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 XC Tower
Here go my final recollections from my memory and notes written on the trip. I apologize for the time that taken by myself to do so.

4:26pm- While sitting a bench in front of the station at Windsor, I witness VIA train #73 arrive, led by an EMD unit. There's no locomotive on the tail end as on the train that brought me here. Walking down to the head end after the passengers have detrained to snap a couple of photos, I talk to the engineer as he prepares to throttle back out of the depot, asking him where they "turn the train". He tells me that there is a wye about two miles out before the signal comes to him that the train is ready to go. With its dynamic power hum, the EMD pushes the consist into motion and is away.
Sitting back on my bench, the engineer who I spoke to on after the run into Windsor comes up to talk. After asking him which units he prefers to operate, he says the EMD's, as they are a "more sturdier locomotive". "There's a lot of lateral sway on the GE's, but I do like the cruise control they have for long straight stretches of track.", he adds. I get another answer as to the top speeds on the route of "about 95mph around Tecumseh and 80mph in other spots", which surprises me.
When his girlfriend and Mom come up to talk to him, he parts with the words, "Hopefully, we'll get you to Toronto on time." A nice thought, as I don't know when the last GO train departure west to Burlington, ON, is scheduled.
A group starts to form on the platform, waiting for the train, as I write notes in my journal. A dark-haired girl in her 20's walks by, chatting away with the words and conversation of someone her age on the cell-phone. (Amazing how most of us seem to talk louder on one of them, plus everyone within earshot can hear your entire conversation...)
As the sun shines from amidst white puffy clouds, in the distance I see our train backing down the track towards us, swinging off what must've been the old main to the river and now gone ferry yard. In moments, the consist squeals to a stop with the car attendants going to their doors to receive passengers. The crowd begins to line up, as I'm pointed to the coach behind the locomotive, where an older gentleman of Asian descent is the car attendant. After saying, "Going to Toronto", I enter and head left as instructed to find my seat, ready to begin the return to the "Big smoke( never understood that term I heard when referring to Toronto)".
5:26PM- On the move! On silver rails aboard a passenger train once more, another journey begins.....
  by XC Tower
VIA Rail Train #70 rolls by the Ford Motor co. plant on the right with its lots of open space where buildings once stood. The spur line into it has a light coat of rust atop the rails....Used looking, but not too often...Scary...
hearing the sounds of the coach's wheels trundling across a "switch frog", I see rails curving off away from us into another track, then rails from it curving back into the track as we roll over another switch frog....the wye that the train consists are turned on!
The attendant comes by, seeking my dinner choice. Looking at the menu, I choose the barbeque short ribs, despite being tempted by the trout. He moves off to the next passenger.
Our number is only five or six in the Business Class coach to begin, but I know that is just the start, with it no doubt growing as we travel on.
It's the final golden hour of the day as the sun bathes the scenes of the outskirts of Windsor, I see through the moving picture show of the coach window. Roads with vehicles on them and businesses along the routes disappear into the wide open fields once more, as the attendant serves me a rum and coke from his big boxy stainless-steel colored cart, completed by a small bag of pretzels. Not a bad start to this portion of the trip...
Out of the window to the left, I read a bright lime-green sign on a business building announcing "GLO-GOLF". I wonder if it's miniature golf played in the dark?....
The sensation of the train really sailing along now is strong with the scenes outside the window just zipping by. Is it the 95mph that the engineer spoke of? What a feeling of sheer speed! I wonder what it's like on a TGV in France at 200mph+?!!!
6:05pm-Scenes of cottages along Lake St. Clair go clipping by to the left of the train. Trying to get a picture of the lake, the space between the dwellings is too close at our speed. I have about 1.5 seconds to click a shot of the only open view of it: some sort of park...but I miss it....Gone!.....Oh well, next time...
6:29pm-Chatham-Kent is the stop. I see the engineer walking quickly into the station as the passengers board the waiting train....
  by XC Tower
6:31PM-As we move east, I see a white sign along the tracks: Chatham East 60.7...60.7 miles from Windsor already?!!
The trackside scenes continue: To the left, there's an old metal rounded Quanset Hut, abandoned and completed squashed in the middle. What story could it tell? A river flows below us...the Thames? I see a huge open ditch...a levee or an old canal?
The attendant comes by a microwaved lemon-scented disposable hot hand towel in plastic wrap ...a nice touch....dinner is coming...the short ribs are delicious, accompanied by red potatoes, onions, and peppers....dessert is a square of chocolate cake and fruit.....the meals in business class have been fabulous!!!
6:41pm-Not being able to shut my flash off on the camera, I missed a fantastic salmon-pink and purple clouded sunset....Ah nuts....
7:03pm-On the right, out my window, a huge full moon is rising on the horizon to the east looking red at first.....the "Hunter's Moon" of October!.....Son as it rises higher into the inky black sky, it turns a yellow/gold hue, shinig so bright that it illuminates the clouds nearby.....Absolutely beautiful!!....A lunar show from the window of a rolling passenger train...
