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 timberley
Hi folks,

I'll be travelling again on the Ocean this winter from Truro to Montreal (then on to Brockville, ON) around December 18-23, and then back on January 2/3 of 2011. Unfortunately this misses out on VIA's 50% off discount for the Ocean this winter (since it doesn't apply during that period). Anyway, on the way there I'll be hopefully travelling on the Budd consist in a berth or single bedroom, or if I have to do it in the Ren consist, I'll be breaking down and getting a cabin for 2.

It's the way back I'm really excited for. From 4 years of saving up VIA Preference points from travelling on the Ocean (this same trip many times!), I finally had enough to pay for my trip back in a cabin for 2 in Sleeper Touring Class!! (and on the Budd consist no less!). Since Preference point transactions have to be done separately from the other parts of the trip, I have booked that part already and will book the rest of it soon. Anyway, I'm very excited for my first experience in Sleeper Touring (and with a double bedroom!) on what it is always a great trip.

I was wodnering though, does VIA run a Park Car in the winter when they offer Sleeper Touring Class? I know they remove the Park car for most of the winter, but I also know they only offer Sleeper Touring Class during the summer and around Christmas/New Year's time. I just want to know if there will be a Park car for me to access or not (seeing as it is always reserved for Touring class).
  by Ken V
I think this will be the first time VIA will be offering Sleeper Touring Class on the Ocean over Christmas. If that's the case then we don't have any past experience to go by regarding what services will be available. I would expect there to be a Park car on the train for this and VIA's web site does mention it. I hope you enjoy your trip.
  by timberley
Thansk Ken! It looks like I lucked out then (squeezed the trip in just in time!). For some reason I thought VIA had offered Touring class in the Christmas season before, but maybe I was just remembering the announcement that they would be doing it this year.

I wasn't sure about the Park car because Reservia didn't have any option to book Park cabins (as it does during the summer), but since VIA mentions it on that page you linked to, I expect there should be one! One more reason to be excited for that trip :)
  by NeoArashi
I hope you'll enjoy your trip. Mine's in 7 days (From Quebec to Charny by cab, then from Charny to Halifax by Train)
Ken V wrote:I think this will be the first time VIA will be offering Sleeper Touring Class on the Ocean over Christmas. If that's the case then we don't have any past experience to go by regarding what services will be available. I would expect there to be a Park car on the train....
Sleeper Touring Class was offered on the Ocean last Christmas (2009) This was the consist for w/b #615 on December 19th......and it did include a Park Car

6414 - 6400 - 8608 - 8138 - 8139 - 8123 - 8112 - 8507 - Acadian - Ch Laval - Ch Bienville - Ch Maisonneuve - Ch Rouville - Ch Rigaud - Ch Richelieu - Ch Roberval -
Ch Brule - Revelstoke Park

(2 units, 1 baggage, 4 coaches. Skyline, diner, 8 sleepers, Park car)
  by timberley
Thanks as well NS VIA Fan. I also got an e-mail from VIA Preference promoting Touring class on the Ocean this winter, and it specifically mentioned access to the Park Car.

I just found out when I'd be able to make the Truro, NS-Brockville, ON part of the trip, so I was able to go ahead and book on a day the Budd consist is running. So it will be Budd cars both ways (the best way to go!), with a cozy roomette ("Cabin for one") on the way to Montreal, and Touring Cabin For Two on the way back. Needless to say, I'm very excited!
  by timberley
I am not impressed.

That's the best way I can describe how I feel about what I just discovered. While checking the status of the train I am to be on on January 2 (just to see how much was sold out), I discovered that VIA has changed what days the Budd equipment is running. It was supposed to run from Montreal on January 2nd. I verified this before booking my ticket. I specifically wanted to be on the Budd equipment, hence my choice to book that day.

It seems now the Renaissance equipment is running on January 2, with the Budd set leaving Jan 1. So, my carefully planned trip is now booked on the Renaissance equipment, which I have no desire to ride. You see, this was booked with VIA preference points, which I had carefully saved up over the last 4 years, and was supposed to be the ideal culmination of that (Touring class on the Budd equipment in a Cabin for 2). I don't despise the Renaissance equipment, but I really don't like it, and I especially don't care for the fact that my all inclusive meals will now be reheated instead of prepared on board (I have, for the record, eaten on both sets of equipment, and found the food on the Budd cars to be far better). At least there's a Park Car either way.

I do have to wonder...what happens to people who booked berths or roomettes for that day? Do they get upgraded, or downgraded? Or asked to pay the full fare?

I'm going to call VIA Rail tomorrow and express my displeasure (in the most friendly of ways of course). Hopefully I can exchange my ticket for the equivalent the day before, when the Budd equipment is running. There's no exchange fees on a Preference ticket, but it only works if the bedrooms aren't all sold out of course. The nuisance will be that I have to pay a $20 exchange fee on the Brockville-Montreal connecting ticket I booked, if I do change.

