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 masdixon
I just persuaded my grandmother to travel with me on the Canadian NOV 22 from Vancouver to Toronto in the sleeper touring class in upper and lower berths (Blue and Silver still?). I have traveled on Amtrak many times always in coach long distance so this is a treat :-D . I have a couple questions. I would really appreciate the help :-D thanks!!
1. How is the scenery in the Rockies this time of year?
2. How are the berths, is there a good place to put your items?
3. Can one buy souvenirs on the train?
Any other advice would be really welcome, sorry if this has been answered elsewhere I have been searching tons of forums for those questions.
  by .missthealcos.
Worth every penny!

The scenery is always good...if you get snow, which you might, it is a sight to behold.(requisite "absolutley, it was far better on CP" comment inserted, but this is all we have) It will be too late for the fall colours, but still nice. Don't underestimate the scenery on the praries though, it is just as impressive, in an entirely different way. A clear night view from the dome out there is great. If they don't turn out the lights in the dome at night, make them. It is supposed to be done in all but the coach section skyline car. Lights on at night ruins it completely.

The Berths are nice and big, and comfortable. As a person who has actually spent the money to have a bedroom(2 beds) to myself(yes, I'm nuts, and no, not rich..had to do it once!), I can honestly say, the only thing I would really miss is the private washroom facilities. Comfort wise, the open section(upper and lower berth) is better, and you will get a better nights sleep. The bed lengthways in a berth, instead of across the car in a bedroom, is definatley better. Given the choice, I think I'd go with the open section to do it again. Storage of items is another issue though, there isn't alot of "covered" space to put things. I wouldn't worry too much about it though, the chances of anything going anywhere are pretty slim. You have access to the shower in any sleeping accomodation, and don't hesitate to use it..not some little tiny affair, bigger than some people showers at home!

Yes, there is actually a decent selection of souvenirs onboard.

Enjoy it, it can't be had anywhere else!
  by 3rdrail
Be sure to take plenty of photos so that you can post them here. Should be a blast - have fun !
  by masdixon
:-) thanks everyone! I called via rail when I made the reservations and they said nothing was available to purchase on the train so I bought some postcards and a keychain online, sounds like it was a waste on postage if they are on the train , lol. Im looking forward to all the scenery, I enjoy the praries, saw alot of them on the Southwestern Chief through KS.
  by jp1822
Travelling eastbound, you should be able to get some descent daylight running of the Canadian Rockies from Perhaps Kamloops to Jasper. Unfortunately, after Jasper to Edmonton, I think the new schedule is largely under dark skies during the time of year you'll be travelling. I've always enjoyed my trips on the Canadian. I haven't ridden the train with its new schedule, but it looks the eastbound may be a better choice. Just plan an extra day or two once you arrive into Toronto before settling on you travel choice to get back to Vancouver in case the Canadian runs late etc.

November could still see a semi-peak train consist. Do you know where your "accomodations" are located. For example, I always try to book a bedroom or roomette that is right in "front" of the Park Car, so that the Diner is only two cars away and the Park Car is right behind me. I always liked to be on the "back" of the train. Just remember even though there may be multiple diners on the train, you'll be assigned to one of the diners, but you can "roam" the entire train to sit in the Skyline Dome Car or the rear signature Park Dome/Lounge car.

And yes, they typically have souvenirs available for sale onboard - in one of the Skyline Dome Cars. Then at Vancouver they often have souvenirs available for sale, as well as Winnipeg. If you arrive into Winnipeg before 18:00 you typically can go over to the "Forks," which is a mall of sorts next to the Winnipeg train station. They have various things for sale their, some train related but largely food and craft related. There is a train museum at the Winnipeg train station, but again, not sure if it will be open when your train arrives. Also in Jasper, take advantage of exploring the station and downtown - there's a souvenir store that's sort of across the street from the Jasper train station that has some railroad related postcards for sale - among other Canadian memorabilia.

Sit back and enjoy the ride, but definitely take advantage of the "off board" experiences where the train may stop to have a mini-layover.
  by masdixon
Thank you! that was also some great information. We get into Winnipeg a little late I wonder if it will still be open? We have tickets at 4pm the next day on via rail to Windsor. (Now I really hope the train wont be too late, as we have a non-refundable hotel booked in Toronto). We are booked in Car :21 Unit :01U.
Oh one more QUestion. What is the lounge in Vancouver like, and how early does one arrive before departing?>
  by Ken V
This time of year the Winnipeg Railway Museum is only open weekends between noon and 4:00 pm so it's no longer an option during the Canadian's layover in Winnipeg travelling in either direction. I don't know what else there may be to see or do nearby the station on a Tuesday evening, if anything.

