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

Moderator: Ken V

  by jp1822
Seems I am doing more vacations and train travel in Canada now than in the United States!

I am thinking about taking the Hudson Bay train from Winnipeg to Churchill and back.

When is the best time to take this train? I won't be able to do a summer trip on the Hudson Bay - as I already have a summer trip to Western Canada booked!

The other main peak period I think was late September to mid-November? I booked a preliminary reservation for late October. Course, for my return I am on a wait list for a sleeper. I think I'll start out from Toronto on a Saturday and then do a same day transfer in Winnipeg to the Hudson Bay train out of Winnipeg. Will spend time in Winnipeg on the return - mostly due to train scheduling.

Some questions:

1. Does the Hudson Bay mostly use the Chateau sleepers now - even in peak period? Are the Northern Spirit Cars ever used? I see them on the side tracks up their in Winnipeg when I pass through but that's it. My trip northward on the Hudson Bay enabled me to get a triple bedroom (I have a travel companion!)?

2. During peak period do they add a dome Park Car or Skyline Car - or does the diner double as lounge and diner? VIA booking agent said they add a Park Car in the peak seasons, but I have not heard that before.

3. Any suggestions for the route?

4. Any suggestions on "must see" in Churchill or lodging (not on a budget for lodging - something that is top of the line for that area).

5. I think I'll spend about three full days in Churchill - will this be sufficient? Unfortunately, time will be taken up with the return trip via train to Winnipeg.

6. Is there any plane service from Churchill to Winnipeg - and is it reliable? I am waitlisted for a return sleeper. Wondering if I should just fly black to Winnipeg. On the return I'll likely spend an overnight in Winnipeg before heading back home to the East Coast.

Any info - most appreciated!

  by Ken V
A trip on the Hudson Bay to Churchill is much different from one on the Canadian or Ocean and it's probably my favourite. There's no spectacular scenery to speak of, but you do receive a true remote rail experience as you go further north past the tree line and into the tundra and permafrost. Many natives and other locals use this train to get back and forth and it is used to transport all varieties of cargo.

The reason that September-November is so busy is because it's polar bear season which is a big tourist draw. The end of October is probably the peak time for the bears' activity. It's a very memorable experience. Late spring is another great time to visit Churchill. There are many organized tours of Churchill and I would highly recommend taking one or more.

There is one quite important thing to keep in mind. In late October, be prepared for very cold weather and lots of snow. The normal daytime temps at that time of year are well below freezing.
jp1822 wrote:1. Does the Hudson Bay mostly use the Chateau sleepers now - even in peak period? Are the Northern Spirit Cars ever used?
Chateau sleepers are now the norm year-round since the Ocean converted to Renaissance. Previously the Northern Spirit cars were only used during the summer months.
jp1822 wrote:2. During peak period do they add a dome Park Car or Skyline Car - or does the diner double as lounge and diner?
Normally there are no Parks or Skylines, but one does show up on rare occasion. The dining car is also used as a lounge outside of meal times.
jp1822 wrote:3. Any suggestions for the route?
jp1822 wrote:4. Any suggestions on "must see" in Churchill or lodging
It's a very small town. Not much to do at all there other than the tours. A visit to the trading post may take an hour or two if you like shop browsing. There aren't any five-star hotels in town. If I recall there are only a couple of hotels which offer little more than basic accomodations.
jp1822 wrote:5. I think I'll spend about three full days in Churchill - will this be sufficient?
jp1822 wrote:6. Is there any plane service from Churchill to Winnipeg - and is it reliable?
There is regular air service from Churchill south to Thompson with connections to Winnipeg. I don't know about the reliability.
  by jp1822
Thanks for the info - I'll see what I can do about getting the return firmed up with a sleeper. Currently wait listed on the return from Churchill to Winnipeg. Have some time coming up to do some planning and will try and take advantage of that.
  by jp1822
marquisofmississauga wrote:The Winnipeg - Churchill train is departing earlier (2013 as opposed to 2045) and arriving back in Winnipeg theoretically at 0838 (instead of 0805.) This train has been reported significantly late so often, I'm surprised that VIA would change its arrival time by only 33 minutes.
I am just happy to see the Winnipeg to Churchill train still running! Too bad this train gets so booked up during peak season - course I am sure it is also due to how many people can be accommodated in Churchill. I was hoping to take a trip up to Churchill this past October and booking as early as July, I couldn't get a sleeper in both directions on dates sought. Even booking for October for next year has gotten difficult, let alone booking tours once arriving in Churchill! Seems this train is extremely popular during its peak months!

  by Ken V
The Hudson Bay is indeed very popular during "polar bear" season. I suspect the problem in booking, even very early, is due to tour operators blocking off space well in advance. This is likely the same reason it's difficult to arrange local tours too. I'd suggest looking into dealing with a tour packager rather than trying to piece it together yourself.

