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zephyr17

Canadian Timekeeping - Bit of a Rant

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For the last four years, I've been taking a yearly trip to New York City utilizing the eastbound Canadian and then traveling on to NYC either on the Maple Leaf or flying the next day. Last year, the Canadian was 11 hours late, which was manageable, got me into to Toronto at a reasonably decent hour with enough time for a good night's sleep before catching the Maple Leaf the next morning.

 

However, this year, with the frequent 20+ hour and more delays, I decided that an overnight cushion was simply not enough. Given the twice weekly off-season operation coupled with the ridiculously severe timekeeping problems, I am having to change that overnight layover into three nights in Toronto to ensure my onward travel plans are not ruined by a 48 hour late train. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy Toronto, it is a very cool city with a lot to do there, but I am pretty much being forced into it defensively.

 

I love the Canadian, and will do what it takes to have a pleasant vacation using it, but this has gotten beyond ridiculous. On the positive side, for myself, I know enough to plan for it. But I can't help but think of the people who aren't familiar with the situation (or can't believe it) and have their travel plan monumentally disrupted with hotel nights paid for and unused, missed flights, potential thousands of dollars of last minute air tickets (what if you came from Australia?). As well as the stress of being stuck helplessly a train that they paid from somewhere north of a thousand dollars to several thousand to ride, watching it getting later and later while all their plans get wrecked. Will they come back to ride the world famous Canadian? No. Will they tell their friends about the world famous Canadian? Absolutely, they will tell them of how it ruined their trip.

 

I have arrived in Chicago in the wee hours of the morning on 10 or 12 or 14 hour late trains more times than I can count. I accept that long distance rail travel can involve severe delay, but 12 or 14 hours is a severe delay. I think it is foolish to plan for critical onward connections from any North American long distance train without allowing for an overnight layover. But 48 hours late is something that should never happen, barring natural catastrophe.

 

Amtrak has at least some statutory power, and when things have gotten bad (consistent 12-14 hour late trains on UP a few years ago, for example), they have threatened legal action and have gotten results from their host railroads. Some host railroads, BNSF being an example, try to keep Amtrak on time, it being partly proof of being able to run a fluid railroad, since they are stuck with Amtrak anyway. Yes a few years back there was meltdown on the Northern Transcon because of the oil boom, but BNSF also invested in their infrastructure to improve capacity there on a pretty timely basis once the problem became readily apparent. Also, in the worst of that, the Builder was "only" 10-14 hours late, not days. CN itself manages to run their Amtrak trains, notably the City of New Orleans, within at least a few hours of the published schedule. I can't help but think that is partly due to the fact that Amtrak has at least some weapons at their disposal they can use if need be. Via literally has nothing in terms of legal or regulatory weapons.

 

But beyond the regulatory issues, at a deeper level CN appears to be frankly derelict in managing their business. They can't even deliver freight because they did not invest in their infrastructure, and decided to run trains on the cheap by running a bunch of non-clearing trains because they don't want the expense run more but shorter trains or investing in lenthening their sidings and double tracking where needed. To be honest, their inability to run FOUR TRAINS A WEEK within 24 hours of schedule is the tip of an iceberg, the canary in the coal mine. They can't run transportation. Be it goods or people. Period.

Edited by zephyr17

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See the Wall Street Journal article today re CN’s freight problems referenced in my post of today.

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Amtrak Forum

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Your "rant" particularly relating to the impact of the timekeeping on those of us not "local" enough to be intimately familiar with problems certainly hits a chord with me.

 

As stated in an earlier post by myself I felt that I was being sufficiently cautious in allowing a 24 hour layover in Vancouver after arriving on the Canadian from Toronto before fixing other plans when I booked my arrangements in September of last year for my vacation this coming June.

 

At that time I had no way of tracking the timekeeping from over here in the UK and a 24 hour buffer based on the limited warnings over timekeeping contained on Via's website seemed very reasonable. Since making all my arrangements I have found a means of tracking the performance of the Canadian and I am very nervous that 24 hours will not be enough !

 

Inevitably when visiting from abroad arrangements have to be fairly inflexible when there are time constraints and one wants to fit as much into a vacation as one can. As a result I cannot increase my 24 buffer in Vancouver so I will have to consider bailing out of the Canadian portion of my vacation part way through (at Edmonton/Jasper or Kamloops) and picking up alternative transport in order to meet the schedule of my onward journey from Vancouver.

Edited by greatwestern

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zephyr17,

 

Your post mirrors my concerns about booking The Canadian and is one reason why I have not yet done so. I don't mind adding some time padding at my destination with its related hotel costs for such. But, how much "padding" can be reasonably expected before one's on-going travel plans are negatively impacted?

 

I still want to travel the Vancouver-Toronto route. And, maybe on to Halifax during the same travel experience.

