Amtrak vs. VIA, Border Crossing, and Other Trip Notes

Discussion in 'Travelogues / Trip Reports' started by Michigan Mom, Aug 31, 2019.

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  1. Aug 31, 2019 #1

    Michigan Mom

    Michigan Mom

    Michigan Mom

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    Working title was going to be "Trains, Planes and Automobiles" - it seemed unfair somehow, and certainly far from original. :) It was a great trip, and one which I would go about accomplishing the same way in the future.

    My daughter and I got last minute tickets on the Wolverine to Detroit, and by some miracle, the 630 departure out of Ann Arbor was only a half hour late. This advance thinking made it seem like the train was on time. as this summer the mantra has been "assume 30-60 minutes" and the Wolv had been running later than that in the days prior. Still, there was no worry in terms of delay, as all we had to go was get to a Windsor hotel. Nice ride and detrained at DET to call the Uber (actually, used Lyft). A driver answered immediately to our ride request to be dropped off at the Tunnel Bus stop behind the church, but he was noticeably uneasy, explaining he couldn't go into Canada. I thought there would be room for him at the bus platform to turn around. As we got closer, he said he had never done this before, and the sign saying Canada Only unnerved him, so we offered to jump out on Jefferson. A couple of homeless guys heckled him a little as we grabbed our bags; I made sure to give him a nice tip. We simply walked around the corner to the right and lo and behold, there was the bus! It wasn't at the scheduled time so it took us by surprise, we ran up and boarded just as he was about to close the doors. After we cleared the tunnel all traffic lanes were full so we sat there a while. Welcome to Canada Roaming came up on our phones (the best ten bucks I have ever spent). At customs, we were all quickly through (maybe a dozen of us all told) and boarded the bus again. The tunnel bus stop was close to downtown and several hotels; we had a good night's sleep and were up bright and early to catch our VIA train to Toronto. The weather was gorgeous and the station is walkable from downtown if you like walking, and have 45 minutes to spare. We did not have enough time, so we called Uber and met the most engaging and dashing gentleman with a charming British accent. VIA Windsor station is a lovely quiet place to wait for a train, with expansive windows. Which leads me to the point of this review!
    Amtrak vs. VIA
    1) Boarding and Seats. VIA coach wins this one hands down over Wolverine coach. They board by car numbers, it's much more orderly, people aren't going in different directions down the aisle trying to find seats together - with preassigned seats there is no concern. Amtrak seats are more comfortable, but this wasn't enough to win the category, at least for a short haul trip, and has more bearing on #3 below.
    2) Luggage Storage. Amtrak coach cars have much better storage capacity with the sturdy, spacious overhead racks and space at the end of the car. VIA's overhead compartments are small, think small bag or small backpack. One 22 in rollerbag can fit sideways but that takes up the whole compartment. There is underseat storage for a purse or other smallish case.
    3) Ride Comfort. This is a tricky one. VIA is kind of a thrill ride when it gets going - if you really love that feeling of riding the rails, this is your kind of train trip. You feel much closer to the track. I often feel like we might fly out of the window. For that matter, VIA windows are larger and offer superior viewing experiences. On the other hand, Amtrak's smoother ride and heavier cars make it easier to nap, for me anyway. YMMV. This category is hence deemed a draw.
    4) Food and Beverage. Well, I can't write a review without including this, however I also can't vouch for the food quality because I make it a goal not to eat or drink anything (see "Ride Comfort" above). With no cafe car, the attendants will frequently wheel the service car through the coaches, affording plenty of opportunity to purchase sandwiches, snacks and beverages. Many years ago, the sandwiches on VIA were on par with vending machine quality - I think they've improved things but without actually trying the offerings, this category does nothing to break the tie.

    Finally, the UP Express train to the airport is fabulous. Remember the old days when it took 2 hours and numerous transfers to get to the airport from downtown? No more! You can purchase these tickets through VIA or at the station as we did, about $25 CDN for the two of us. Convenient and frequent departures, and you're at Pearson in 20 minutes or so.

    All in all, a much more pleasant way to get to Toronto than flying out of Detroit, which I have done both for Toronto shopping and sightseeing trips, and for catching flights out of either YYZ or YTZ. Porter Airlines operates out of YTX which is a charming small airport on the island and convenient to downtown. For YYZ take the UP Express for sure. For both airports it's advisable to build in lots of connection time, preferably an overnight. I would not chance a same day airline departure. Of course, if the airline cancels you'll get the next available flight but if you're originating and miss the flight, you're out of luck.

    If this were a review of general transit systems in Michigan vs. Ontario... all I can say is there is no question, "OH Canada!"
     
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2019
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  2. Aug 31, 2019 #2

    jiml

    jiml

    jiml

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    Great review. Glad to hear everything worked out as well as it did. Your initial Uber/Lyft experience in Detroit parallels mine a couple of years ago getting back to Windsor. Guessing you were in an LRC coach on VIA as opposed to their version of "heritage" equipment? We used to call these Low, Rocky and Cramped unless you were in Business Class. If you were lower to the ground and the coach was blue/green rather than stainless steel, that was likely the case. The Windsor route tends to feature more of the latter for some reason.

    As gracious as you were regarding Michigan vs. Ontario, remember that it took a long time and a lot of tax dollars to get there.
     
  3. Sep 5, 2019 #3

    Michigan Mom

    Michigan Mom

    Michigan Mom

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    Yeah, it's always been the blue/green trains out of Windsor, that I can remember. I had to laugh at the "LRC"!
    Just returned from walking around the office complex area where I work and was thinking again about Ontario and its infrastructure, well maintained, pedestrian friendly, clean.
     

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