preference for freight trains over the Canadian. (We were delayed over an hour by a broken-down freight and the associated traffic jam and another hour by a freight engine that ran out of fuel, and we still made up two hours.)

We enjoyed the trip and plan to do it again, especially since we will see different scenery if the train stays anywhere near on time. The trip was not, however, the fantastic journey that we had expected based on discussions that I had read on Amtrak Unlimited and other sites. The lunch and supper menus changed every day, which is nice compared to Amtrak, but I would characterize the trip more as different than better than Amtrak. Our second service crew (Winnipeg to Vancouver) especially was no better than Amtrak. The Park car was a treat, but someone traveling in the high season and not in Prestige class might find it inaccessible due to crowding or restricted access.

Questions? Ask!
 


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#2 Mystic River Dragon

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Posted 27 November 2017 - 11:55 AM

Thanks for the very interesting and thorough report, willem!

 

It's nice to know that the Canadian isn't perfect and that some seating is actually more comfortable on Amtrak! :)

 

What did you think of the Royal York?



#3 Bob Dylan

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Posted 27 November 2017 - 12:00 PM

Great report, thanks for sharing, and I agree that the Cabin for 2 is not the best accommodations on the Canadian. I prefer a Lower Berth,( best bed I've ever had on a train/ Disclaimer: I've not traveled in Prestige Class) and as you said, 2 Cabins for 1 is preferable for 2 persons traveling together.
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Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,No matter where its going!.." -Edna St. Vincent Millay

#4 Ronbo

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Posted 27 November 2017 - 12:43 PM

Do you have any photos that you can post? I would be interested in viewing them.

#5 JRR

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Posted 27 November 2017 - 04:53 PM

We were on the Canadian this summer going the other way in a bedroom. Since we are early risers had no problem getting access to the shower. We found the food excellent and also noted that the Vancouver to Winnipeg far superior to those from Winnipeg to Toronto!


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#6 willem

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Posted 27 November 2017 - 09:48 PM

What did you think of the Royal York?

 

It was fine on someone else's dime. We had one queen bed, a good sized bathroom with extra towels, a decent closet, and a desk for C$312.06 total of Via's money. We were tucked into a back wing and had a view of another back wing. On my own, I would probably hike to the Hilton (about four blocks) unless the Royal York could guarantee a room looking over Union Station. In case it means something to you or some other reader, it was a significantly larger and nicer room than what we had on our one visit to the Palmer House in Chicago (where we will stay again), and it was significantly more expensive than the Palmer House room.

 

Do you have any photos that you can post? I would be interested in viewing them.

 

I took very few photos, and they are on my new, first smart phone, from which I have never retrieved a photo. I have pictures of the storage space over the toilet and some of the menus. Are either of these interesting? To my surprise and chagrin, apparently I never took a picture of the Park car or any general pictures of any rooms.

 

We were on the Canadian this summer going the other way in a bedroom. Since we are early risers had no problem getting access to the shower. We found the food excellent and also noted that the Vancouver to Winnipeg far superior to those from Winnipeg to Toronto!

 

We never had trouble getting into the shower, although I heard someone say the line was three people long at one point.

 

And a special kudos (that's right, it's singular, not plural) goes to our second car attendant, who dismantled and reassembled the drain in the shower because the water backed up. "I like a challenge, especially when it helps the customer," he said. He was truly the bright spot of the Winnipeg to Vancouver crew.

 

I should have emphasized the superior quality of the food, but my opinion is that the varied menu was even more important. We never saw the same menu at two different meals. (This isn't quite true. Because of our unusual schedule, leaving 11 hours late and having four days and three nights rather than four nights and three days, we did see the same pieces of paper at two different meals, breakfast and lunch on one day. Normally, it would have been a brunch. We were told to choose from the top half of the menu for breakfast and the bottom half of the menu for lunch, so I'm counting it as two different menus.)



#7 Woodcut60

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Posted 01 December 2017 - 03:15 AM

Do you have any photos that you can post? I would be interested in viewing them.

Please enjoy my Trip Report from June 2017:

https://www.youtube....h?v=uGts8BwXdSc


Amtrak Routes Traveled: Lake Shore Limited, California Zephyr, San Joaquin, Pacific Surfliner, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Cardinal, Crescent, Sunset Limited, Southwest Chief, Hiawatha, City of New Orleans, Texas Eagle, Heartland Flyer, Missouri River Runner, Lincoln, Wolverine, Northeast Regional, Acela Express, Downeaster, Vermonter, Silver Star, Silver Meteor, Capitol Limited, Pennsylvanian, Amtrak Cascades, Maple Leaf, Adirondack, Ethan Allen Express, Keystone, Carolinian, Piedmont.
Other Routes in North America: Denali Star (Anchorage-Fairbanks, Alaska Railroad), The Ocean (Halifax-Montréal), Corridor (Montréal-Toronto), The Canadian (Toronto-Vancouver).
Amtrak: approx. 29,000 miles and 47 states; VIA Rail Canada: approx. 4,300 miles and eight provinces.

