Discussion of Canadian Passenger Rail Services such as AMT (Montreal), Go Transit (Toronto), VIA Rail, and other Canadian Railways and Transit

Moderator: Ken V

It was one of those early March days in eastern Canada when the weather doesn’t know if it should be raining or snowing. Well it was pouring and our Saturday morning hockey game out on the “pond” was cancelled. So just grabbed a coffee and sat down at the computer.

Checking my e-mail I got word of a freight derailment: The New Brunswick East Coast Railway had just spilled 23 cars near Mont Joli, Quebec blocking VIA’s eastbound Ocean. The F40's were to run-around and haul the Ocean 100 miles back to Riviere du Loup/St. Andre Jct., reverse again and run on CN’s freight-only mainline via Edmundston to Moncton then resume it’s normal route from there to Halifax.

But what would they do with w/b Ocean due out of Halifax at 1pm. A quick call to VIA confirmed it would also run via Edmundston and my chance for a 300 mile “Rare Milage Run”!

Could I pull it off? I had no problem booking a Roomette to Montreal on ReserVIA and WestJet could get me back Sunday evening for $99. It was a go! But I had 220 kms and 3 ½ hours to get to Halifax so I had to get moving.

I stopped at the Halifax Airport to drop off my car for a quick get-away back home when I return on Sunday evening. Then took a shuttle bus into city. Convenient as it stops at the Westin Hotel where the VIA station is located. I arrived with 45 minutes to spare. Since I had booked on the Web, all I had to show was my confirmation number and my ticket was ready.

Today’s Ocean was a Budd consist complete with a Dome Obs “Park” car up against the bumper-post in the 5-track terminal. There was also one of the new “Renaissance Ocean” sets in the station but not yet in service. The Ocean out of Halifax the previous afternoon had been a Ren set but I was glad today’s was Budd equipped for the “Rare Mileage” views from the dome.

VIA OCEAN #15 w/b Departing Halifax March 6, 2004
6424 F40
6436 F40
8619 Baggage
8143 Coach
8118 Coach
8127 Coach
Skyline Dome 8503
Emerald Diner
Chateau Montcalm
Chateau Jolliet
Chateau Viger
Chateau Levis
Banff Park Dome Observation

We left Halifax on time at 1:05 in pouring rain. Out past the container terminals and Rockingham Yard where a double-stack was being assemble for it run through to Toronto and Chicago. (Occasionally there will be an Illinois Central unit on these trains but not today) OT at Truro and no sign of the e/b Ocean #14 we should have met at Belmont. I estimated he was about 6 hours late on the detour and we would meet at Moncton. Just west of Folly Lake the train is high on a hillside and the rain had turned to wet snow at the higher elevations. Across the valley I got a glimpse of the ski hill at Wentworth.

Since I was an “Easterly (First) Class” passenger I spent most of my time in the dome of “Banff Park” on the tail end. The attendant provided complementary coffee and tea all day and took bar orders as requested. The dome was about a third full. The sleeper load out of Halifax was light but would fill out at Moncton and later in the evening thru northern New Brunswick. The coaches were full and they had their own “Skyline” dome forward.

We rolled into Moncton OT at 5:20 pm. VIA had buses waiting to take passengers on to Bathurst, Campbellton, Rimouski etc. Cities that would be by-passed by the detour. The Moncton station was recently expanded and a “clock-tower” added. During the 25 minute service stop I ran over to the adjacent Highfield Square shopping centre to pick up a couple of magazines and snacks for later in the evening.

We were out of Moncton at 5:45pm and still no sign of e/b #14. At Pacific Jct. 12 miles west we received a high green and diverged from the Ocean’s usual route (the New Brunswick East Coast Railway) and headed west on CN’s Napadogan Subdivision for a 300mile “Rare Mileage Run” to St Andre Jct This is CN’s mainline west from the Maritimes: Fast, CTC and approx 75 miles shorter than the NBEC Railway route through Campbellton.

The Ocean once ran regularly on the Napadogan Sub in the late ‘60 & early ‘70 but was replaced by an RDC Railiner which lasted until the big VIA cutbacks in January 1990.