 

I'm going to be closely following The Canadian's Spring/Summer/Fall on-time keeping with the intent of a 2019 booking. Maybe this Winter has also been a factor in the train's difficulty of maintaining a close to normal schedule.

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I rode the CANADIAN in February and was 14 hours late arriving Toronto and it had nothing to do with the weather. Along the whole route but especially Edmonton to Winnipeg the track in single track and CN freight trains are too long to take a siding so the CANADIAN does stop and wait on freight trains. We were close to on time to Saskatoon and left 2 hours late waiting on CN freight trains and then we waited another 5 hours in Melville and then another couple of hours just before Winnipeg. After Winnipeg we did not lose any more time. I don't see that situation improving in Spring Summer or Fall.

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I would think that VIA would be concerned about the negative publicity it is getting from the "unaware" passengers. A 48 hour cushion seems excessive, but necessary. In the US, with cell coverage available in most areas, it is possible to manage your cushion on Amtrak. Not as easy in Canada. Also, it isn't just the arrival but also departure, especially from Toronto. How many unsuspecting passengers arrive for the evening departure, only to find that the Toronto departure is delay until the next day.

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It was through this discussion group, and a couple of others, as well as monitoring the live train movements with asm.transitdocs which alerted me to timekeeping on The Canadian.

 

It has been horrible over the five months or so Ive been checking in. I was surprised to see one train #2 stay green all the way from Vancouver recently, but everything else has been black by the time it gets to Toronto.

 

That record put paid to any idea of making arrangements to leave Toronto the day of, or even the day after scheduled arrival, but it also means making accommodation arrangements even for Toronto is a bit iffy.

 

I reckon thats a terrible pity as that train should be one of the worlds iconic.

 

I wondered when I was watching things turn black so early in the trips (excluding the departures west from Toronto because of +12 hour delays in getting underway) was part of a process the privateers were creating to get more public money into their operations. IMHO its why key infrastructure should not be in private hands, and if it is, should be highly regulated, but I suspect that view is anathema in the north American political context.

 

And running a train which is too long for it to fit a passing loop is just crazy.

 

Im due on train #2 in mid-May after watching the Vancouver Whitecaps at home against Houston :-)

Edited by mcropod

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It was through this discussion group, and a couple of others, as well as monitoring the live train movements with asm.transitdocs which alerted me to timekeeping on The Canadian.

 

It has been horrible over the five months or so Ive been checking in. I was surprised to see one train #2 stay green all the way from Vancouver recently, but everything else has been black by the time it gets to Toronto.

 

That record put paid to any idea of making arrangements to leave Toronto the day of, or even the day after scheduled arrival, but it also means making accommodation arrangements even for Toronto is a bit iffy.

 

I reckon thats a terrible pity as that train should be one of the worlds iconic.

 

I wondered when I was watching things turn black so early in the trips (excluding the departures west from Toronto because of +12 hour delays in getting underway) was part of a process the privateers were creating to get more public money into their operations. IMHO its why key infrastructure should not be in private hands, and if it is, should be highly regulated, but I suspect that view is anathema in the north American political context.

 

And running a train which is too long for it to fit a passing loop is just crazy.

 

Im due on train #2 in mid-May after watching the Vancouver Whitecaps at home against Houston :-)

With regard to regulation, in the US passenger trains have priority by statute. While this is often honored more in the breach, it does provide a lever and a club for Amtrak when timekeeping situations really get out of hand. Amtrak has brought legal action against host railroads, specifically UP and CSX, on timekeeping. It only does it when situations get really, really bad and it takes time to resolve this way.

 

Also note that when hosting Amtrak in the US, CN does not cause these kind of timekeeping problems, although "normal" timekeeping issues of a couple hours late is pretty routine. I suspect at least part of the reason Amtrak doesn't have the extreme timekeeping problems Via does is that Amtrak does have a big stick it can haul out and hit CN with if it really needs to.

 

CN obviously has been trying to run its railroad on the cheap. Fewer, longer trains are cheaper than more shorter trains. Investing in sidings and double track to hold them costs money though. To an extent, that can be managed by "fleeting" trains in a single direction and holding opposing trains on the few longer sidings that can take them. That can only go so far and their traffic has exceeded the point where that can be made to work. They decided not to invest and now have fouled up the railroad to the point where now they can't get their freight through, let alone the 4 Canadians they are burdened with each week. That is why I call their management derelict.