#8 Ronbo

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 02:22 PM

Do you have any photos that you can post? I would be interested in viewing them.

Please enjoy my Trip Report from June 2017:


Thanks for the Trip Report link, well done, very enjoyable. Great pictures and nice presentation!

#9 riderails

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Posted 04 December 2017 - 08:47 PM

Completed same route in mid-November of this year.  willem's report is top-notch.   I look forward to upcoming trips on the 4 Amtrak CHI to West trains but I would not have the same feeling regarding The Canadian.  The crux of my problem is: I appreciate that the predictable lateness of this train is somewhat quaint.  And, yes, I know all about the freight train problem.  On the other hand, the same routine carelessness regarding time schedule leaves me with a feeling of disrespect for passengers and for the passenger train industry in general.  I prefer not to participate further in such an activity.  Yet, I'd recommend trying it once and more strongly recommend the Montreal-Halifax The Ocean.  



#10 JRR

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Posted 05 December 2017 - 07:23 AM

I understand that in “Railroad” terms, as in “no way to run a railroad “, the lateness is a problem, but as for me, it was just that much more time I got to spend on the train!


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Edited by JRR, 05 December 2017 - 07:24 AM.

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#11 willem

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Posted 05 December 2017 - 10:15 AM

I understand that in “Railroad” terms, as in “no way to run a railroad “, the lateness is a problem, but as for me, it was just that much more time I got to spend on the train!

 

We had departed Toronto Union Station 11 hours late, and we made up just over two hours during the trip, arriving in Vancouver nine hours late.

 
I'm glad we didn't arrive any later (or leave much earlier), but there is a part of me that says I paid for two hours of train time that I didn't get.



#12 crescent-zephyr

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Posted 05 December 2017 - 12:26 PM

Great report! I rode the Canadian a few years ago and loved it, but agree that it is over hyped in the "Via is way better than Amtrak" statements that get made both on this site and by railfans when I travel. 

 

The dining car is more classy in appearance and menu, but I've had much better (and now and then much worse) service in Amtrak Diners. 

 

I had a Cabin for one and still agree with the "Different but not necessarily better" than Amtrak when comparing it to the Amtrak Roomette. Honestly, the cabin for one is not that comfortable in daytime mode. The seat is not adjustable, so you're basically left with a non-reclining coach seat in daytime mode. I did find the bed and bedding much more comfortable than the Amtrak Beds so to me it's 50/50. Both get the job done. 


Amtrak: - Coast Starlight*, Pacific Surfliner, San Joaquin*, Cascades*, Empire Builder*, California Zephyr*, Southwest Chief*, City of New Orleans*, River Cities, Illinois Zephyr*, Wolverine, Cardinal, Capitol Limited*, Lake Shore Limited, Downeaster, Acela Express*, Crescent*, Carolinian*, Silver Star*, Silver Meteor*, Maple Leaf* Texas Eagle.

 

VIA: - Canadian*

 

Iowa Pacific - Hoosier State*, and City of New Orleans Pullman*.   


#13 Lonestar648

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Posted 25 April 2018 - 04:47 PM

Great trip report.  Thank you for your attention to details. We are hoping to travel on an off peak trip either late this year or early next so your report has been helpful in our planning.  We are so looking forward to making the trip.



#14 JRR

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Posted 25 April 2018 - 06:48 PM

In my experience, the quality of the food was way above Amtrak.

#15 cpotisch

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Posted 29 April 2018 - 07:13 PM

Fantastic review, and really enjoyed reading. The Canadian is on my bucket list, but it seems that the Sleeper Plus cabins are not particularly special, especially given the rather obscene prices Ive seen listed for just a single berth. If I ever did make the trip, I would probably save up for a few years and treat myself to Prestige. For whatever reason, its easier for my brain to justify spending a ridiculous amount of money on a wonderful experience, than to spend merely a lot of money on a mediocre experience. Either way, seems like itll be a long time until I can afford to take that train.

Edited by cpotisch, 29 April 2018 - 07:14 PM.