Time now for supper and I made my way to “Emerald” An xCP diner and identical to one you would find on the “Canadian” Meals on the Ocean are not included in the sleeper fare and are not quite the “Gourmet” meals served on the Canadian but still excellent along with the service. I had the “Annapolis Valley” for $18. consisting of a garden salad, hot rolls, roast turkey with all the trimmings and apple crisp for dessert.

I was still looking for the e/b Ocean. When we hadn’t meet by Chipman I assumed that I had somehow missed the meet near Moncton. We finally met them in Juniper at 8:35pm, running approx 11 hours late! (They arrived in Halifax around 3am the next morning)

I sat in the dome for most of the evening checking our route and speed using my GPS. Northern New Brunswick had received a fresh dusting of snow where the south had received rain. The night was fairly bright so it made for good after-dark viewing from the dome. Just east of Grand Falls there are some impressive high fills and trestles. One, the Salmon River Bridge is 3900' long (second longest in Canada) and 190' high.

At Grand Falls we entered the Saint John River valley running parallel to the United States border for the next 60 miles. Interesting: the towns across the river are only a quarter mile away but it’s another county and an hour earlier (eastern time) The track along the opposite river bank is the former Bangor & Aroostook and just beyond that: US1. Get on this highway here and it will eventually take you to Key West, Florida!

On this side we were pacing traffic on the Trans Canada Highway, probably getting stares from the locals wondering “what’s a passenger train doing here?

I was impressed with how fast we were covering the Napadogan Sub. Leaving Moncton on time at 5:45pm we reached Chipman at 6:53, Napadogan at 8:04, Juniper: 8:20 to 8:35 (meet #14) Grand Falls: 10:13, another meet at Riviere-Verte from 10:45 to 11:12 then into the divisional point of Edmundston, New Brunswick at 11:25pm. Take out the down time at Juniper and Riviere-Verte and it’s only about a half-hour off the schedule of the last Moncton to Edmundston Railiner in 1990. Not bad for trackage that’s been freight only for 14 years!

At the pace we were going I thought we would be waiting for time when we eventually reached St. Andre Jct where the Ocean’s usual route would be regained and it’s schedule assumed west of there. But in Edmundston now we just sat. A couple of buses arrived with passengers from the New Brunswick north-shore area. Then another bus arrived with the “Chaleur” passengers. (The Ocean and Chaleur would normally meet at Matapedia and combine for the trip to Montreal) I watched the activity out on the platform for awhile then went to bed.

I woke just as we were leaving Edmundston at 4:30et (5:30at) (time change here) We’d been sitting for 6 hours! It was just getting light as we passed thru Lac Baker and crossed into Quebec. I had a quick shower then headed back to the dome for the complementary continental breakfast: coffee, juice, muffins, cereal yogurt etc. (There’s also a full breakfast available in the diner)

The sun was up now as we rounded the high fill at the south end of the lake at Estcourt, Quebec. The tracks couldn’t get any closer to the USA than they are here: the bottom of the fill Is the international boundary.

Back in 1977, CN built a 20 mile cut-off to get the trains out of the hills, off the old Monk Sub (now abandoned) and down to river level and the fast straight track of the Montmagny Subdivision along the St. Lawrence. From Pelletier to St Andre Jct. it’s almost a steady 1.1% downgrade.

The fresh snow of last night and the ice on the trees from yesterdays freezing rain made for very scenic views from the dome in the morning sun. We rolled down through the rock cuts and at several places there were excellent views to the Mountains on the opposite side of the St. Lawrence River which is almost 15 miles wide here.

We reached St Andre Jct at 6:48am then stopped in la Pocatiere at 7:12 for 10 minutes. Quite a few boarded here; these were the passengers bused from the missed stops at Amqui, Mont Joli and Rimouski. La Pocatiere is the location of a Bombardier plant where the shells for Amtrak’s Superliner II and Acela cars were assembled. I got a good view into the yard where several pieces of new equipment was sitting. There is also a test track around the yard with catenary strung overhead.

We continued on to Charny (suburban stop for Quebec City) at a steady 80mph. To reach the stop here first required us to pull forward onto the Drummondville Sub then back into Charny, located on the line to the Quebec Bridge. We had to wait a moment for a Montreal bound “Renaissance” train to clear then arrived in Charny at 9:15 for a 10 minute service stop (4.5 hours late) I had time to get off for a few pictures.

