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
This past Friday, October 18th, I took VIA on a one day round-trip ride between Toronto and Windsor, Ontario, for my latest journey by rail. I hope a few of my observations will prove worthy of reading.
My leaving at 1:30am for the drive to Grimsby, Ontario, in order to make a park-n-ride connection with GO Transit wasn't too bad. The rain was steady in the darkness going across I-90, but traffic very light, as one would expect for the hour of travel. At the toll both in Buffalo, the rain actually stopped falling (part of paying the toll across New York State?...). The border crossing with the drive across the Peace Bridge to Fort Erie, ON (I'll stop with the Ontario abbreviations at this point.) was actually enjoyable, between the view and the civility of the Canada Customs officer.
During the 45 minute drive on the Q.E.W. from Fort Erie to Grimsby, my thoughts went back to all my past drives along the Niagara River on the two lane road (the name escapes me) from Fort Erie, past all the beautiful homes, through the history of the route of march and battles of the War of 1812, and the first sighting of the always awesome falls at Niagara in the night. Going past the Falls with no people walking about at night, then following the road up along the escarpment, then making a left at the underpass for the CN going across the bridge to the USA, and minute or two to the VIA station at Niagara Falls to catch the morning train to Toronto. Traffic along the Q.E.W. was even lighter than that on I-90 plus the road was smoother.
At 4:51am, I caught the GO bus for the ride to Burlington, where the boarding of the commuter train to Toronto was. Right on schedule, the headlight of the green and white locomotive rolled in. Climbing to the top level of the car, I found it interesting to read a sign on the wall of it, regarding the "quiet time" during the rush hours. (I wonder if there actually are GO "Quiet Police"?) Rolling through the eight or so stops before Toronto went quickly with a 6:38am arrival on-time there. Yes, a very efficient commute, but I still missed and prefer the VIA train from Niagara Falls to "T.O."
Walking up the ramp to main concourse of Toronto Union Station, I looked to where Ontario Northland's ticket counter was. Now it's occupied by GO Transit with no sign of the former occupant. Sad, now the O.N.R.'s "Northlander" is something of the memory and history.
Only two VIA Rail ticket booths were open. Going to one for my actual ticket to be printed, I mentioned about how strange seeing the O.N.R. counter being gone and now GO's was to me, When I asked about whether we'd see the Northlander back, her answer was with a certain finality, "It's not." Most certainly, the train scene in Canada has and is changing.
She felt that soon in the future, VIA Rail would be completely gone. What would be in it's place be in three segments: the East, Central, and West.....all privatized entities running each. I found that another sad thought, but possible. Compared to my first arrival back in 1983, the station seemed not as busy between the number of people going to and fro along with the number of trains set up ready to board with signs at each track gate.
One thing remained the same: station renovations in progress. I went to find the Business Class Lounge but it had been moved. With all the signs regarding renovations and directions, I had to ask VIA employees (harder and less to find now) twice as to where it was.
At 7:31am, with me seated in the Business Class coach behind the locomotive, the train pulled out. Another adventure by rail over VIA had began for me.
With the hope that what I've written so far hasn't bored anyone reading it, I'll sign off here to write more of this journey later.

