To the ocean on The Ocean - November 2019

Discussion in 'Travelogues / Trip Reports' started by jiml, Nov 17, 2019.

Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

  1. Nov 17, 2019 #1

    jiml

    jiml

    jiml

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2019
    Messages:
    473
    Location:
    Toronto area
    We hadn't been to Halifax in several years, so prompted by a substantial VIA off-peak sale we decided on November. "Halifax in November?" our friends and relatives said, but it was really cheap. With 40% off on sleepers coupled with senior rail fares, it was a very good deal.

    For those who haven't taken the route before or are at least familiar with VIA terminology here are a couple of explanations:

    The Ocean uses a combination of British equipment (Renaissance) and conventional stainless steel "Heritage"-style cars. To accomplish this they need transition cars (not to be confused with Amtrak transition cars) to connect the two types, as well as to the locomotives. The lead transition car also serves as a baggage car, whereas the rearmost one is sort of a combination display and storage car for supplementary dining supplies (soda, water, etc.). There are currently two consists for the Ocean - ours was the all-Renaissance plus stainless steel "Park" car one. The other one is quite different, which I'll attempt to explain later when it becomes relevant.

    A Park car is possibly the best-engineered transportation on 8 wheels. Not only does it house comfortable sleeping accommodation, two nice lounge seating areas and a dome with forward view, but it also has a bar. What more could you want?:) We were fortunate to secure Bedroom A in the Park car - also formerly known as the drawing room. The big advantage when you're older is no ladders to climb. Both beds are on the lower level with one parallel to the side and the other across. (There is also a third upper bunk suitable for a child, but seldom used on this route.) There is an enclosed toilet and easily accessed sink in the compartment, but no shower.

    Day 1
    We actually live closer to Toronto than Montreal - the starting point for the Ocean, so had to get there first. It was easy to add VIA 1 seats to the reservation and we decided to head to Montreal the day before and spend the night. I've documented this portion of the trip in another thread, including meal pictures, so I'll just summarize by saying it was typical VIA 1 service... decent food, served on real plates with metal cutlery (mentioning this for later reference) and mediocre service. There was only one attendant in the business car on this trip - different from our last trip a couple of months ago, and she was far from energetic (although very pleasant). The car had been "recently modified" and "they left out the one baggage rack", which required those of us not boarding in Toronto to do self-service with our luggage into the baggage car separating VIA 1 and the locomotive. My wife and I didn't board together as we were separated to allow a handicapped person and their companion to board, so let's say she was less impressed with the foray into the old-school baggage car than I was.;) We had our favourite seats in VIA 1 - the facing pair on the single side with a shared table. The on-board service was complete, but no drink or wine refills were offered as they usually are. They were available if asked for, but the attendant spent most of the trip sitting down and only walked through the car when a new passenger joined. Fortunately the car was never more than half full. We were close to on-time for the whole trip, arriving at Montreal only a few minutes late.
     
    Tom Booth, anumberone and Bob Dylan like this.
  2. Nov 17, 2019 #2

    jiml

    jiml

    jiml

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2019
    Messages:
    473
    Location:
    Toronto area
    Day 2
    The Ocean departs Montreal in the early evening, somewhat on the schedule of the former Atlantic Limited rather the Ocean of years past. Status with a major hotel chain allowed for a 4 pm check-out after a nice Montreal smoked meat sandwich lunch. This was the time-change weekend so it got dark in Montreal quite early. Sleeping car passengers have access to the VIA business lounge, which was packed when we arrived. We were told dinner reservations would be taken at a desk in the concourse and an announcement of this would be made. It wasn't, but I headed out when the line began to form - about 40 minutes before departure. No problem getting first seating; second was much more popular. I returned to the lounge to get my wife and luggage, since we'd been given wristbands in exchange for tickets and told to board immediately. The Park car was located right at the foot of the escalator - bonus! We were greeted by our SCA, who turned out to be a great guy and railfan. It turns out we would be the only overnight occupants of the Park car for the entire trip, so he was even more attentive than usual. He told us there would be no announcement for dinner (intercom didn't work in the Park car or the transition car joining to the rest of the train), so as soon as the train started moving we should start walking. There were 5 sleepers plus the transition car between us and the lounge-diner-lounge combination. Since this wasn't our first time in a Park car there was nothing new to see and underground in Montreal nothing to be seen from the windows, so we stowed our luggage (perfect for two rollerboards, a computer backpack and wife's extra bag btw) and headed for the sleeper lounge adjacent to the diner. This turned out to be a good move while the train was not moving - the halls in the Renaissance sleepers are quite small (both narrow and low bulkheads in spots) compared to North American equivalents and whatever genius designed the protruding door handles needs to be fired. (We later learned they have been the source of a number of injuries to both staff and passengers.) We took seats in the small lounge and were soon joined by other passengers with the same idea. The diner and its two lounges/food preparation cars are the only areas with Wi-Fi on this train, but it is really good except in areas with no cellular service at all - much better than the inconsistent service on corridor trains.