I can't say what the lounge in Vancouver is like having never been there although the lounge in Toronto's Union Station is not very large and, in my opinion, is nothing special. Normally the train starts boarding in Vancouver 30 minutes before scheduled departure and it's recommended you check in with the train staff before then. At times I've arrived at the station in Toronto as late as about 5 minutes before departure and was able to get onboard without a problem, however, I don't recommend cutting it that close.

If I have it right, car 21 should be the middle of three Manor sleepers (20,21,22) between the (last) dining car and the Park car. I wouldn't worry too much about your hotel in Toronto since the scheduled arrival is at 9:30 am and the Canadian is rarely so late as to miss the whole day.

By the way, while the service is still the same, the Silver & Blue name has been dropped for some reason.
  by masdixon
That sounds like a pretty good place to be, how did you know that? Is the train always comprised a certain way?
  by jp1822
masdixon wrote:That sounds like a pretty good place to be, how did you know that? Is the train always comprised a certain way?
Regular riders know the sequencing of numbers per say on the Canadian or any long distance be it VIA or Amtrak that they may travel. For the Canadian, the reservation desk starts out with a basic consist to fill and then once filled you can be added to a waiting list (for a sleeper space) in hopes that VIA will add another sleeper car. They are pretty flexible in expanding or contracting the Canadian consist. Typically they'll add cars to this train. They may even remove some cars at Jasper on your trip (heading eastbound). In the winter I've seen VIA swap three sleepers in/out of the consist heading to/from Vancouver and Jasper. Heavier traffic pattern between Jasper and Vancouver - especially in the Winter. Winnipeg is also a major turnover point for passengers (and entire crew).

I assumed you've booked an upper and lower berth for your travel - as 01U I believe is an upper berth. I think that you'll find that most of your time will be spent in the dome, lounge, or diner, as opposed to your sleeping quarters, but if you get on the train and find that you would rather have a bedroom, you can always ask if one is available. Typically they bookup fast, but no hurt in asking once onboard, and seeing what the price is etc. - especially after major turnover points at Jasper and Winnipeg.
  by masdixon
Thats really interesting (adding/losing cars), i guess just the flexibility alot different than Amtrak in ways. I think we will probably be able to make it in berths lol, spent quite a few nights in amtrak coach , so just a berth it deluxe to me. I guess this is probably a stupid question. What exactly goes on in the skyline car, and how easy should it be to get a dome seat?

Again thank you everyone for your fantastic help :-D :-D
  by jp1822
First, looking at the eastbound schedule, this appears to be the way I would travel to see most of the best scenery with the Canadian's new schedule. You are likely to get most of the Canadian Rockies, that are often over this route. I'd be curious as to what they do at Winnipeg since you'll be arriving around 22:00(?), but won't be let back on until around like 23:30. Do they allow people to stay onboard now and sleep if travelling eastbound? Everyone used to have to "get off the train." But that's kind of a late time to be boarding. Boy how I wish they would bring back a train from Winnipeg to Vancouver via Calgary, Banff, Lake Louise etc. VIA Rail likely has the equipment to make this happen - or at least they had the extra equipment when the previous Canadian schedule was in place (where it could operate with just three train sets, but now requires four under the current schedule). If you can wake-up to see the scenery from Parry Sound into Toronto, it offers some nice views! Through Ontario (the Canadian Shield and the Praries) - not sure what the main scenic highlights would be. I always liked the scenery from Sioux Lookout into Winnipeg, as it offered some nice "rock" scenes scattered with lots of lakes! I am sure other sections that are now daylight running offer good scenery.

As for your specific question on the Skyline Dome Car:

Assuming you'll have two Skyline Dome Cars and one Park Dome/Lounge Car:

- the first Skyline Dome Car is largely (or sometimes exclusively) for economy/coach passengers. And sometimes this is where economy/coach passengers go to get their snacks and also have their meals, as 1/2 of the lower part of the dome car is a lounge, and 1/2 is set up with tables and chairs like a mini Diner. For example, on the Montreal-Gaspe train, the Skyline Dome Car is all that is usually offered to sleeper and coach passengers for meal/food options. I believe most Skyline Dome Cars are equipped with a kitchen, then there's a snack bar area next to it.