Churchill is also quite a nice place to visit during the spring and summer. While it's not a gathering place for the bears during that time of year, you can take a whale watching boat on Hudson Bay.

  by George L.
I think Ken V is absolutely right on the money.
I would check out http://www.trainpackages.ca for all inclusive train packages. They seem to have many travel options for Churchill.
  by jp1822
What's going on with VIA's Hudson Bay line: Churchill-Winnipeg? I read that this line is partially closed and not reaching Churchill due to bad trackage etc. Any updates on a plan to restore service?

I also read that the Hudson Bay train will be getting a Park Car during peak season between Oct 1 and Nov 1. VIA should really consider operating a Park Car more often this route - during peak season etc. It's a shame the special "Northern Spirit(?)" sleeper cars are not being used.

  by Ken V
The Churchill line north of Gillam was closed for a few days last week due to track conditions after an inspection run discovered some cracks in the rails. The line is open now (unless something else has happened) and the Hudson Bay is running again.

A Park car on the Hudson Bay? It would be nice but I don't think it's going to happen. VIA would certainly have a spare pair at that time of year, so it's possible. Here's hoping. The former Amtrak Northern Spirit cars never really worked out for VIA.
  by jp1822
I went on VIA's website last night and reservations could be booked on the Hudson Bay Line to Churchill, so I guess this issue has been rectified.

It's mentioned in Trains Magazine's latest issue regarding the Park Car for the Hudson Bay Line for Oct 1 to Nov 1. There's also a nice article in there about the Canadian.

There aren't enough Park Cars to operate on the Hudson Bay line on a more regular basis? I realize the Easterly Class takes up three Park Cars when the train sets offer this service. But the former Budd equipped Ocean also operated with Skyline Dome cars, which are not operating on the Ocean anymore. Even a Skyline Dome would be nice to on the line. I realize the scenery is often not as spectacular as on other VIA Rail trains, but it'd be nice on this long distance route. At least the diners have large windows for your viewing pleasure on the Hudson Bay Line! Even if the Park Car or Skyline Dome car operated during peak season for the Hudson Bay line. Just a month of the Park Car seems short!
  by Ken V
VIA has 14 Park cars remaining in the fleet so there are indeed enough to have one on the Hudson Bay (and other trains) year-round:
  • The Canadian - 4
  • The Ocean - 3
  • The Skeena - 2
  • The Chaleur - 2
  • The Hudson Bay - 2
  • Spare - 1
Notwithstanding having few spares in case of equipment failure or routine maintenance, there are other reasons for not regularly using Park cars on all these trains. Probably foremost is cost. Not only would VIA require extra staff to operate them but VIA's track usage fees to the host railroads are based on car mile (and not train mile, as I believe Amtrak's usage fees are calculated).
  by jp1822
Yes - you are correct about VIA being charged per "car" so to speak as opposed to Amtrak's arrangement. The Chaleur does well with its Skyline and then full service diner during peak season. At least it has a dome. The Hudson Bay during peak seasons I think would be good for a Park Car, as sleeper space often has to be booked way in advance. This way at least all long distance trains get a flavor for a dome car!

  by Ken V
Operations of the Hudson Bay was disrupted once again on Friday following the nine-car derailment of a HBR grain train near Button MB. Saturday's southbound train out of Churchill was delayed and later turned at Thompson to return north. Passengers scheduled to depart Winnipeg on Sunday were bused to Thompson.

VIA President Paul Côté made a surpisingly strong statement in a release to the press regarding this incident.

  by hsr_fan
Wow, I don't think Amtrak management would ever stand up to the likes of UP or CSX and say something like that!
  by jp1822
VIA and Amtrak - passenger rail in Canada and the US respectively, are vastly different in almost every sense of operation.

  by jamesbrownontheroad
hsr_fan wrote:Wow, I don't think Amtrak management would ever stand up to the likes of UP or CSX and say something like that!
Don't forget that the Hudson Bay is a government declared essential service (or whatever the legal term is in Canadian legislature) because it is the only surface route to the communities it serves in northern MB. Amtrak might not be able to say what they think about certain railroads because they could turn round and tell Amtrak to ---- off :-D

A dome car would be a bit extravagant for the Hudson Bay since you it would allow passengers the luxury of being able to see.... oooo.... the incredibly flat tundra landscape and the prairie skies even more. However, having ridden the train twice, I would admit that it would be nice to have a lounge car just to have a variety of space on board between your sleeper and the restaurant car !
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