Routes Traveled: Silver Meteor, Silver Star, CrescentLake Shore LimitedCalifornia Zephyr, Sunset Limited, Texas EagleEthan Allen Express, Empire Service, Maple Leaf, AdirondackAcela Express, Northeast RegionalKeystone Service, Downeaster w/ Great Dome
 
Wish List: Auto Train, Cardinal, CONO, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, Crescent (overnight), Adirondack w/ Great Dome


#16 Lonestar648

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Posted 29 April 2018 - 10:06 PM

Following advice from other AU members, I am planning our trip for February 2019.  It is the off peak time so the price is nearly half less (4600 verses 2600 USD) for the Room for two.  We looked Prestige but couldn't afford or justify the 6800 USD off Peak.  .From the YouTube video, the train is much shorted than the 24-30 car consists.  The winter scenes have looked just as beautiful as Summer.  Definitely, the Prestige room is newer and has its own shower, but having just one bed was a problem since it will be one of my daughters going with me.  

 

Get your money saved up quickly, life has a way of throwing us curves we never envisioned.  Two years ago, I lay in a hospital, my family praying for me, following a surprising attack  So this is why I say don't wait too long to make this beautiful trip.


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#17 Devil's Advocate

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Posted 30 April 2018 - 11:34 AM

The trip was not, however, the fantastic journey that we had expected based on discussions that I had read on Amtrak Unlimited and other sites. Our second service crew (Winnipeg to Vancouver) especially was no better than Amtrak.

&

I rode the Canadian a few years ago and loved it, but agree that it is over hyped in the "Via is way better than Amtrak" statements that get made both on this site and by railfans when I travel.


Most of what I got out of my trip on The Canadian revolved around the unique scenery and rare hardware. The food was okay but nothing to write home about and the service staff themselves were surprisingly rough and unpolished relative to the cost and reputation. I came away thinking that most of the staff acted like they were simply making ends meet on their way to or from some other career outside of the service industry.  I enjoyed the ride and I'd recommend it to others as a nice bucket list item, but I also don't feel the need to ride it over and over again.


.


#18 Everydaymatters

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Posted 30 April 2018 - 12:16 PM

Like "Bob "Dylan", I also had a berth.  It was much more comfortable than Amtrak's roomette.  The day configuration was also very good.  The berth section has only 3 berths, well six with the upper bunks.  The shower is right around the corner.  The bathroom was almost like having your own private bathroom because few others used it.  I had read the reviews about the rooms and they didn't sound very comfortable for the price.  Eastbound from Vancouver to Winnipeg, the crew was great.  The new crew from Winnipeg to Toronto seemed to wish they were anywhere else.

 

I traveled in late October and with most of the foliage gone, the view was great.  In the summer with the leaves, I don't know if one would be able to see the lakes and other great scenery.  I haven't done it, bur it would seem that in the summer, all one would see is trees.


Routes Traveled: Desert Wind, Southwest Chief, Missouri Mule, Empire Builder, Capitol Ltd., Lincoln Service, Lake Shore Ltd., Missouri River Runner, City of New Orleans, Cardinal, Silver Meteor, Texas Eagle, Cascades, Broadway Ltd., Acela, Downeaster, Sunset Ltd., Coast Starlight, California Zephyr, Hiawatha, Capitol Corridor, Maple Leaf, Ethan Allen Express 76,745 Amtrak miles.    Via Rail Vancouver to Toronto 2775 Miles.


#19 Bob Dylan

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Posted 30 April 2018 - 03:34 PM

I second what Lonestar648 said,Now is all there is!

I honestly don't think that the really expensive upgrade for the Premium Service is worth it.

Ride this train in the Winter from Vancouver to Toronto when the consist is much smaller, the Train is uncrowded and the price is right, especially if you book a Lower Berth which is Very comfortable and you still get all the benefits except the free booze and a reserved seat in the Park Car Dome which,IMO,aren't worth several thousand dollars additional!

Book it Danno!😉

Edited by Bob Dylan, 30 April 2018 - 03:36 PM.

"There's Something About a Train! It's Magic!"-- 1970s Amtrak Ad
 "..My heart is warm with the friends I make,and better friends I'll not be knowing,
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,No matter where its going!.." -Edna St. Vincent Millay

#20 JRR

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Posted 30 April 2018 - 03:56 PM

My wife and I had a bedroom from Jasper to Toronto. The bedroom had a separate bathroom but no shower. We found the staff friendly and they seemed to enjoy their jobs.

We found the food to be very good, even better than the Rocky Mountaineer. But that’s just our opinion.

I looked into upgrading to Premiere class and was quoted an additional $8,000 from Jasper over and above the premium already paid for the bedroom. Needless to say the Premiere room went unsold.

The agent checked with her supervisor before quoting. She was very nice and apologetic.




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