- the second Skyline Dome Car in the Canadian consist is often touted as the "Activity Car." It is here that one can play board games, watch movies, or even have an "onboard activities coordinator" plan different events for sleeping car (aka Tourist Sleeper) passengers etc. Also this is the area that you would go to try and buy souvenirs. This Skyline Dome Car is located right next to the first Diner, as typically the Skyline Dome Car and Diners are coupled together. Seats in the dome are first come first serve!

- The Park Dome/Lounge Car is where I would try to get a seat (in the dome). This car features a lounge in its bar/snack bar area, then a "bullet lounge" with lounge chairs as the rear signature car of the train. Upstairs is where they have seating in the dome section. You should be able to get a seat here without much trouble. I've never had trouble trying to get a seat in the dome of the Canadian. Typically those passengers assigned to the rearmost 3 sleepers use this dome. They also offer tea and some general snacks in this car (they may in the other Skyline Dome Car as well). Again, as the rear car, including a dome, this car is really a my favorite for watching the train move forward over the landscape and then one can often turn around and see the receding tracks of where one came from!

Take a look on VIA Rail's web site for some pictures of these various cars.

Yes, VIA is much more flexible with adding and subtracting cars either at Vancouver, Toronto, or even Jasper than compared to Amtrak. This is because VIA Rail has the equipment available to do this. Amtrak is strapped for equipment! Also notice the ratio of sleeper cars to coach cars on the Canadian - especially. Even the Ocean outnumbers sleeper cars to coach cars. In peak season, one can often see the Canadian operating with three coaches, and then 20+/- sleepers! Course the train does shrink during off-season, typically the winter season. And this is when VIA will often add/subtract cars from the Canadian at Jasper. Not only is this cheaper for VIA - as they also pay the host railroad a "per car cost" to operate cars over a line, but it also makes the best utilization of sleeping cars (short turning them to meet demand/supply over portions of the line they are needed the most).

** The above assumes you will have at least two Skyline Dome Cars and then the rear-most car being the Park Dome/Lounge Car. How they setup the consist in between the last Diner and the first Skyline Dome Car kinda depends, as it is towards the front of the train tha sleepers could be added/subtracted at Jasper.

*** Open to corrections on this post based on curretnt operations of the Canadian during this time period, as I haven't been on the Canadian since it changed its schedule.
  by masdixon
Wow that was alot of great information, definetly sounds like a whole new level of trip vs. Amtrak. Ive been wanting to do this for several years, not too bad for a college freshman. Now if I could just pull off the Trans Siberian. Thank you everyone for all your help!
  by masdixon
Thanks! I really enjoy reading travel reports, thanks for think links! Just one more question where do you store your carry ons?
  by marquisofmississauga
For the past several years my wife and I have taken a transcontinental trip on the Canadian in November. At that time, other than the first few days of the month, it is rare for there to be more than the one Skyline car and a second dining car would only be run if there are more than six or seven sleepers. About four years ago I was on one consist in mid-November that had six sleepers (due to a large British tour) and an extra Skyline car for Silver & Blue was operated ahead of the diner. But on most of my trips - and observations at Toronto Union - the average November consist is baggage, coach, Skyline, diner, three Manor sleepers and Park car. As others have noted, VIA will add a sleeper upon inducement. They may add or drop cars in Jasper but I have seen that only once in my last dozen trips through the mountains.

By November 22 (I was on the Canadian last year on that date) it will be dark most of the time. Passengers will have breakfast and dinner in darkness, although there may be a glimmer of light at the last call for breakfast. With the return to the four-night schedule, the only two really scenic parts of the Winnipeg-Toronto portion are traversed overnight, although there is a chance of seeing some of Muskoka coming into Toronto as the train is often late. I have met friends three times off the Canadian this past winter and spring and it was between five and eight and a half hours late on those days. But this summer has seen many on-time arrivals in Toronto. When the Canadian was previously on the four-night schedule I rode it many times on the Toronto-Winnipeg portion and I doubt if I ever want to do it again. Sorry VIA, but I will be flying from Toronto to Winnipeg and/or return. I've already done that this spring on a Vancouver-Winnipeg trip on which we arrived in Winnipeg just under two hours early.

In the off-season, the Activity-Coordinator's position has been merged with the Park car attendant. The only exception would be if there was an extra Skyline car in the consist. VIA has been trying to trim labour costs and this was seen as one way to do it according to the SM. They really can't cut much more. There are two sleeping car attendants for the three Manor sleepers and the diner is run by just four people. On the subject of souvenirs, there were plenty of goods for sale on my trips (they even advertised Christmas shopping is available on November and December trips) but given what someone was told by VIA maybe this has been eliminated now that the Activities crew-member has to look after the Park car.