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 Mike77E9
Hey All,

I was trying to look up some information on ONR's Northlander and Polar Bear Express, but ONR's website seems to be lacking a bit of information, and I haven't really been able to find the info i'm looking for anywhere else.

Sometime next year, I plan on taking the Northlander from Toronto to Cochrane, and then the Polar Bear Express up to Moosonee. I thought that this was a very unique train to Canada and would be interesting to take a few days to take this trip. I was looking to see if anyone had any info on the following for both trains:

-Does either train have electrical outlets for use by passengers? I usually like to bring my laptop w/GPS to track the train along its route. I understand that these trains are a bit older and may not have this. My laptop can barely last 3 hours on batteries, let alone an 11 hour trip. I will also be bringing a video camera that I may need to charge up on board depending on my usage.

-Does either trains have seat back tray tables? One of the videos I saw for the Northlander looked like they didn't, and someone else explained to me that some cars do, and some don't.

-What is the food like on both of the trains? Hot food? Prepackaged?

Any help is appreciated. Thanks again!
  by briann
I can comment only on the Northlander, so here goes. (Apologies if any of my information is out of date, but someone will be along shortly to correct me if that is the case!).

Electrical outlets:
Several years ago (back in the 90s), ONR installed at-seat electrical outlets on 3 of the Hawker-Siddley cars, intending them for their Business Class service (which then became NorthlanderPlus service, before it was ultimately discontinued). After that, I must admit I never saw those cars again, but they must be around somewhere. Unfortunately, I didn't make a note of the car numbers at the time. There may be electrical outlets for passenger use in the Snack Car.

Seat back tables:
Haven't seen them on the H-S cars, although as part of the Business Class plan, ONR installed a single pedestal table at each pair of seats in the three Business Class cars. They disappeared with Business Class. The seats on the H-S cars are Amtrak long-distance style with space for a seat-back table, but no table. Occasionally, there will be a full-size table with 4 facing seats (1 or 2 in each car), but usually used by families. There are of course tables in the Snack Car.

Food service:
Staff will variously call the self-service food service car the Snack Car, Dining Car or Cafeteria Car. No matter the name, the food is pretty much the same, with usually cold food (breakfast cereal, sandwiches, salad, fresh fruit, cold drinks), plus tea and coffee. For hot food, there's soup and sometimes even chili or pasta. It's microwaved on board.

Hope that helps!
  by Mike77E9
Brian - Thanks for the responses on the Northlander! It is a big help. I hope someone can comment on the Polar Bear Express.


  by miklin
my wife and I did a day trip to Gravenhurst on the Northlander in late May and want to warn you that the Hawker cars (ex GO) ride extremely rough on CN's Bala Sub especially if the engineer is trying to make up time (which is usually every day). We did see numerous rail gangs in the sidings so hopefully the track is a bit better this month. Re the lateness-we got stabbed by the s/b Canadian at Oriole and a s/b stack train at Zephyr and lost 40 minutes within the first hour. Coming home, the Northlander was around 55 minutes late picking us up and the engineer made up 25 minutes on the way to Toronto but eating and drinking in the snack car was almost impossible as a result with the bouncing. Power is usually an ONR GP-38-2 and one talking hotbox detector which gives out "no alarms, temperature and mph" said we were doing 70 mph which is pretty good for a locomotive geared for 65 mph. I pointed out to my wife that these were first generation GO cars completely rebuilt. They were never smooth riders on the 132 lb rail of the Oakville and Kingston sub when new and perhaps more ballast should have been added to make them ride better when the rebuild was done.
(ps-the nuked Hamburg was very good and the coffee was good too (the part that didn't go up my nose at one hwy crossing that is)
  by labaienordique
If you haven't already traveled;

The Northlander has a snack dining car (soups, sandwiches, fruit, juices, etc) mostly prepackaged though. They also play films on the TV in the dinning car. Newspapers from North Bay, Timmins & Toronto usually. I've traveled numerous times on the Northlander and the cars that I've sat in all had power outlets. I also do recall back seat trays (depending whether you're sitting with seats facing you or not).

The train ride is bumpy at times, however I find it very comfortable given the amount of leg room. I find it neat that the doors open when you hit the push button (no opening handles to go between cars).

I haven't been on the Polar Bear Express, however once you depart from Cochrane & pass through Clute, there are no roads that follow the line to Moosonee (spare a connection at Fraserdale). So I wouldn't wager on having the ability to track on GPS given the remoteness of the line.

The Northlander takes about a 15 minute break in North Bay. And there's Northgate Square (a mall) right across from the station, however I'm not sure if it's enough time to go over to grab some food there or not.

Hope that helps.
  by Mike77E9
I haven't taken this particular train yet, but i have it tentatively scheduled for next summer on my 'bucket list'. Since I live in NJ, I was thinking of Maple Leaf, to Northlander, to Polar Bear Express, to Polar Bear Express, to Northlander, to VIA Corridor Service to Montreal, and then the Adirondack home. Of course, this is all subject to change due to availability of vacation time and funds.

As for GPS, I just use Delorme Topo Maps and Microsoft Streets and Trips - so i don't need to be near roads to track.

Thanks for the information, I greatly appreciate it!
  by Mike77E9
Hello All,

I thought I would follow up on this post. I am scheduled to ride the Ontario Northalnd at the end of July. Took a week off of work for this trip, this is what i'll be traveling on:

Saturday, July 23rd - Amtrak Maple Leaf to Toronto
Sunday, July 24th - ONR Northlander to Cochrane
Monday, July 25th - ONR Polar Bear Express to Moosonee
Tuesday, July 26th - ONR Polar Bear Express to Cochrane
Wednesday, July 27th - ONR Northlander to Toronto
Thursday, July 28th - VIA Rail to Montreal
Saturday, July 30th - Amtrak Adirondack to New York.

I'll have plenty of video, photos from this trip, including a complete trip report. I'm really looking forward to this trip, should be quite interesting.