I always enjoy sitting in the dome for the 25 miles out of Charny. We’re doing 90mph easily passing everything on parallel Autoroute 20. We continued on to Montreal making quick stops in Drummondville, St. Hyacinthe, and St Lambert finally coming to a halt in Central Station at !2:15pm (4:15 late)

I had 6 hours to kill which wasn’t too difficult in Montreal. Out for lunch then I spent a hour or so riding the Metro. Back at Central Station I took an electric MU 16 mile out to Deau Montagnes and back. Leaving Central Station we headed north thru the 3 mile Mount Royal Tunnel (VIA trains arrive and depart on the south side of the station) Several stops were made before crossing a couple of rivers and arriving in Deau Montagnes. A scenic ride and it takes about 35 minutes each way. This is the former CN line that ran with ancient 1915 built electric box-cabs until the line was reconstructed in the 1990's and new Bombardier MU’s took over. Time now to make my way out to Dorval Airport. I could have taken a commuter train from the former Windsor Station site but I would be cutting it close to my flight time. A combination of the Metro and 2 city buses got me there in about 50 minutes for $2.50.

Dorval Airport was the usual Sunday evening mob scene and I was surprised it only took me about 45 minutes to check-in and get through security. I then spent the next half hour or so checking out the various aircraft at the gates (Hay, I like planes too!)

WestJet 628 to Halifax was scheduled for boarding at 7:30 pm but the (Brand-new!) 737-700 inbound from Vancouver was about 20 minutes late. After a quick servicing and boarding, push-back was only 10 minutes behind schedule. We were soon in the air for the 65 minute flight to YHZ. We entered US airspace just east of Sherbrooke, basically following above the former Canadian Pacific Railway line across Maine and once the route of VIA’s Atlantic, the running mate of the Ocean on the Montreal-Halifax route. We re-entered Canadian airspace along the New Brunswick border then out over the Bay of Fundy and on into Halifax arriving at 10pm (Atlantic Time)

Again I was using my GPS to track our route, speed and altitude. Canadian airlines do not have a problem with you using a GPS in flight. I always ask first and use it when the seatbelt sign is off. Same as for a laptop or other electronic device.

As I only had a carry-on, it was a quick dash from the gate to the car then on the road for home arriving there just after mid-night. A great “Rare Mileage Run”

Back in the office on Monday morning were the usual questions around the coffee pot: What ya do on the weekend? Oh I just went to Montreal for 6 hours! Ya sure!
  by marquisofmississauga
That was a most interesting trip report. I was on the Ocean, with most of the same consist (from the diner back to Banff Park, but with two extra sleepers) just a few days later. We had no detour, but then we weren't expecting one.

There were only six sleeper passengers ex-Halifax and none boarded until Moncton. My "group" consisted of four people, so there were only two others. There was quite a load after Moncton.
  by jhdeasy
I am looking forward to my first trip on the route of The Ocean, Montreal to Halixa and return, in private car MOUNT VERNON behind the PARK obs car, June 13th - 18th.

I'm trying to decide if I want to ride The Bras d'Or to Sydney and back during my 3+ days in Halifax. My alternative would be to rent a car and do some local sightseeing, or go on a guided motorcoach tour of the area.

  by MissisquoiValleyRR
Thanks a lot for that trip report; a most interesting read!
You would certainly enjoy a trip on the Bras d’Or and VIA has a deals with the car rental companies that allow you to ride the train one-way and rent a car the other.[/quote]

  by Guest
Likewise: I enjoyed your rare mileage post. Thanks for taking the time to type it all out to share it!
  by MikeCDN
I'm happy to see that there are other people like myself who will do something as impulsive as book a trip at the last minute to experience a rare train trip.

I have had the experience, although not last minute, to ride on CP's main line through Thunder Bay on Via. Coincidently, I became an employee of CP two years after the fact. I have met hoggers that have had, in their words "The opportunity to run a Via...". When I ask them how the liked it the response was the same, "great" as the RTCs always gave them priority over other trains, even the 100 series ( a group of very high prority trians ).

Thank you for sharing your experience. It illustrates a person who really loves this mode of transportation. As well, it shows how someone appreciates this vital element of our nations infrastructure.

The train will get you there.