 

Even beyond that general situation, I have seen the dispatchers (oops, RTC, this being Canada) literally screw Via. In December I was in Sun Peaks, BC just north of Kamloops. When I was leaving, I looked up online to see where the westbound Canadian was. It was about 12 hours late and was just approaching the area, so I decided to shoot it. Well, when I got down to highway 5, I spotted it just ahead of me. I pulled ahead of it, set up at a crossing, and saw it approach, then stop about 1/2 mile from where I was. This was the first siding past Kamloops, only a couple miles out of town. So it sat and so I sat. Then, after sitting about 30 minutes a manifest freight, not a high value containter train, but a maid-of-all-work junk freight, carrying a lot of empties btw, came by. CN RTC had tagged another 40 minute delay or so onto the already late Canadian for a bunch of empties they could have held back at Kamloops yard for another 30 minutes. That told me everything I needed to know about just where Via was in CN's dispatching priority. Dead last.

 

Via does not have the legal and regulatory tools that even Amtrak has to stop this kind of thing.

Edited by zephyr17

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Well then I'll pose another question.

 

How does Rocky Mountaineer do time wise over the Canadian National lines. They run two lines over CN so how is the time keeping on those services. And if it's better why?

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It was through this discussion group, and a couple of others, as well as monitoring the live train movements with asm.transitdocs which alerted me to timekeeping on The Canadian.

 

It has been horrible over the five months or so Ive been checking in. I was surprised to see one train #2 stay green all the way from Vancouver recently, but everything else has been black by the time it gets to Toronto.

 

That record put paid to any idea of making arrangements to leave Toronto the day of, or even the day after scheduled arrival, but it also means making accommodation arrangements even for Toronto is a bit iffy.

 

I reckon thats a terrible pity as that train should be one of the worlds iconic.

 

I wondered when I was watching things turn black so early in the trips (excluding the departures west from Toronto because of +12 hour delays in getting underway) was part of a process the privateers were creating to get more public money into their operations. IMHO its why key infrastructure should not be in private hands, and if it is, should be highly regulated, but I suspect that view is anathema in the north American political context.

 

And running a train which is too long for it to fit a passing loop is just crazy.

 

Im due on train #2 in mid-May after watching the Vancouver Whitecaps at home against Houston :-)

The one that stayed green was, if I had to guess, #2 departing Vancouver on 2/27. That was down to a very unusual situation which resulted in the freight trains going into the siding instead.

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Well then I'll pose another question.

 

How does Rocky Mountaineer do time wise over the Canadian National lines. They run two lines over CN so how is the time keeping on those services. And if it's better why?

 

I'd like an answer to this question as well, if one is possible. Maybe the company that operates the Rocky Mountaineer pays CN a fee to allow their train to have priority access to the route?

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The Mountaineer runs a different Route between Vancouver and Calgary ( Southern)than the Canadian does (Northern between Vancouver and,Edmonton), and only runs in the Daylight, with stops in Banff and Lake Louise so its wealthy customers can enjoy Luxury Hotels and Grand Touring in the Rockies

 

Apples to Oranges.

Edited by Bob Dylan

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I read that the Rocky Mountaineer negotiated all their routes for specific days, three routes, and on time performance, so I would say they are paying for priority handling. Their former CEO did an amazing job taking a marginal tourist rail operation building it into one of the top rated attractions in the world, one where they do not have enough capacity even with their trains as long as they are today with three classes.

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The Mountaineer runs a different Route between Vancouver and Calgary ( Southern)than the Canadian does (Northern between Vancouver and,Edmonton), and only runs in the Daylight, with stops in Banff and Lake Louise so its wealthy customers can enjoy Luxury Hotels and Grand Touring in the Rockies

 

Apples to Oranges.

Rocky also runs on CN between Kamloops and Jasper (VIA's Canadian Route) and on CN (former BC Rail) from North Vancouver to Prince George then onto Jasper on CN (VIAs Skeena Route)

 

Westbound.....Rocky is also on CN from near Ashcroft (west of Kamloops) to Vancouver. Eastbound it crosses over to CP near Mission (40 east of Vancouver) for 175 miles of Directional Running through the Fraser and Thompson River Canyons.

 

If you look at Rocky’s schedule here you will see arrivals given in a range of 1 ½ hrs. For example: Arrival in Banff on CP could be anywhere from 7:30 to 9PM and Vancouver: 5:30 to 7PM on CN.

 

https://www.rockymountaineer.com/plan-your-trip/train-schedule-station-locations

 

And a FYI......Rocky Mountaineer began as a VIA Rail service 30 years ago in 1988 as the Canadian Rockies By Daylight using former CN DayNiter cars on a route similar to today: Vancouver to Kamloops where the train split into Banff/Calgary (CP) and Jasper (CN) sections.

 

VIA sold the service off to Great Canadian Railtours as part of the massive train cuts in January 1990.

post-5655-0-05029000-1521706524_thumb.jpg

Edited by NS VIA Fan

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Fascinating history. Perhaps Via Rail should sell the entire Canadian Route to Rocky Mountain? Maybe that would improve its operation, although, that might mean the end of sleeping car service....so...never mind! :P

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Thanks for the info NS VIA Fan.