Hopefully the VIA Rail service folks will be helpful and understanding. I've never been upset with them before, and I hope not to end up that way after all this.
  by timberley
I have sent a contact form message to VIA, requesting an e-mail response, and expressing my displeasure. I don't really expect to get anything out of it, I just hope they know that at least I am upset. I unfortunately do not have the luxury of changing my reservation date, as I have made other commitments reliant on that date. I suppose I'll now get to exprience the Renaissance Sleepers first hand, barring some revelation of an error in the system.

I find it frustrating that they would allow for the system to offer reservations on certain equipment on certain days, when they know they will be making changes to their Christmas time scheduling, and will likely have changes made. I know there are many more than I who book specifically to take advantage of the Budd equipment's operation. I'm just glad I wasn't booking coach this time. I've had more than enough of sleeping in those Ren coach seats, and the lack of any decent semblance of a lounge just gets to me every time.

I still wonder what they're doing for people who booked roomettes or berths on that day. I should hope they get a free upgrade, and not a downgrade or a bill.

Don't get me wrong though. No matter the case, I'm still excited for my trip. Even if I don't really like the Renaissance cars as much as the Budds, they're still good enough, and it's a train no less! And of course there is the Park car this time, so at least I can enjoy that :) This definitely isn't going to ruin my trip. I just wanted VIA to know I wasn't pleased.
  by timberley
Well, I must say VIA has just impressed me again. I just received a phone call from a very friendly gentleman, calling to notify me about the equipment change (which I had already noticed), and offering their sincerest apologies for any inconvenience. He informed me that they had transferred my accommodations exactly (so a double bedroom in Touring class again), and what car and bedroom I'd be in.

Additionally, he made it clear that if I was not happy with the change and wished to switch to a day the other equipment was running, that they would make the change without any problem. That's unfortunately not an option for me, but I was very happy the offer was made.

I do understand that these sort of changes are necessary, and I am happy to see VIA making an attempt to make things right. I am now looking forward to trying out the Renaissance sleeping accommodations, and will be sure to make the most of my trip. I've never been unhappy on any VIA train I've ridden, so I doubt this will be any different.
  by marquisofmississauga
If you booked a Budd "cabin for 2" for one person on points I assume you were charged double? That is what I have been quoted when I considered such luxury. It has always seemed excessive, because single occupancy of a double room in Budd equipment costs 50% if one is paying for a ticket. The surcharge on Renaissance double rooms is a mere 15% because the option of a single room is not available. VIA's best bargain is a Renaissance bedroom for one person booked on points. There is no surcharge at all for booking a cabin for 2 for one person. The reason for this, as explained to me by a VIA Preference agent, is that a member of the programme is entitled to private room accommodation for "X" number of points. So if single rooms are not operated, i.e. Renaissance equipment, then the member gets a double room at no extra charge in points.

So, if you paid double points for your Budd cabin for 2 and are now in a Renaissance cabin for 2 you are being swindled. If it was me, I would cancel the original booking (for which there is no penalty as you know) and re-book a Renaissance cabin for 2 for half the points you presumably paid for a Budd double.

My experience on the Ocean with the Budd diner and the so-called cooked-on-board meals is that they have been pretty poor over the last few years. The re-heated meals in Renaissance were better, in my experience. My last breakfast in a Budd diner on the Ocean was some dreadful "egg Mcmuffin" type of rubbish which was so bad I doubt it was cooked on board. When I asked for another one, I was told that was the last. Not everything in traditional diners is cooked on board. Even on the Canadian many items are simply heated up. I have occasionally been given a recipe book by a manager in Winnipeg and I was surprised at how much food was pre-cooked.

I just returned from a four-night trip on the Canadian, on which I splurged on a cabin for 2. Although the room is slightly bigger than the Renaissance double and the bed is wider and therefore more comfortable, it has its disadvantages. The Budd rooms rattle something terrible. The walls and door are only a half-inch thick. The Renaissance doors and walls are three times thicker (yes, I measured them earlier this month.) Even though the Manor sleepers used on the Canadian have been refurbished there has been no sound-proofing done. The thin wall between the rooms transfers all sounds and I often felt part of the conversation in the next room. If you get a snorer next to you be sure to use the ear plugs provided by VIA! The Ren. rooms are so quiet. The only cabins for 2 in Budd equipment which are reasonably quiet are room "B" in a Château or Park car. These ones cannot be made en suite with the adjacent rooms so they have a solid wall.