    Dinner was preceded by soup and hot rolls; we ordered wine, but it was expensive and not very good... didn't make that mistake again. Entrée choices were beef tenderloin - essentially sliced steak with a red wine sauce and really tasty potatoes (for those who know Flemings' restaurants, think "Flemings' Potatoes"), chicken and rice and vegetarian pasta. We both had the steak. As mentioned the potatoes were outstanding, the steak less so. Overall though it was a very good meal, capped off by excellent chocolate cake and tea service. Everything was served on "china" with silverware on a tablecloth, with cloth napkins, real glasses, etc. Contrary to a previous review of this train, everyone in sight tipped after the meal - myself included. We lingered in the lounge car for awhile after dinner, primarily to use the internet.

    The route back to our car was more of an adventure this time with the train moving at good speed. Not our first rodeo, but others were less fortunate or experienced - especially with the narrow hallways. Nothing to see outside, so we headed to our room - which had been made up - and settled in for the night. The time change was also a factor. The beds were very comfortable, even better than we remembered and in-line with another recent review here on AU. I watched the passing lights for awhile, but soon fell asleep.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2019
    Tom Booth and anumberone like this.
  3. Nov 18, 2019 #3

    jiml

    jiml

    jiml

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2019
    Messages:
    473
    Location:
    Toronto area
    Day 3
    I awoke at dawn while stopped in Matapedia, QC. My wife slept for almost another hour. We had been reminded of the abbreviated breakfast service this morning owing to the second time change (Eastern to Atlantic) mitigated by the change from Daylight Saving Time, so I hoped I didn't have to wake her. By the time we reached the next station a few minutes later it was actually an hour and a few minutes later, although the train was on time. Fortunately she was up and ready to go to breakfast soon after. Breakfast had two choices - omelette and sausages or some crepe thing, in addition to cereal. We had one of each of the hot items... both good. Time to stake out seats in the dome.

    Our Park car (Tremblant) was built the year I was born and is the most recently refurbished in the Ocean pool. The other one is apparently "not as nice" and features the "pink upholstery" from the previous refurb. The Tremblant Park is in really good shape for being over 60 years old, and in fact shows less wear-and-tear than the much newer Renaissance sleepers. Stopping to pick up tea and cookies from the never-ending supply laid out in the "bullet lounge" in our car, we headed up to the dome. As much as I love Amtrak Sightseer domes, there is nothing like a traditional dome car with a forward (and rear) view. We were soon joined by many others after they finished breakfast. Although our car was empty, we were told occupancy in the other sleepers was around 40% - considered high for off-season. The Park lounges and dome were available to all sleeper passengers. While the scenery can't compare to the western mountains, the dome is still a great place to view the passing landscape. Later we adjourned to the bullet lounge at the back of the car for more tea and conversation. This area features very comfortable seating and an unbeatable view out the "railfan window". An SCA from the next sleeper came through for lunch reservations and having eaten breakfast early (we were still functioning on Eastern time) we chose first seating.

    The train was still close to on-time, although the VIA app suggested a 17 minute late arrival at Halifax. Through New Brunswick we traversed some of the longest straight sections of track I've ever seen short of the Canadian or American prairies. Some scenic riverside portions broke up the routine however.