We travel through Glencoe, Ontario, as I hear the attendant tell the two ladies in front of me that it has a population of 2,000 people and homes 1/10 of the price that they'd be in Toronto, but you have "lots of lonely people" there....as he wheels the cart down the aisle once more offering drinks and chilled chocolate candies....I have a Bailey's Irish Cream, mixing it with my decaf, coffee....Great stuff!!!
7:21pm-the Hunter's moon is pure lunar white as it limbs ever higher in the sky. Once more, I can't get a clear picture of it due to vibration this time...
I'm really getting tired now, since having very little sleep before my 1:30am or so departure for the drive to Grimsby, ON, to catch the GO bus....No more drinks....Time to try to grab some sleep....
7:37pm-"London, ON in 7 minutes" comes the announcement...
7:43pm-There's a good crowd on board the coach now with all who got on here at London, giving a whole different atmosphere to the car. A second car attendant has boarded also.
7:44pm-Once more, the train is on the move!
With all he excitement and talk from the new passengers, I give up on sleeping. We'll see how I feel at Grimsby...I can always sleep in the car before starting the drive home...Out y window to the right, I see CN EMD GMD-1 locomotive blocking a road crossing with its consist of cars in the east of London.....the sight takes me back to watching them in from my hotel room window in Winnipeg, Manitoba in the 1980's....physical mechanical links to my past....
8:00pm-"Ingersoll in 5 minutes" is announced.
I decline the drink offered by the new car attendant with the smile and infectious laugh. He seems to fit the going home for the weekend party atmosphere in the coach now. He answers my "No thank you." with a "You are welcome."
9:09pm-"Aldershot. Five minutes", the words awaken me from the unexpected welcome sleep that I had drifted off into. My eyes open upon a surreal perplexing sight of small gold circular lights scattered about outside the window as they are blanked out by dark shapes at intervals....When the sound and shapes disappear, I recognize the they are the sodium vapor lights of buildings, homes, and businesses below us in a cityscape!!!
  by XC Tower
9:17pm-"Next stop Oakville in ten minutes..." My stop in Toronto is coming up fast...the excitement of a big city arrival is building....
9:30pm-Now stopped in Oakville. I wonder if I should get off here to catch a GO commuter train to Burlington? Too late....We're already on the move. I'll find out.
9:46pm-"Toronto in five or so minutes." I'll check on the departure for the next GO train to Burlington and the bus to Grimsby once off the train there.
9:51pm-After checking and double-checking my seat area, I head to the rear of the coach to disembark. Following the line of passengers, we head out of the left side of the coach. I thank the car attendant, then follow the flow of other passengers to the right on the platform amidst the sounds of locomotives and excitement of trackside along a train's arrival. Down the escalator I go to the hallway where the small coves of waiting rooms are in the station at Toronto.
10:09pm-Seated in the busy, hustle-bustle GO transit waiting room in Toronto Union Station. What a contrast to the VIA Rail one up above us a single level! Once I followed the crowd here after getting off the train from Windsor, asking a GO agent through his glass window (looked bullet-proof) when the next departure for Burlington was and being told 10:43pm. the thought of a free coffee in VIA's Business Class lounge came to mind. Walking through the quiet, dark, feeling almost asleep Great Hall of Toronto's Union Station, I find the door to the lounge locked, closed for the night. Walking through the Hall, I read the overhead illuminated arrival/departure sign to read only one line lit,.... for some sort of bus departure! Yes, this day has indeed ended for VIA in Toronto's Union Station. Back to the GO Transit waiting room, for there's life there this night still!
  by XC Tower
10:43pm-After following the line outside street level then up escalators, I'm waiting on the platform for the GO train back west to Burlington. There's a good crowd of folks along with me as the bright light of the locomotive approaches, then goes by with it's loud hum and bells, squealing to a stop.
A crowd gets off, mine gets on, as I climb upstairs for a seat.
The announcements for the stops before Burlington come and go. Soon, I'm off at Burlington, seeing the young man ahead with a phone on a cord in his hand that made the announcements looking up and down the platform, then giving the "All clear!" to the engineer. The GO train zooms off as I heard an announcement that the bus for Grimsby is waiting.(How long it will be I don't know.) Down the ramp of the concrete tunnel below, I pause at the "T" intersection looking for signs as to whether I should go left or right for the bus. I choose right, going up stairs to a trackside platform! Scurrying back down, I head out the tubular concrete tunnel into a parking lot with no bus!!! As I start to get scared of being left, I ask a young man smoking a cigarette, who goes me directions in a real stylish manner (Amazing how this hit me during a panic mode). Thanking him, I take off in an all out full sprint back down the tunnel, up the stairs, along the platform, through an another portal of glass doors, down a set of stairs, then right out the doors to another parking lot with a gleaming white GO double decker bus!!! I climbed the stairs to the second level (never rode a double decker bus before...got to do it right with the best view) then promptly banged my head as I read the warning sign that the roof was just "3.7 metres" high! In a few minutes we were off to Grimsby and my waiting parked car....
Bleary eyed and really tired, I got off the double-decker at Grimsby. It was late-late, early morning by that time. Walking across the parking lot to my trusty Oldmobile, I decided to press on through the darkness of the Q.E.W. to drive home.
What a journey!!!! A day gone by in a heartbeat of pure adventure!!! I'd do it again in a second (if I made it home alive after the 2 1/2 hour car journey through Fort Erie, across the Niagara River to Buffalo, NY, then west to home.)