  by ExCon90
Yes -- by all means let's hear more.
  by XC Tower
My apologies for the delay in continuing....Now, as I consult my notebook....
At 7:35am, after ironically going up to the platforms through the same gate as I did last year to board the last VIA Rail train to Niagara Falls, VIA Train #71 smoothly pulls out of Toronto Union Station, as the excitement of another journey by rail begins. The interior of the business class coach is the same handsome dark jade green as on the F40 which is right ahead of the car. Out the window to the right, I catch sight of an old friend, Amtrak's Maple Leaf, as the GE Genesis unit pushes the Amfleet coaches into the boarding location under the station's canopy. Could it really have been thirty years ago in 1983 that this train brought me into Canada for my first VIA trip at Toronto to meet the Canadian for its westward routing over the Canadian Pacific?...Time does pass as quickly as the GO Transit commuter runs going by us eastward as we roll west.
7:44am Just passed old Fort York, a remnant and reminder of another war that shouldn't have fought: the War of 1812. My mind wonders if the soldiers of its garrison and their families plus the citizens of York could even imagine the Toronto of today? In an instant, the view is of Lake Ontario with buildings along with roads full of cars and trucks going by. There stands two new office towers with construction cranes on the roofs with a huge beautiful red banner draped down with the words "Now Selling" in block letters on it.
VIA's coach yard and car shops comes into view. A VIA GE Genesis with a complete train of coaches behind appears to be coupled to another complete train with a F40 in the lead. There are some of VIA's "H.E.P." stainless steel flanked "Park" series passenger cars parked along the long building. Behind it, more old friends! Liners! Six or eight RDC's are parked on three tracks! On cars as these, VIA took me up and down Nova Scotia from Yarmouth to Sydney (Cape Breton Island, to respect the "Island Identity") and the Victoria to Courtney, B.C. on Vancouver Island. What awesome adventures these took me on!
7:53am-The sun is a golden ball shining above a dark rampart of clouds that forms a heavenly wall over Lake Ontario. Everything from the small stands of woods we're passing now to the small rail yards is lit up in the "golden hour" of dawn. First stop: Oakville! I notice a new double-decker GO bus in the parking lot to the right of the station. A few passengers board into the coach.
A short VIA train pulling silver cars flashes by as the breakfast menu is handed out by the attendant. I choose the frittata.
"Aldershot in ten minutes" comes the announcement as the excitement of events and stops builds.
Shortly after leaving Aldershot, a view of a beautiful wide bay with a city behind it comes into view as the track curves away from us as the train heads on It's Hamilton on CN's line to Niagara Falls. In an instant, I see another track curving into
that line and back into ours. Bayview Junction! I'm venturing into new territory for me: the lands and towns of Southwestern Ontario!
I'll pause here to post this, as the last time what I wrote was booted off....Here goes...
  by XC Tower
My next portion of the trip got wiped out, due to it "timing out", as when I hit the "submit", the screen announced that must "log on"......I'll get this figured out eventually....

  by XC Tower
Hope springs eternal...and I'm stubborn, so here goes another try..