    Lunch featured the "famous Comeau's" fish chowder, that I didn't think I'd like (not a seafood guy), but was I ever wrong. It's great. There were two choices for lunch - one was hot, the other cold. We both had the fish and chips, which was delicious. Dessert was some flaky pastry thing, which shows up on a lot of buffets in Canada. If I come across the name I'll add it, but it was tasty.

    Our SCA did a brisk business in the mural lounge of our Park car in the afternoon, despite the fairly high prices for libations. When not busy he was very conversational. There were also a number of ex-CN and VIA employees on this train, so railfan discussion abounded - never a bad thing. I was able to confirm that the days of the Renaissance cars are definitely numbered. They're just not able to stand up to the demands of such frequent use and that there had been another serious accident near Halifax involving them. (I was aware of the "switch-picking" incident during a back-up move and the occurrence at the Montreal maintenance center, but apparently a more recent problem has sidelined several Renaissance cars - mostly coaches.) I was told to look for some Renaissance coaches parked near the container terminal in Halifax; unfortunately it was too dark when we arrived there. Bottom line: VIA is really short of coaches in particular, which leads to the makeup of the other Ocean consist. It is currently almost all ex-CP or Amtrak stainless steel, with the exception of the 3-unit lounge diner set still Renaissance. This is a headache for VIA in the big picture... although they have spare sleepers and a diner (plus 2 currently undergoing refurbishment for the Ocean in the future) they have almost zero spare coaches. The ones currently on the other Ocean are an HEP-1 from the Skeena and 2 HEP-2 from the corridor pool. This is also a headache for the placement of the transition cars in the consist. This all lead to further discussion of the future of the Ocean, which thankfully looks good. When trainsets from Siemens starting arriving for use between Quebec City and Ottawa, that will free up Renaissance coaches for the Ocean. In the longer term it will go all-stainless and the Renaissance stuff will be gone for good. The staff seem to universally hate them, with the exception of the diner. (I'd have to agree - mostly due to the availability of more intimate seating than typical NA diners.) Someone also raised the alleged plan to "Skeena" the Ocean into two daytime trains with an overnight stop about 4 years ago. (The Skeena is a train in western Canada that used to have sleepers and a diner, but was separated into two daytime coach trains with an overnight stop enroute where passengers have to disembark and find a motel at their own expense.) This was apparently proposed for the Ocean, with the cover objective of restoring service to Gaspe, QC. The first day the train would travel from Montreal to Matapedia, then split the next day (or separate train) to Gaspe (formerly the Chaleur) and another to Halifax. No sleepers or diners. Cost saving to VIA, but lacking the scenery of the Skeena my guess is saner heads prevailed. It sounds like the Ocean of today will be around for awhile, even without British rolling stock.

    Our train arrived in Halifax 17 minutes late, as predicted. The Park car is a long walk from the station (and our attached hotel). Transition car, 5 sleepers, lounge, diner, lounge, 3 coaches, transition/baggage and 2 F40's. Hopefully they'll turn it around before our return. Not getting any younger after all.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2019
    Tom Booth, anumberone and Bob Dylan like this.
  4. Nov 18, 2019 #4

    jiml

    jiml

    jiml

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2019
    Messages:
    473
    Location:
    Toronto area
    A few pictures from outbound:

    1. View from the dome
    2. Fish chowder
    3. Lunch (sorry, half-eaten before pic):(
    4. Our consist at Moncton, NB
    5. VIA station Halifax
    6. Train still parked in station the next day


    74365345_2454407167927692_9010384827689467904_n.jpg
    74886458_2457920317576377_2425046661123276800_n.jpg
    75258605_2454407321261010_9083554139652227072_n.jpg 72769855_2454483911253351_6757377234840846336_o.jpg 74804039_2456005541101188_4442728133921079296_o.jpg 75650551_2456006947767714_4924945363741179904_o.jpg
     
    Tom Booth and anumberone like this.
  5. Nov 18, 2019 #5

    jiml

    jiml

    jiml

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2019
    Messages:
    473
    Location:
    Toronto area
    Pics of Tremblant Park:

    1. Exterior
    2. Our room by day
    3. Mural lounge from bar
    4. Bullet lounge
    5. Dome seating

    DSC05094.JPG DSC05089.JPG DSC05090.JPG DSC05091.JPG DSC05092.JPG
     
    JRR, Tom Booth and anumberone like this.
  6. Nov 18, 2019 #6

    anumberone

    anumberone

    anumberone

    OBS Chief AU Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2015
    Messages:
    874
    Location:
    Los Angeles
    Thanks for taking time to share your trip. I enjoyed it.
     