Do allow me to sum up further my feelings of the journey at a later time. I hope that all my words haven't bored anyone, but brought some of the enjoyment that I had.
So long for now.

  by XC Tower
Looking back at this whirlwind one day journey to Windsor and back, I'd say that I would do it again in a heartbeat. Making this trip has been the latest of a series of adventures in a wonderful land that has left its mark in my mind and heart, whose name says it all to me......CANADA........
Traveling by train in Canada has never once disappointed me, as only the cancellation of these magnificent trains and their routes has. Each time this happens, a choice to travel which is step out of life's ordinary routine is lost, where one can both see the beauty of the land, the points of interest, meet the people who live there, learning from conversations about their cities, provinces, and lives in mode of transport that offers time to talk and relax, and really be educated by it all. Travel by train in Canada has truly broadened my horizons in so many ways since 1983, both about a fabulous welcoming country and myself in many ways. The "land across the Lake" from my first childhood memories, where the first train I saw stretched over a huge high trestle that arched over the mighty Niagara River and gorge, has never disappointed or made me feel unwelcome. I've found no two provinces alike, even finding that within each regional differences that appeal, fascinate, and educate. From Niagara to Newfoundland, from Toronto to the mountain grandeur of the Canadian Rockies, from Cape Breton to British Columbia, across prairies so vast that amaze how one long they last, journeying by train for me has been the finest way to go. Arriving at a time to travel routes before the massive cuts of 1990, I rode trains over rails that are either no more or host only freight to places where a passenger on them can step no more, but from it all, these, my words are true.......Thank you Canada for your trains and for being you......

