Russell Isbrandt's Canadian Rockies Circle Trip Report
Recently, my wife and I took a Canadian circle trip from Calgary to
to Prince George to Jasper to Banff and back to Calgary
using the Rocky
Mountaineer Gold Leaf service dome, BC Rail's
Caribou Prospector Budd
RDC train, Via Rail's Skeena and Brewster
Transportation down the Ice Fields
Highway and return to the Calgary
There is hope for passenger train fans. There is money to be made by
companies in the rail passenger business. Rocky Mountaineer
just took delivery
of two more Ultradome cars with two more of the
$3.5 million cars on order.
They hope ultimately to go daily during
the summer in another 2-3 years.
Our power was two GP-40-2s rebuilt
by GEC - Alstom this March. The train
was 14 cars into Kamloops and
22 out of Kamloops with the Jasper section.
Of those there was one
power car, 2 crew cars and 5 deadheading single
level cars including
a party car with dance floor and conference car.
Unfortunately the shops are out of sight at Kamloops so I couldn't
what other rolling stock they have.
The service and food was unbelievable! This was gourmet food where
chefs make the dishes pretty was well as good. Because the dining
of the car can accommodate only 36 of the 72 upstairs
is in two sittings. The Calgary passengers get fed
shortly after departure
so they finished and upstairs by the time the
Banff passengers are boarded.
Next morning the Banff passengers are
fed first so they serve a "pre-breakfast"
of juice, coffee or tea and
rolls to the Calagary passengers. The first
day the Calgary
passengers are fed lunch first so they get the second sitting
second day. Not to worry, they serve a "pre-lunch" of cheese/crackers
and beverage. Since arrival in Kamloops is around 630pm, drinks and
are served late afternoon to keep your blood sugar up. On the
Vancouver, only a few miles out the chefs are introduced and
an orange juice / soda mix and chocolates. The car crew
of 2 servers, 2
hostesses, 2 chefs and a service manager gave us a
pen and "Thank You"
card signed by each of them!
The arrival at Vancouver is painfully slow with a tedious run through
Thorndale yard to pick up a BNSF pilot. The train is then wyed
the station and then doubled over before disembarking
passengers are permitted
to detrain. The Rocky Mountaineer Vancouver
personnel help in hailing cabs
and stay until every passenger seeking
a cab has been transferred.
I rode the open platform through a good part of the Bow River Valley
Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise, but short of the Spiral
through the Spiral Tunnels was the only part where
they shagged you off
the open platform. I resumed riding out there
through the Kicking Horse
Canyon. I also rode out there west of
Rogers Pass, into and out of Kamloops,
along the Thomson and Fraser
BC Rail's Caribou Prospector's route will give the scenery of the
Rockies a run for the money. Almost immediately out of
you ride on a ledge blasted out of granite
overlooking the Georgia Strait
with its deep blue waters and snow
capped peaks in the background. North
of Squamish the route takes
you along the deep and narrow Chekamus River
Canyon. The trains stop
at the famous Whistler resort town. This is a
destination for some
of the Gray Line tours out of Vancouver. The route
runs at the edge
of Anderson Lake and Seton Lake with steep slopes culminating
capped peaks on the opposite shores. North of Lillooet the route
runs at the edge of the Fraser River Canyon reaching a point 2000ft
the riverbed below and almost straight down. This is the only
ever been on that had air-sickness bags in the seat back
is a very good reason all trains are preceded by a
high-rail truck inspecting
the track and looking for rock-slides.
North of Kelly Lake the route levels
out somewhat on the Caribou
plain until Williams Lake. Between Williams
Lake and Quesnel the
Fraser has cut still another canyon. It was along
here we saw not
one or two deer, but herds of deer grazing.
The food on BC Rail's Caribou Prospector was unfairly maligned on A-
A. While it was no Rocky Mountaineer, the micro-waved food was far
inedible. I had French toast for breakfast, chicken stir fry for
and a small pan fried sirloin steak in barbeque sauce with
mixed vegetables, roll, slaw and a delicious lemon
bar for supper. The
two lady attendants were very attentive, almost
too much so. They didn't
understand that when I was shooting video
they were supposed to pass me
by. (I'm going to invent a cap with a
neon sign on top which flashs "SILENCE
PLEASE RECORDING". As a
result, some of the video has them trying to get
a response out of me
with regards to beverage or meal preference.
was the only railroad where the conductor ran a radio test to
I had the right frequency! This guy was great! Had all
kinds of stories
about how the various stations got their names and
about working tv movie
production trains including the one where they
blew up BC23 a Budd car.
I was invited to ride the cab at the wye at
Lillooet,but couldn't since
I was continuing on.
Apparently the Budd car days may still be numbered.
Apparently no one
knows what will be done to replace them. Given the very
north of Lillooet, about 12 - 15 to Williams Lake, only 7
George, one has to wonder if this service will be discontinued
least off season.
Now this route can be done in a single level glass
roofed car, a
sawed off version of the Rocky Mountaineer domes. BC Rail
a deluxe excursion train called the Whistler North Wind. It offers
the same kinds of amenities offered on the Rocky Mountaineer with
at Whistler and Exeter also known as 100 Mile House. For
reason the southbound version terminates at Whistler.
These trains depart
North Vancouver Sundays through September and
Prince George Wednesdays.
I wonder if this is a preview of the future
of BC Rail's passenger service.
At this time of year Via does not offer Totem class service on the
Everyone gets to ride the Park car, in this case the Glacier
train consisted of one CP stainless steel coach and the
Glacier Park pulled
by an F40. The crew consisted of engineer,
assistant, coach attendant "conductor"
and snack bar attendant. The
"assistant" engineer apparently did most of
the switch throwing since
the train was moved through the switches while
there was someone at
the switch stand. That someone was not the uniformed
Aside from 25 kindergartners and their 5 adult chaperones,
enough dome seats for all passengers. The kids were given the
from Prince George to Willow River, the first stop.
Aside from 25 kindergartners and their 5 adult chaperones, there were
dome seats for all passengers. The kids were given the dome
George to Willow River, the first stop.
I got to video the ride up to
Mt. Robson, though we only got to see
the bottom half. I was quite surprised
at how quiet the dome rode.
When there is no background conversation,
only the air conditioning
"whoosh" can be heard. Although it was only
one car ahead, the
roaring FP-40 powering the HEP could barely be heard.
distance on the Portland section of Amtrak #27, the FP-40 could
heard along with the traction motor whine, from the Sightseer car.
As I was just about to complete a shot of an ice covered lake near
Pass, I caught a glimpse of a pair of running lights of an
train and lo and behold it was the westbound Canadian in
all it's 26 car
5 dome glory!
Bottom line: In 2001 under very special circumstances, the passenger
as an entertainment vehicle can generate handsome profits,
investment. The downside, fares are astronomical
and out of reach for
a large portion of the population.