As the train leaves Bayview Junction behind, the sun shines on a topography much different than the flat lake plain which I expected. Illuminated was a ridge covered by trees in full autumn regalia with the golds, reds, greens, and varied shades between being breath-taking in beauty. Was it part of the Niagara Escarpment? Something to research later on. How hilly the land is here amazes me, as does the little "knob" hill(let)s within the now harvested fields of corn among the small to medium-sized farms which are now making their appearance.
8:19am-"Brantford-Next stop!" comes the announcement. As we roll to a stop, there stands an older brick station of CN ancestry with 15 to 20 passengers waiting to board on the platform. The stop is quick, with the sight of a yellow wind sock atop a wooden pole within the small rail yard to the right making me wonder what it's location there is for. Within the three or tracks are a mix of freight cars plus a venerable EMD CN low-hood Geep.
I speak to a dark-haired young VIA car attendant who tells me of recently being hired, which surprises me given what's been the direction of the company lately. The whir and flash of a eastbound VIA train speeding by in the other direction brings my mind back to reality. When asked of the train's top speed through the area, she says 140kph (my quick math figures 78mph)
From my map, I figure that the train is now speeding through Paris, Ontario, a small community with two track yard full of cars. A distance on, there sits below sits an old abandoned cast iron bridge across the Grand River (love that old National Geographic map!)
The land is more rural now with more smaller farms....On a big white water tower in blue letters I read "WOODSTOCK" almost at the same time the announcement is made for it.
  by XC Tower
9:10am-Across from the quaint little station at Woodstock, ON, are three old 40foot metal boxcars with agricultural scenes painted on them, making for a really nice statement for the town and community.
Within moments, the sight of a grain elevator facility comes as another surprise to me, as does the signaled railway line crossing ours on an "X". Once again, the wonder of who's it is and from where to where is more fodder for research.
On the left is an active stone quarry, showing me just how vibrant and varied southwestern Ontario is.
At 9:22am, we pass an old decrepit boarded up brick depot with no sign boards telling of where it is. My answer comes in moments, 0n an old brick factory building, which still looks in business, comes the answer :Ingersol Cheese Company.
9;41am- Now in London, Ontario, in front of a newer VIA station with a "Corridor-look" to it. Across the parking lot and street is an older "Italianate" architectural style of buildings with Gardner Galleries right next to the Taste of India Restaurant. London looks like a nice city from the train. I imagine that it is still feeling the hit from EMD (Caterpillar) moving its locomotive manufacturing facility to Indiana, which I think the trackage to curved off of our line as we slowed to the station here. From my window on the coach, one would never imagine how difficult it must've been for the employees at that plant.....I wonder if the city of Erie, PA, and the employees at the General Electric counterpart across Lake (Erie) will soon feel the same pain in the near future?
9:50am-Slowly we glide out, bidding London farewell.
  by XC Tower
Leaving London, I read a sign at a business as we roll west "Welcome to Copps Lumber Yard". It strikes me that I've never read a sign welcoming me to any lumber yard back home in the U.S. There really is something special about Canada.
Now the train is on high bridge, far below us flows the Thames River with dark waters. Across are rows of big new homes on a ridge not far away. Looking huge, the close spacing between them gives a cramped look.
Coming parallel to us an embankment is another railway line, which is also signaled. "CP Rail?", I wonder as the second short eastbound CN mixed freight of the morning brings me back to reality with its rumble.
As I look at an farm house and its barn surrounded by a golf course, giving it an island appearance, our train diverges off the double track, while off in the distance is another tall white water tower with the letters "KOM" in blue on it. Checking my map, it has to be Komoka, Ontario.
After going through more wooded country, the land changes to a sea of cornfields surrounding the train on both sides.
"Glencoe-Next stop!"
10:18am-The train eases west out of the farming community of Glencoe, Ontario, harkening back to a time when many a small agricultural town had passenger train service in North America.
10:25am-On a siding as another VIA train rockets by us on the way east, making me wonder what the top track speed (in mph or kph) is through here. That train was really moving out!!!
Out the window in deeper woods now, I spot an old telegraph pole with a white mile marker on it, which reads "37" on it. Are we 37 miles from Windsor?
Another tall white water tower, I can read "WELL" on it....I figure that it's Bothwell, Ontario, from the map.
"Ladies and Gentlemen...Chatham in five minutes" come the words.
  by XC Tower
10:56am-Across from the classic red brick CN-era station at Chatham, Ontario, is a Canadian National baggage car on display in the handsome green and black color scheme of the 1950's. Looking at it, I imagine that's what the consist of the Caribou ("The Newfie Bullet") must have looked like in the same time period. "Seventy-one! We're closed and secured", come the attendant's words over his radio to the engineer, bringing me back to the year 2013.
My eyes go right to a guy who's wearing fluorescent orange athletic shoes walking amidst parked truck trailers lettered "Charron" at the loading docks of a business as we pass by. He looks back at the train.....I give him credit for wearing shoes that color....I couldn't.
To the left, off in the distance, are huge white windmills, slowing turning, generating electricity for Ontario.
11:14am-on calm waters to the right of the train is a blue heron, standing erect and still, while surrounded by flotillas of mallards...Yes, it is autumn. The train is really moving out now, feeling much faster than 78mph.
Within moments, there is a lake shore, complete with many closely spaced cottages on it. As the shoreline and cottages continue, a check of my map reveals that it is Lake St. Clair.
Little communities: Stoney Point, Belle River (with boat docking canals within it), seem to continue coming together into one continuous one along the shore.
11:27am-Tecumseh-Home of Green Giant (of course, in green)-reads the most unique tall water tower of the trip so far, amidst new homes and businesses as the excitement of arrival builds.
"Windsor Station. In less than ten minutes" are the words announced. Soon, we're slowing through tidy neighborhoods of older middle class homes.
A factory with lots of space where buildings once stood is on the left. Across from it is a small power plant with a round squat blue water tank....I recognize that shade of blue as the white stylized letters "FORD" are read by me on it. Yes, Ford tractor blue.
"Now arriving Windsor. Exit forward! " As we slow, my visit to Windsor is about to begin.
  by XC Tower
I'll pick up with writing of my ramblings at Windsor soon. Keeping the entries on each reply short seems to work so that I don't "time" out.
So long for now.

  by XC Tower
My apologies once more the delay in continuing the recollections of this journey......Life, as I know it, I'm afraid to say...