  7. Nov 18, 2019 #7

    OBS

    O

    OBS

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2011
    Messages:
    1,515
    Location:
    Webster NY
    Great report!
     
  8. Nov 18, 2019 #8

    NS VIA Fan

    NS VIA Fan

    NS VIA Fan

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2011
    Messages:
    1,361
    Thanks for the Trip Report!

    After many Ocean Renaissance trips over the past few years I’ll be sad to see them gone!

    Since the Budd Set has been substituting for the Rens I’ve gone out of my way to make sure I’m on a Renaissance. But a trip to Montreal last month did find me in an older Budd Chateau ‘Cabin for One’ (old style Duplex Roomette) and it reinforced my thoughts on how I’ll miss them when they’re gone. IMHO…the Rens offer a smoother more comfortable ride with better amenities. And quiet too…..with substantial solid partitions between rooms. Not the rattling folding partition you find between the Budd Bedrooms.

    Last Christmas VIA had to substitute a Budd set for a Ren and single travelers used to riding Rens over the past 15 years or so now found themselves in a older style Chateau Roomette (with that toilet in the room….and all that surrounding carpet!)…..where they had originally been booked in a Ren Cabin with adjoining washroom and some even with a shower. There were loud complaints and VIA brought in additional Manors offering more Bedrooms so those who were originally booked in a Ren Cabin would at least have a Budd Bedroom instead of a Roomette. (Cabin for One)

    Even the smooth riding Ren Coaches offer 2&1 seating which a co-worker’s GF particularly enjoyed when travelling back and forth between Halifax and Campbellton when going to university. Same goes for the single overnight traveller.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2019
    Tom Booth likes this.
  9. Nov 18, 2019 #9

    jiml

    jiml

    jiml

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2019
    Messages:
    473
    Location:
    Toronto area
    I'm hoping to write up the return trip starting later today. I agree about smoother ride of the Renaissance equipment - just looking at the complexity of the trucks makes you realize there's a lot more going on there than in an older coach. The thing I kept hearing was durability issues, along with those tight hallways. There were also several examples of loose or poorly finished trim in the public areas that weren't as obvious in the Park car despite its age. The positive was the diner; both patrons and staff praised the layout and comfortable seating. One staff had worked a Budd diner and really preferred these.

    An interesting sidebar to the dining car was how it was used by two different crews. Eastbound there were only two dining attendants and they worked the full length of the car, with sleeper and coach passengers distributed as seats were available. (First seating was fairly full out of Montreal.) On the return there were three attendants, with a clear delineation between the sleeper and coach passengers, separated by the service area in the middle. One attendant worked the coach side and two the sleeper side. Meals were all prepared in the "sleeper side" kitchen in both directions, while the equivalent on the "coach side" was used exclusively for bar/lounge service. Crew occupied two tables on the coach side of the diner at every sitting, which should be familiar to Amtrak people.;)
     
  10. Nov 18, 2019 #10

    railiner

    railiner

    railiner

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2009
    Messages:
    7,359
    Location:
    South Florida
    Very nice report and photo's, thanks for posting!
     
  11. Nov 18, 2019 #11

    Dakota 400

    D

    Dakota 400

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2014
    Messages:
    1,437
    I appreciated reading your interesting report and viewing the pictures. Traveling on VIA Rail is still a bucket list item for me and thought this Winter would be the time. Another travel opportunity has taken its place (and money).
     