  by marquisofmississauga
Thank you for taking the time to post the detailed trip reports. I'm pleased you enjoy your trips to Canada. Since the 31st of October VIA has downgraded the Business Class meal service - "simplified" is the term used. After three trips with the new service, I can say it's not as bad as I feared. Considering the ease with which reduced fares are available, I suppose some cut-backs are inevitable. Overall it's still a very good service.
XC: I will second MOM and thank you also for your notes of your VIA Rail Canada
travels in southern Ontario...This subject reminds me of my travels on VIA during
the month of September 1985 in which I spent a two week period on a Ontario and
Quebec Corridor CanRail Pass which cost me $155 Cdn at the time...I got a chance
to ride at least once on each major rail route as far W as both Sarnia and Windsor
and as far E as Quebec City and visit a variety of Corridor cities over that time...

I remember my own visit to Windsor during that period and since I was only stopping
over for a few hours I did not get a chance to go to Downtown Windsor from the VIA
Walkerville station let alone go across into Detroit which at that point I had never
been to and I remember stopping at London for a time also traveling from Toronto
on that day...I noticed the very flat topography of SW Ontario and wished that I
had more time to stop over in towns like Chatham...

The CanRail pass offered unlimited use provided that reservations and tickets for
the choice of trains used be picked up prior to boarding meaning that I had to
carefully plot out my train choices to allow me to get good use of its benefits...

The most vivid memory of that two week period was the final day which was on
or about September 21,1985: I was leaving Quebec City to travel to Montreal in the
morning and secure space at the AYH Youth Hostel there - only to find out that the
place was sold out for that night but would be available the next day and I then
decided to go down to Toronto on one of the Rapido LRC trains and then return
back to Montreal on the overnight Cavalier which was scheduled to leave Toronto
before midnight and therefore was covered by the CanRail pass...

I remember having some time in Toronto but I knew that under no circumstances
could I miss the Cavalier - my travel budget was tight and spending extra money
to correct a mistake would be tough for me...I rode the Cavalier back to Montreal
and then spent the next week there...

I had bought a Amtrak round trip excursion fare to Montreal for $79 and I rode the
Adirondack northbound NYP-MTL and I wanted to travel back on the Montrealer but
it turned out that I would be in Montreal when Hurricane Gloria struck the NYC area
and I had problems getting a reservation to get out of Montreal because of that
train being annulled for at least a day or more...

I feared the worst knowing that Gloria had struck Long Island directly and was quite
relieved when I contacted my relatives and found out that there was little problems
affecting them but it turned out the train ride S towards NYP would be subject to
some delay such as being limited to 15mph for much of the SPG-HFD-NHV line due to
crossing and lineside signals being out...

In closing I have many good memories of those September 1985 days - and they will
last a lifetime for me...

Last edited by MACTRAXX on Wed Dec 04, 2013 11:12 am, edited 1 time in total.
  by XC Tower
I am pleased to hear that my recollections were enjoyed by others, as each journey brings unique memories of experience and adventure, which sharing furthers the enjoyment.
MACTRAXX, I, too, shared many a CanRail pass adventures, even taking the Cavalier east out of Toronto to save the hotel cost in Montreal as you did, during travels on a 30-day one( figuring that the last train out of Toronto at such a late hour would be empty, but finding it full of guys in the same age bracket as me then doing the same!....I guess one could call it a "flop in a seat and snooze" train..) It was all so much fun during that time period. VIA Rail ran trains on routes that I could never imagine Amtrak doing, plus there were ones such as over the Ontario Northland and British Columbia Railway(s) that weren't even VIA's (along with the CN's mixed train over the Newfoundland Railway between Bishop's Falls and Corner Brook and previously others....Never could figure out why it wasn't part of VIA Rail's operational system...)

Marquisofmississagua, thank you for the update and report on the Business Class meal menu changes. Hearing that it is still a very good service makes me want to return all the more (which I hope to do in the Spring).
While there are still trains on VIA Rail, I will ride, enjoying the adventure and remembering all the past ones. My hope is that there will be a change in the viewpoint of the value of passenger rail transportation in Canada by the top decision makers, but that is in a realm where I have no influence.
So long to all for now.