11:42am- I'm off the train into a new territory to me...Windsor.....All I can think of are the words: Windsor-Canadian...(As I go on my walk-about during the layover before returning east on Train #78 at 5:45pm, I'll come to realize that the words would prove to be more than just that...)
There is the excitement of a passenger train arrival in the air: the riders heading into the station, while those waiting for the family and friends among them are looking and smiling....the warmth of reunions...
VIA's Windsor station looks stylish and new, in a modern architecture with a rounded arch green roof over bricked walls complete with plenty of windows. As I walk to the head end of the train for a photo of the locomotive, in the distance to the west, I see tall brick factories connected with an enclosed walkway overhead as the railway track curving off underneath. Two pieces of track equipment painted in yellow are parked adjacent to the main line on one of three lines leading off from switches to it that form a small railway yard. I notice that the track is being pulled up, which is always a sad sign to anyone who loves trains.
Turning to snap photos of the train, I see it was led by an EMD F40 resplendent in VIA's handsome dark green paint scheme. On the other end is another F40, as the push-pull consist is pulled out of the station without passengers heading east. I give the engineer a friendly wave as he notches out the throttle.
After it leaves, I go inside the station for a look-see. New, clean, and spacious, but without the character of the older stations, the appearance of a bus station or transit hub is given to me. Yet still, the fact that it's busy and plenty of government money has been spent on the structure is a good sign.
After finding that my calling card purchased last year has expired, when trying to call home, I decide it's time to go see Windsor. Following where the railroad track goes is my direction!!!
  by XC Tower
Heading west down the platform to follow the tracks, I see that one of two railroad contractor trucks is pulling off. No doubt, off to lunch as it is 12Noon now. One remains parked, as the older gent inside pulls out a sandwich. With a wave, I approach to talk with questions to be given. Regarding the track removal, it turns out that the factory wants the land to build another warehouse. VIA has sold it. When I ask where it led, he tells me down to the "river", where there was a yard for the car-ferry that's all gone now. He works for a railway contractor out of Ottawa that's doing work for VIA. In answer to my next question about where the old station for Windsor was, he tells me it is right on the spot that the new VIA station stands. Millions were spent building it, but there were problems with major leaks on its fancy rounded roof when the rains came. Before they were fixed, he watched as a passenger got an unexpected rainwater "shower' beneath one of them. I replied with a term that often applies to the work done by work under government contract: "the best low-bid can buy"...With a handshake, I bid him the best as my walk of discovery continues as the railroad track is followed...
Reading the name on the factory, seeing the name "HIRAM WALKER & SONS", I realize in an instant that this is no mere factory, but a distillery!!!! Spotting a historical marker, I read that Mr. Walker was a minister that moved across the Detroit River to Canada after the "Prohibition" against alcohol was enacted into law by the USA in 1835 to start a distillery....Apparently, Reverend Walker saw "the light" in order to go into the whiskey business.....Yes, there were a lot of thirsty folks on both sides of the Detroit River: one side where it was legal and the other not....Still thirsty all the same.. I'll find out much more on this interesting bit of history during my visit.
Following the line, I see the beautiful, almost aqua green of the water flowing along the Detroit River in the distance as the distillery buildings are left behind. Over two streets with the railway crossing flashers still standing guard minus their gates, the rails disappear into the bed of white stone ballast, then into mounds of brown short grass as I see the paved paths of multi-purpose trails along the riverfront. yes, this is the "end of the line" literally.
Another historical plaque stands near, gold letters on a faded blue background, reading "Hull's Landing-1812". Here I find another reminder of a war that shouldn't have been fought. Taking a photo, I figure that I'll read the words on it later.
Walking down the black asphalt paved path, I see the impressive skyline of Detroit with futuristic styles. Amidst them, with a sign that changes in a flash every few seconds is "GM", the headquarters of General Motors. In the distance behind with it's big letters adorned is "FORD FIELD", home of the Detroit Lions (the National Football League team owned by the Ford family, descendants of the founder of the same auto company)..... Pretty impressive for a bankrupt city in an ironic way....
The Detroit River is very busy with Great Lakes shipping traffic as tugs pushing barges and the big lake "boats' sail to and fro. I watch this moving show on fresh water as the walk continues.