  12. Nov 19, 2019 #12

    jiml

    jiml

    jiml

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2019
    Messages:
    473
    Location:
    Toronto area
    So I'm going to try and wrap this up. Having the same consist headed back doesn't require much comment and having the same room (which we loved) was awesome. The crew changed however, which we knew in advance. I was surprised to learn that Halifax is still a crew base for this train. Glad for them, but it seems Montreal would be a more practical choice. On the subject of Halifax, it's a great place to visit with quite the history - including a role in many major events over the years. There is lots to do within walking distance of the VIA station, including great bars and restaurants. There is a decent hotel attached to the station as well. The Halifax VIA station is really impressive considering it serves only 1 train 3 days a week. Of course it used to be much busier, but the fact that it's well-staffed and in such great shape would have one thinking it still serves trains to Digby, Yarmouth and Sydney, as well as daily trains west. (Check NS VIA Fan's recent post in the VIA forum for maps and schedules showing the station's past.) There is even a sleeping car lounge with complimentary beverages and comfy seating.

    Day 5
    We didn't have far to go from our hotel room next door to the station. Like Montreal they had a desk for sleeping car check-in, but since it wasn't open we waited in the pleasant sleeper lounge in the hotel concourse. The train departs at 1 pm and they started checking in at 12:30. Wristbands were given, lunch reservations taken and boarding commenced. The consist had indeed been turned - they use the nearby container terminal, and the Park car was closest to the station. Unlike Montreal our attendant was nowhere to be found, but we knew the way to our room. With lunch served on departure we headed to the sleeper lounge to await the official announcement. They actually announced just before 1:00, so we were already seated when the train started moving. Lunch started with the excellent chowder again (amusing to hear chowder explained to those not familiar), then a choice of 3 entrees - chicken ala king with rice, a sautéed veggie platter and a middle-eastern sandwich I was not familiar with. We both had the chicken and it was great.
    73423385_2457920357576373_4986390819440164864_n.jpg

    I had heard previously that all catering for this train had switched to Montreal, but our dining attendant confirmed that everything except dessert on this train was locally sourced. She thought the food was actually much better in this direction and I can't disagree. (More on that later). They also took dinner reservations at lunchtime. After a check of emails in the adjacent lounge it was time to head for our car where we met our SCA for this trip. She was also super-friendly. We were again the only paying customers sleeping in the Park car, however the adjacent rooms had all been grabbed by employees (who she suggested had "pull") and preferred the Budd rooms to their Renaissance assigned spaces. The dome was fairly full, so we decided to spend a good part of the afternoon in the bullet lounge. While not particularly attractive, the seats there are really comfortable and the view is second only to the dome. It's also the closest to the plentiful snacks and tea/coffee service available most of the day. The scenery on this part of the route is quite beautiful and we had missed quite a bit during our dusk arrival.

    Dinner proved to be the highlight dining on this trip. There were 4 choices instead of the usual 3. In addition to the obligatory vegetarian choice, there was beef pot roast, pecan-crusted chicken and a seafood entrée. The beef out of Montreal had been mediocre so I was reluctant to go with it, but our attendant said it was good. She was not wrong. My wife - ever cautious - went with the chicken, which was also very good. The excellent chocolate cake and tea finished the meal perfectly. We returned to our compartment to enjoy a bottle of Cabernet acquired in Halifax, having learned our lesson about VIA's wine choices on this route. I had resolved to turn in early, hoping to awake before the back-up move across the St. Lawrence to the Quebec City suburbs. My better half stayed up gaming on her iPad.
     
  13. Nov 19, 2019 #13

    jiml

    jiml

    jiml

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2019
    Messages:
    473
    Location:
    Toronto area
    Day 6
    I was reminded above about impressions of the Renaissance cars. Although I've seen them many times in corridor services, this was my first up-close experience. Having ridden several European trains, these would be right at-home on just about any single-level Euro consist. They are similar in design and most features, right down to the push-buttons on the doors between coaches. Apparently they are maintenance-heavy and unreliable, when compared to conventional cars. They do ride well and today's stretch between Quebec City and Montreal was an eye-opener for me. These things can fly - even with the relic bringing up the rear we easily out-paced the adjacent highway when visible. This may explain why VIA has assigned them to this portion of their corridor trains. It's worth mentioning that this portion of the corridor is in much better shape than my home territory, which does contribute to the ride quality.