 

I knew they ran several routes, just too lazy to look up the schedules.😁

 

I'm still waiting on the Canadian to be rerouted through Thunder Bay along the Lake, any word on this lately???

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Fascinating history. Perhaps Via Rail should sell the entire Canadian Route to Rocky Mountain? Maybe that would improve its operation, although, that might mean the end of sleeping car service....so...never mind! :P

Sell the Budd equipment to Rocky Mountaineer and let them operate the Canadian's sleeping cars…...possibly refurbished to an upscale product like Prestige Class and charge what the market will bear. Coach accommodations could still be provided and subsidized to meet remote service obligations.

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Fascinating history. Perhaps Via Rail should sell the entire Canadian Route to Rocky Mountain? Maybe that would improve its operation, although, that might mean the end of sleeping car service....so...never mind! :P

Sell the Budd equipment to Rocky Mountaineer and let them operate the Canadian's sleeping cars…...possibly refurbished to an upscale product like Prestige Class and charge what the market will bear. Coach accommodations could still be provided and subsidized to meet remote service obligations.

 

Except that Rocky Mountaineer's business model is to provide daylight over its entire route, and utilize hotel's for the overnight period...

You wouldn't want to miss seeing a single grain elevator across the prairie's, now would you? :D

 

Having the overnight "rest stops" might help improve overall time-keeping to the point where stopping overnight would not take any longer end-to-end, then what the train does with current delays... :rolleyes:

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The former CEO who built Rocky Mountaineer into what is today, Randy Powell, would be an interesting personal to ask what he would do with the "Canadian" to make it even greater. We might be surprised about his visions. He was certainly successful negotiating with CN for his trains to run daylight hours and always be on time.

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The Rocky Mountaineer looks like a first class operation and I'd love to ride it, but the prices are outrageous. I have some friends that my wife and I travel with, and they have suggested a Rocky Mountaineer trip, but we could probably take a week-long cruise to Alaska for less than what a two-day trip on the Mountaineer would cost. i'd hate to think what they would charge for a sleeper on the Canadian.

Also, didn't Powell mess with VIA a number of years ago when VIA wanted to upgrade their Vancouver-Edmonton services, crying they were unfairly competing with his private business. But congrats to Mountaineer for bribing CN with enough cash to actually run their trains on time. Maybe that's why the trips cost so much.

Edited by MikefromCrete

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I rode the westbound Canadian in June 2017. Scheduled departure time in Toronto was 10:00 pm but we left Union Station four hours later, at 02:00 am. The incoming Canadian had a delay of ten hours and arrived at 07:30 pm instead of 09:30 am. Staff had to fly in from Edmonton.


The train arrived in Vancouver at 03:35 pm. It should have arrived at 09:42 am, so it was almost six hours late. Not too bad, and I had the opportunity to see a few sights in daylight which I otherwise wouldn't have seen. So I was not complaining. Moreover, VIA Rail staff was very serviceminded and made sandwiches and coffee.

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The Rocky Mountaineer looks like a first class operation and I'd love to ride it, but the prices are outrageous. I have some friends that my wife and I travel with, and they have suggested a Rocky Mountaineer trip, but we could probably take a week-long cruise to Alaska for less than what a two-day trip on the Mountaineer would cost. i'd hate to think what they would charge for a sleeper on the Canadian.

Also, didn't Powell mess with VIA a number of years ago when VIA wanted to upgrade their Vancouver-Edmonton services, crying they were unfairly competing with his private business. But congrats to Mountaineer for bribing CN with enough cash to actually run their trains on time. Maybe that's why the trips cost so much.

if Powell complained, it looks like he lost his case, as VIA's Prestige Class is in some ways more luxurious than the Rocky Mountaineer.....

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If he complained it wasn't heeded, but the complaining could have been political posturing. What is more impressive is the relationship he developed with CN. VIA could stand to use him just to negotiate with CN for the Canadian.

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My understanding is that in year 1, Rockies by Daylight managed cost recovery in the 95% range and that in year 2 it was profitable...so they were forced to sell it off (rather than using the profits to either expand or to cross-subsidize the Canadian)...

 

It's also a real shame that neither this route nor the Whistler route were able to retain any sort of "local" service other than 1/2, since it would seem that there's the population density to back up some modest level of service (particularly when the weather goes to pot in the winter).

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My understanding is that CN's purchase of BC Rail from the province was contingent on getting rid of BC Rail's passenger service. I would love to be able to take the train to Whistler. The Sea-to-Sky Highway,(BC99) was upgraded to a 4 lane highway for the Olympics and carries a lot of traffic and is aggressively plowed and maintained. It is not really a chokepoint. Speaking as someone who drives it several times every winter.

 

The argument in Canada is often actually the opposite, the remote services often have more of a chance at survival.

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