Back soon....

XC Tower wrote:Heading west down the platform to follow the tracks, I see that one of two railroad contractor trucks is pulling off. No doubt, off to lunch as it is 12Noon now. One remains parked, as the older gent inside pulls out a sandwich. With a wave, I approach to talk with questions to be given. Regarding the track removal, it turns out that the factory wants the land to build another warehouse. VIA has sold it. When I ask where it led, he tells me down to the "river", where there was a yard for the car-ferry that's all gone now. He works for a railway contractor out of Ottawa that's doing work for VIA. In answer to my next question about where the old station for Windsor was, he tells me it is right on the spot that the new VIA station stands......
The new Windsor station is located where the “old-new” station (photo below) was. It was a built by CN in the early 1960’s when they relocated passenger operations out to Walkerville. The original station was closer to downtown Windsor…..about 2 km further west along the waterfront.


At one time you could board a CN Sleeper at the Grand Trunk Western station in Detroit. It would be ferried across the river to Windsor then attached to a train bound for Toronto.

After the through cars via ferry were discontinued, CN operated a bus service that looped through downtown Detroit from Windsor, stopping at the GTW station and hotels.
  by XC Tower
Thank you, NS VIA FAN, for the photos and information about the Windsor/Walkerville Station......Your travels and knowledge of Canadian railway history and passenger operations is much appreciated, as well as impressive....

  by XC Tower
One more question before I continue (and hopefully finish my journey recollections.....(without any interruptions in my little world here. I'm trying getting up early to do so, while it's quiet here and everybody is still asleep): the CN Station at Windsor/Walkerville reminds me a great deal of others that I've seen in my "north of the border" travels (for some reason Truro, NS, comes to mind......more like Moncton, NB actually)....Was it from a CN standard building plan of the early 1960's period?

  by XC Tower
Continuing on along Windsor's riverfront, through conversations I discover that the original settlement here was called Sandwich. Also, the historical plaque along where the old tracks were at road crossing on "Riverside Drive", reading "Hull's Landing", referred to General William Hull's crossing the Detroit River with 2,000 American troops to capture Sandwich, saying he was here to "liberate Canada from oppression" (Amazing how oppression to one can be freedom to another.....Politics divided then, as it still does now), only to be driven back across by British, Canadian, and their native Indian allies across the waters, and eventually surrender to them at Fort Detroit.....(The folly of war...)
The Great Lakes shipping parade on the bright almost glacial green of the Detroit River was awesome, watching as the 1000 foot lake boat. "Presque Isle", built in my hometown, sailed south as I came upon the unmistakable railway station structure of the original Grand Trunk Railway station (now housing public restrooms) not far from the still standing, fenced off ramps at the railway's car-ferry landing. Parked nearby on display was handsome CN Number 5588(?), "The Spirit of Windsor", if my memory is correct a 4-8-4 wheel configuration of a steam locomotive. I've got say that CN had one of the most beautiful paint schemes that I've seen on a steam locomotive.
Heading back along Wyandotte Street, I learned about Walkerville, a complete company town, where everyone from the dog-catcher to policeman, was an employee of the Walker family distillery business. Also, if you didn't lease one of their homes there, your job was gone.
A short journey to "Willistead Manor and Park" was awesome as I found an equally impressive and huge Edwardian or Victorian mansion set in a 13 acre grass lawn and wooded park. Ringing a doorbell where the curator's office was, I was delightfully surprised to have it answered and allowed inside for a short peak and tour (the place only had one bedroom for the husband and wife! The only others were for the servants....)
At 4:30pm, I was back at VIA's Windsor station, after a short stop at a nearby Tim Horton's (a Canadian thing that I've picked up from my visits.....I even made it to Cochrane, Ontario, where the Tim Horton, former Toronto Maple Leaf hockey player grew up and family still lives last September, on the 2nd to last northbound run of Ontario Northland Railway's "Northlander"). There I sat a now broader and educated man from my walk-about in Windsor......Windsor Canadian, which came to mind at the beginning of the visit, sure turned out to describe the place. Fascinating, I must visit again.