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Tennessee Traveler

Via Rail CANADIAN Trip February 13-17, 2018

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Just returned after riding the CANADIAN from Vancouver to Toronto February 13-17. The trip was good and the Via staff very good. However, the equipment is showing it's age and my Manor Room for 2 was quite mechanically noisy including a loud whining fan sounding like noise and I had to wear ear plugs to sleep at night. I was in car 212 which sold to me as the rearmost Manor car but unfortunately Via is now running the Manor car in ascending number order meaning that the Manor car 210 was next to the dining car and cars 211, 212, and 213 were closer to the economy skyline dome car with 213 being adjacent to the economy skyline car. All was well since we only had about 70 passengers Vancouver to Jasper and just over 40 passengers from Jasper to Toronto. We all got to know each other well and I enjoy the mix and friendliness of my fellow passengers. The meals in the dining car were good but no better than Amtrak and were basically pre-prepared and brought on board to be heated. I found this out when I was told that the meat could not be cooked to order so I did not choose to order the bloody red meat but stayed with chicken or fish. Also discovered that almost all the on board staff for the CANADIAN live in Winnipeg instead of Vancouver or Toronto. Since I'm not wealthy, I think the CANADIAN's refurbishing of some Chateau cars and the Park car into very expensive Prestige class is a mistake. I think only two Prestige rooms were sold or occupied on my trip so we did not have a problem of class distinction in the Park car but from April to October only Prestige customers will be allowed in the Park car most of the daylight hours.

 

My trip was 14 hours late losing almost all that time between Saskatoon and Winnipeg. Weather was not a problem nor any mechanical delays. Simple fact is that CN freight is king and we lost all our time sitting 2 plus hours in Saskatoon, 5 hours in Melville, and 2 hours about 45 miles outside of Winnipeg was multiple widely separated was too long freight trains passed going in the opposite direction. And, yes, we still stopped frequently to let just one freight at a time pass away from these stations. In the end, we arrived Vancouver 10:50 PM Saturday night. Schedule arrival time was 9:30 AM Saturday morning. The on board crew returns to Winnipeg on the Train #1 so Via needs 8 hours to restock and clean the train and provide request rest period in a hotel for the on board crew. I observed that the train #1 did not depart Toronto until 9:55 AM Sunday morning.

 

Since this was my fourth trip on the CANADIAN with the others being in the 80's and 90's and last one in 2002, I can truthfully say this is no longer the great train trip it was on those trips. Since I'm 76, I will stick to Amtrak long distance trains and probably never return to ride the CANADIAN ever again. I will simply remember the good ole "Silver and Blue" class service before Prestige replaced it and took the price of the CANADIAN way out of the normal income persons ability to pay.

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The problem is that, fundamentally, even after equipment depreciation a single filled Prestige room probably pays for the service on a given train at the prevailing prices and anything beyond that is gravy (and with two rooms full, that's a lot of gravy going towards the overall operation of the train). IIRC a full Prestige service sold end-to-end, with two sleepers (12 rooms) plus the Park Car room(s) would bring in like CAD116,000 (presuming that the handicapped room gets used for a handicapped passenger, not sold as a Prestige space) in-season and CAD108,000 out-of-season. For comparison, that is not far behind what the average Auto Train generates in revenue on an average run, and well above the average rate of revenue generation for any other Amtrak train. Granted, this is "helped" by the 2-3x weekly nature of the service...but the bottom line is that there's just too much money to be made on even a half-empty run for VIA to responsibly pass on it. [1]

 

I do feel your concerns...VIA probably needs to be looking into a replacement equipment order in the next 5-10 years [2], though at least (unlike Amtrak) they can do significant off-season mechanical work because they have a (relative) surplus of equipment for their off-season, so they've got some slack in their system that Amtrak simply lacks.

 

[1] I know we've been over this in several ways, but I do wish that Amtrak could work up something similar. Not that I'd be inclined to take it (Asian tourists with too much money are another story entirely), but I cannot help but feel that the prospect of hauling in an extra $5-10 million per year on a few of the western LD trains is too good to pass up as well. Of course, I also think that Amtrak might even be well-served by trying to cooperate with a third party (American Orient Express comes to mind, and we're back to the point that AOE as a company was doing fine but the owners raided it to fund another company) to achieve this. The question is how to balance this with making sure that the overall service doesn't keep getting cut back (GSR, I'm looking at you).

 

[2] Painful though it is to say this, the simple fact is that most of the equipment (I know not all of it is from the original CP order) is older than Mom but younger than Dad. Getting it to 70 years of more-or-less continual service should be doable, and I can see a case for still running some of it for some time afterwards (either as extra sets for oddball peak services or as a specifically-advertised item), but much as with the PPCs (and the Heritage diners that I loved so much) the long-term question is one of handling the inevitable transition well.

