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Lance Pinkerton's Trip on VIA Rail Canada's Canadian
Train #1, Edmonton-Vancouver
http://www.trainweb.com/travelogues/viarail/2001f09a.html

From Lance Pinkerton (LPinkerton@aol.com)

I recently travelled on VIA Rail train #1, The Canadian. On June 9th, at precisely 810am #1 pulled into the station at Edmonton, Alberta, on the advertised. The train enters Edmonton station via a backup move. The station is a stub end affair located north of the downtown area and off the mainline. Passenger trains pass the switch on the main that leads to the station and then back in with the Park car leading the way. We (me, wife, 2 kids) made the long walk from the station to the rear of the train where we had 2 bedrooms, ensuite, in the Park car. On time, at 855am, #1 departed Edmonton and headed west to Jasper and Vancouver. We were travelling to Vancouver. We could have had breakfast immediately upon entraining but we had eaten at our hotel. I was used to Amtraks practice of shutting down the diner early and assumed breakfast would not still be being served at 9am. Oh, well.

Our 2 bedrooms were in top notch condition. Everything in the rooms worked, the lights, temp control, fans, etc. Our attendant came by and showed us how everything worked, explained the meal sittings, and offered to bring us anything we may want from his kitchen that is located in the car. We requested a table for the room and it showed up in about 2 minutes. Each room had a basket with towels and toiletries and there were several publications with info about the train and a 100 page slick paper route guide. Upon investigation of the rest of the car, Kokannee Park, I found that it was in much better condition than the Park car I was in on my trip last year upon the Ocean. If I remember correctly that was the Strathcona Park. The Bullet Lounge was clean and inviting. There was a small table set up with some pastries, coffee, juice, and fresh fruit. The small lounge under the dome was the designated smoking area for the WHOLE train. Luckily, the attendants did not advertise this and there was only one person I saw using it as the smoker. It was also limited to certain hours. The resultant smoke was never too much of a bother to us as it dissipated rather quickly. The dome section was marvelous and we spent a considerable amount of time up there as we traversed the Canadian Rockies west of Edmonton. Periodically the car attendant would come upstairs and go to the head of the dome. He would remind us of any scenic attractions that were coming up and then he'd take a refreshment order. The drinks would arrive within a couple minutes and he would either take your payment there or run a tab for you to pay when you detrained. As we headed west the train maintained its on time performance to the minute at every stop.

Lunch quickly arrived and we made our way forward to the dining car. These are nice dining cars very reminiscent of days gone by. Wonderful meals are served by extremely friendly and attentive wait staff. Meals are included with the first class ticket and there is no price column in the menu as coach passengers are not allowed to use the diner. The food was superb. Ahead of the diner there is a Skyline car that serves as a lounge for the diner.It contains a section with tables aft; a lounging area forward, with a bar; and a dome up top/center. This car also carried an attendant dedicated solely to that car. Besides serving up drinks and snacks his other mission was to act as tourguide. He spent most of his time in the dome conversing with the passengers about the countryside. He was most interesting and I also pumped him for information about the other locations I was going to visit while in British Columbia. He left a small bell on the bar in case anyone came by and needed some service while he was up in the dome.

At Jasper the train makes a 1 1/4 hour stop. This was enough time to stretch the legs with a walk around the town and get back to the station to watch the servicing of the train. They use trucks with utility lifts on them to clean the dome windows. At this point I made a walk of the train and counted the cars. There were 2 engines and 19 cars: 1 baggage, 2 coaches, 3 Skyline dome cars, 2 diners, 10 Manor sleepers, and the Park car. The forward Skyline car was directly behind the 2 coaches and was their refreshment car. It was set up with a working kitchen so it could serve light meals. It actually had an oven and cooktop, no microwave. The menu showed that there were some hot plates available such as a hamburger, a pasta plate, and a roast chicken plate. Everything else on the coach menu was cold. I'm sure it sufficed because it seemed that most coach traffic was local. It did not appear that too many were travelling long distances by coach and those that were were younger folks that probably brought their own food or were satisfied with the limited menu. (my opinion only). The 2 first class diners each were accompanied by their own Skyline car as the lounge.

After Jasper the train really got quiet. A majority of the passengers get off in Jasper. The great Rocky Mountain lodges and national parks are located there and it is a popular destination spot. From then on there were always seats available in the dome for all 4 of us. The attendants served hors doerves and champaign in the lounges and domes about 30 minutes after departing Jasper.

Dinner was at 630pm and was another fantastic meal. The diner was set up a bit more formal for dinner and the tables had candlelight, although it was still bright outside so the effect was a bit lost.

We were able to enjoy the dome cars until well after 10pm as we were nearing the summer solstice and since we were at a northern latitude it stayed bright outside. The lights were left off in the dome after dark. There were only a few floor lights lit so you could find your way. After a good nights sleep (how do they make those wafer thin beds so comfortable?) we arrived into Vancouver 30 minutes early.

I found the personnel on VIA to ALL be very attentive, polite, and knowledgeable. The train was impeccably clean and was kept that way throughout the trip. There were no large trash bags left sitting around to act as garbage cans, a la Amtrak. What waste bins there were seemed to always be empty. I'd toss something and the next time I went by the small bin would be empty with a new trash liner in place. We were sidelined once, for 5 minutes, to await a freight travelling east. Other than that all train meets went remarkably smoothe. We never went noticeably slow to allow for a freight meet. I counted 23 freights that we passed, held in sidings, that were heading in our same direction and 15 headed in the opposite direction and yet we were held only 5 minutes. UPRR dispatchers could learn something from these CN guys.

In closing, I have to say that this is the very best trip I've taken by rail since I was a kid on the Silver Meteor in 1970. I highly recommend a trip on VIA#1/2 to anyone looking for a grand rail travel experience similar to the way it was over 30 years ago.

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