    I did wake up in time for the cross-river trek to Ste-Foy, followed by breakfast. This morning it was a choice of scrambled eggs and bacon with toast or French toast with fruit topping and sausages. Both really good again. It was snowing lightly when we arrived at Montreal - early. (I had been hoping to pass Amtrak's Adirondack on its way to St. Lambert, but we were early and it was late.) Another really long walk to the one and only platform exit - a real issue in Montreal no matter which train you're on.

    We headed to the VIA business lounge and the desk attendant immediately noticed we were connecting to a Toronto train in just over 3 hours. The departure ahead of us was significantly delayed and had seats available in VIA 1. After several minutes of typing however, he said our fare basis (darn seat sale!) would not allow him to assign us seats on the train departing in just over an hour. He apologized, but in fairness we expected to be late so built in the longer connection. Although it would have been nice to arrive home earlier, we were satisfied with our choice and his effort to change it. The lounge was not busy today and many trains - especially to/from Toronto - were late. There are worse places to wait out a delay.

    Our westbound is one of the few trains that VIA does not turn at Montreal. It has locomotives on both ends. This was a good thing as it was one of many delayed today, so turnaround was quick when it did get in. We headed to the concourse when I saw boarding start, although it was not announced in the lounge. VIA 1 passengers were scanned and asked to stand in line while handicapped and families were pre-boarded. Once down on the platform it was a 5-car walk to the VIA 1 car, due to the consist not being turned. Unlike our trip here, both luggage racks were in place and no auxiliary storage was needed. The car was completely full and remained so for the entire trip, although seats changed butts enroute.;) I noticed many passengers bringing takeout food onto the train. I was puzzled, given VIA's usual service on this route, but the reason soon became apparent. Again there was only one attendant on this train - has been two on many previous trips, and owing to the full car she was literally "run off her feet" and was not the least bit happy about it. Drink orders were taken after departure and so far everything seemed normal. No menus were provided for the meal - unusual, but may have been time of day. Choices were "fish, chicken or pasta" - no further details available even when asked. My wife chose the fish, I chose the chicken. The latter turned out to be a cold (and grossly undercooked to the point of being inedible) tiny piece of chicken on a plate of lentils - also cold. At least it was served on a plastic plate. The hot entrees were served in their foil cooking trays - something I have not seen before on VIA or even a bad airline. Cutlery was the 3-inch long plastic kind you find at a bad takeout place, packaged with a tiny paper napkin. The norm is metal utensils and cloth napkins. Wine was served in plastic cups. No refills were offered. I overheard other passengers mention staff cutbacks on this route, but staff may not be the only thing. (Hello flexible/contemporary dining.) On the other hand, having some familiarity with VIA 1 service, I'd be hesitant to jump to conclusions after just this trip. Still I'd have to say it was my worst VIA 1 experience ever. At least the train was on-time, which leads to the final observation. When we passed a landmark near our home station we, and several other passengers, headed to retrieve our bags and line up at the door as usual. The attendant told us to take our seats as we were at least "10 minutes away", despite the train already slowing for the stop. We were fully stopped in 4. Not a great conclusion to the day.

    Just a shout-out to the others who encouraged me to write this report, especially those who have recently reviewed the Ocean, and my new friend down south who writes great reports and is a much better photographer than I am. Thanks to all for reading.
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2019
    JRR, Tom Booth, Seaboard92 and 2 others like this.
  14. Nov 21, 2019 #14

    Seaboard92

    Seaboard92

    Seaboard92

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2014
    Messages:
    3,258
    Location:
    South Carolina
    Thank you for the compliment at the end. Great report you are making me want to take the Ocean again. It’s a lovely train in all regards. It’s funny I’m now not the only one not impressed with corridor food. I’ve never had something I consider edible with the exception of a croissant. And sometimes depending on the attendant. I’ll get an extra sewing that’s all I can eat.
     

Share This Page



arrow_white