Sunday 10 May & Monday 11 May 2015

The cars used in the Canadian are 60 years old but have been well looked after and generally are in a good condition for their age. A full refurbishment and reworking is now being undertaken to bring them into line with the sensibilities of the 21st century but they were well thought out.  Our cabin has bunk beds with more space than you might find on the similar period BR Mark 1 sleepers.  There is a toilet for each cabin and basin with a shower shared for 6 similar cabins and four (I think) single occupancy cabins were the bed fits on top of the toilet. Functional but not pretty.  One bunk goes up into the ceiling and another into the wall with two reclinable chairs being kept under the bottom bunk during the night.  Reassuringly the power works, the toilet is a modern airline type “whoosh” and there is a modest amount of hanging space.  Disconcertingly the cabin cannot be secured so we decide to carry passports and electronic equipment; however the staff assure us that items are safe.

The route from Toronto goes via Winnipeg and Edmonton to Jasper for us and the train continues to Vancouver but our tour does not.  The scenery over the first full day and most of the following morning is through heavily wooded land with a twisting route skirting maginificent lakes and little in the way of landscapes to mark our progress.  Being May the silver birch trees are still bare and provide a stark comparison to the fir trees with which they are mixed.

There are telegraph poles with wires at eye level along much of this route; often these seem to be routed in the water lying alongside the line, although there must be solid ground underneath. Every so often trees lie on the lines having been blown down in winter storms and in some places the poles themselves are displaced so it may have to be assumed that whilst not removed the lines are no longer carrying useful information.

Photos for this leg are here.

The entire reason for retention of this railway line is to move freight and the VIA Rail Canadian passenger train appears to be considered largely a nuisance by CN who move the freight trains and own the tracks.  On this section we regularly meet freights coming the other way.  In some cases they are short enough to fit into the 1.8m loops; some of them are now 2m long (all have only twin diesels at the front) and in the cases we enter the loop and the freight rolls past on the straight line.  I assume someone, somewhere in a control room is aware of where the 2m long trains can cross – running trains longer than the loops certainly happens and presumably there are places where longer passing loops exist and can be used – otherwise someone is backing up a long way.

Pointwork for the diverging line seems to have a maximum speed of around 20 mph, this obviously slows our progress and all points seem to be exactly the same design.  They are not particularly designed either for our top speed of 85 mph; certainly if we are not being looped but go straight ahead at our running speed there are some massive bangs as we go through the points, at night this is pretty disconcerting – certainly on the first night I cannot beleive we are still on the track.

We are on train no 1 (in terms of VIA Rail) operationally we are somewhere off the bottom of the CN operating scale!  For reasons not completely clear (apart from a late arrival) we depart about an hour late from Union Station on the Saturday night.  Sitting a little later in the bar car, having gone about 10 miles, an engineer arrives and turns on an external light and we commence going backwards.  He explains we are using a Y turning triangle as the train eventually heads off in the opposite direction to our original movement.

The solid bed is comfortable although the surroundings are noisy (one neighbour has a very bad sounding cough).  The shower works well in delivering hot water.  I should interject that there are two views in this family on the sleeping arrangements.  I consider them functional and effective.  My wife on the other hand considers them too small and far from ideal.  She is viewing it from a holiday perspective whereas I know that when built these were workaday trains.  Confusing the issue is the Great Rail description of these as the “best available” sleepers on VIA Rail but there own website is trumpeting a recent announcement of a new and far more luxurious class available (with two cars on our train).  Disappointingly at Union Station in Toronto in the three hours prior to departure no one knew the cost of these new facilities or if they were available for an upgrade price and my wife was sent from pillar to post, with a belief eventually emerging that only the “Call Centre” knew!  This was far from the first or last example that VIA Rail has no concept of passengers or passenger/customer service/care.  I can only assume that they are trained via CN and therefore the freight does not have a brain and nor do cattle.  This approach sadly matches the age of the rolling stock and needs urgent refurbishment along with the rolling stock.