When Renaissance trains were being introduced to the Ocean there were many substitutions of equipment. twice I had booked a Ren. room at the modest surcharge when VIA changed the equipment to Budd. The usual procedure then was to offer to refund the 15% surcharge and give the passenger a roomette (now called a cabin for 1, of course.) I protested that I no longer like roomettes so I was given a Budd double room at no surcharge over the 15% that I had already paid. This seemed fair. In answer to one of your questions, I was told a few years ago that if a passenger is booked in a berth or roomette on Budd equipment and a Ren. train is substituted, they will get a free upgrade to a double room, which of course is all that is available. I hope you get a room with a shower.
  by timberley
Thanks for the extensive reply! Your comments about the Renaissance sleepers in comparison to the Budd ones does make me a bit more excited to be travelling in such accomodations.

On the Ocean, booking with points is a standard rate for long distance sleeping accomodations. I asked specifically about this, and was informed that the amount of points required on the Ocean is the same for any accomodation (except the larger Park car bedroom). Berths, single bedroom, or double (regardless of the type of equipment) require the same amount of points, varying only between sleeper and sleeper touring classes. You can see the point charges for the Ocean here: https://www.viapreference.com/en/redeem-points

So in that regard, I was not swindled in any manner. I am still going to be travelling in Sleeper Touring class in the Cabin for two, just now on the other type of equipment. I do expect that the ride will be smooth and quiet, and I've heard VIA has made recent improvements to the Renaissance beds to make them somewhat more comfortable. I don't really care if I have a room with a shower, as I doubt I would use it anyway. Though if I do, I might give it a try.

I have eaten in both the Ren and Budd diners, and the food isn't really that much different. I could tell at least some of it was reheated, but I did have some preference for the Budd menu in the past. I believe though that they've change the menu up for the Christmas season, and someone had told me the menu is to be the same on both sets of equipment this winter. We'll see. Either way, my food is all paid for, so I'll be happy to eat anyways. Even if it is reheated, there's something about the diner atmosphere on the train that just makes it seem that much better! I'll likely get at least supper on the trip to Montreal (in December, in the Budd roomette), so I will be able to directly compare the two meal services this winter.

When I've made the two trips, I'll post a proper trip report on here with my full thoughts on the experience, and how it relates to my many past trips on the Ocean.
  by marquisofmississauga
If Preference "charged" you the same number of points for a double room in Budd equipment vs a single then you did get a good deal. It has always been explained to me that the points required for a "cabin for 2" in Budd sleepers is based on each of two people, but the rate is for one or each of two in a Renaissance sleeper due to the absence of "cabins for 1." In looking at the points required for the Canadian, it says 13000 for Toronto-Vancouver. That is for one person in a single room or each of two in a double. Although it doesn't say it on the chart, they will charge double those points for occupancy of a double room whether it be for one or two persons. I suppose the changing from Renaissance to Budd equipment from time to time on the Ocean gives a different rate for that train. In any event, you have a good deal and I hope you enjoy it. It is very difficult getting used to a cabin for 1 (most people still call it a roomette) again after enjoying a double room!

Regarding the beds in the Renaissance sleepers, I noted on our recent trip that the bed was more comfortable. I think the mattresses have been replaced with a thicker style, although I had not measured them so I can't be sure. But one change that was helpful was placing a solid metal plate on the bed-frame under the mattress. There are several lateral slats on that frame and that made for a slightly lumpy feel to the mattress originally. But they are still four inches narrower than the beds in the Budd sleepers. I doubt anything can be done about that because the bed frame is in the back of the sofa and the way the upper berth folds up against the wall precludes making the back of the sofa taller. If the upper berth recessed into the ceiling as in the Budd rooms, that would be possible.
  by timberley
I originally sent an e-mail to VIA Preference, asking about how the points worked, because the Ocean listing appeared only to be for the Renaissance equipment (and the Park Car). I mainly wanted to know if I could use fewer points and still get a roomette or berth when the Budd cars ran, and if the Budd double cost more. I know the cost (in $ terms) is significantly more for a Budd double (as a single occupant) than for a Ren double. What I was informed was that with Preference points, there is a standard sleeper fare and a standard sleeper Touring fare, which are per person per room, and apply to all accomodations except the Park car, which has its own fare. If I wanted to book a double with another person, we would pay the same standard points each (so double between us), or I pay the same points for single occupancy. Budd double, roomette, berth, or Ren double, it's all the same points fare. Ultimately, the intention is for this train to be entirely Ren-equipped all year long (apart from the Park car), as once the Renaissance cars are all upgraded they won't need to take a set out to work on during the winter. [Aside: With some talk about the Renaissance cars being retired in the near future (*note* that is a statement based on rumour, speculation, and hearsay. Please do not assume it to be official word from VIA), there might be entirely different equipment on the ocean before long anyway. Perhaps it will even end up going back to all-Budd again someday, who knows]

I do think it's a good deal either way. If nothing else, that leg of the trip is entirely free just because of having taken enough trips on this same train in the past. Gotta love a rewards system like that!

I had heard the same thing you mention, about a solid metal plate being put under the mattress. Somebody had commented that the lateral bars used to be quite uncomfortable in certain positions, but that it is no longer an issue. I'm sure it will be comfy.