Edited by Anderson

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I'm glad I rode the Canadian before the Prestige Class... the timekeeping was already a big problem a few years ago and while the diner is classier and better managed than Amtrak diners (just the fact that multiple tables aren't taken up by crew and diner supply storage adds to the class factor by like 10 points) the end result is really just slightly better than a good amtrak diner (and obviously much better than a poorly run amtrak diner).

 

The domes and park cars are great, but personally I would rather ride the Zephyr in a SSL and actually see the Rockies vs. sitting on a siding for 2 hours watching passing CN freights from the nice dome and hoping we get to see the Rockies before Sunset.

 

My trip on the Canadian was great, and I would like to do it again, but it's hard to justify the cost and extra time (I don't take LD trains just for a joyride, I take them when I actually need to get across the country... even when I took the Canadian i needed to get from NYC to California and just went by way of Canada) when Amtrak provides ultimately the same experience (to me there's enough plusses and minuses to both that they are a total wash).

 

Thanks for the trip report! any wildlife sightings?

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I did see wildlife only as we were approaching Jasper - deer I think. I have a photo that will be in my photo galleries when completely uploaded. I'll post a link to the travel blog post when I use it to link to the completed galleries in next couple of weeks.

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I have traveled almost every Amtrak route over the years, so was thinking about the Canadian. After reading about the deteriorating equipment and the long delays, I wonder if such a trip would be wise? I thought seeing Canada would be a great memory. I am also concerned that you say that the Canadian could depart 12 hours late from Toronto or Vancouver if it is very late arriving. Sitting at the station waiting that long would be a horrible start to my trip.

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Irregardless of the less than glowing reports that you refer too, if you can go in the Winter and get a Discount Fare, you shouldnt miss riding this jewel of a train!

 

As for the time keeping,it's an adventure you're on, not a race.

 

And the two terminals, Vancouver and Toronto, are fascinating places,worth spending a couple of days exploring. You can book reasonably priced hotels in the winter.

 

Book it Danno!😉

Edited by Bob Dylan

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I am plan planning this trip for either late 2018 or early 2019 since my daughter wants to make the trip with me. Have not decided which point to originate (Toronto or Vancouver). I have viewed many of the videos on line which sold my daughter on coming along, actually both daughters want to come, but only one's work and family schedule has enough time. Moving forward so back to the planning,

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If I have not made it clear, the equipment originates in Vancouver and almost always leaves on time 8:30 pm. This same equipment turns in Toronto and if the #2 is more than 4 hours late the Toronto departure is delayed to allow for 8 hours to restocked and clean the train and minimum 6 hours rest for the crew since the crews always start in Winnipeg and then return on next train from Toronto or Vancouver. Almost all the on board staff lives in Winnipeg. My train departed Vancouver on time 8:30 pm but was 14 hours late arriving Toronto 11 pm instead of the scheduled 9:30 am. Thus the turn around train did not leave on the return trip until Sunday morning 9:55 am instead of the scheduled 10 pm Saturday night. So it departed 12 hours late from Toronto. Moral of the story is that the train leaves Vancouver on time but is usually late leaving Toronto. If you come from out of town and the Canadian is held until the next day, Sleeper class passengers will be booked for an overnight in the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. Originate in Vancouver for on time departure and best view of Rocky Mountain scenery in the daylight hours.

Edited by Tennessee Traveler

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Reagan already posted the info about the Late arrivals/departures.

 

I suggest that y'all leave from Vancouver ( you can ride the train up from Seattle in the am or fly into Vancouver and take the Sky Train to Pacific Central Station)and enjoy the day in Beautiful Vancouver before leaving in the evening.

 

Also, since you're traveling with your daughter, consider booking a Section ( Upper and Lower Berths), its quite a bit cheaper than cabins and has very comfortable beds to go with all the Sleeper benefits.

 

You'll spend most of your time in the Dome,Diner and Park Car anyway.

Edited by Bob Dylan

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We loved the Canadian. Of course, we were taking it for the trip, not because we had to be some where at a specific time. It was a great trip, and the delay just meant that we had that much longer to enjoy the train ride! Take the trip and leave from Vancouver.

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Amtrak Forum

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Thanks everyone. Will plan to leave from Vancouver now. The delay doesn't bother me as long as we are on the train. Just didn't want to arrive at the station to have originating departure pushed out repeatedly like the airlines do. We plan to spend most of our time outside our room to see everything we are passing. Wonder how well you can see the stars at night in the domes.

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