Going on a Vancouver-Toronto train trip, in January


During the winter, Via Rail runs The Canadian, its flagship cross-country service, from Vancouver Pacific Central Station to Toronto Union Station twice a week, departing on Tuesdays and Fridays. It’s three times a week in summer (there's a Sunday train).

The journey takes parts of five days. The Friday one, for example, leaves Vancouver at 8:30 p.m. and arrives in Toronto on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.

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I’ll be on one of those trains this month and will send dispatches during the journey. 

Some colleagues have questioned the wisdom of a cross-country train trip in winter. It’s cold out there. All I’ll see is a blanket of white. And Via has had some trouble keeping to schedule this winter because of extra-cold weather and freight trains getting in its way. Over Christmas, one of its trips was behind by 19 hours, the Winnipeg Free Press reported.

That delay had a ripple effect, putting trains and crews out of position. So several subsequent journeys started many hours late. The Dec. 31 train from Toronto didn’t leave until the next day.

But I’m shrugging about that. It’s a slow train. I don’t have a schedule. The focus is the journey. I’m looking forward to being cut off from the rest of the world, looking out the window, reading, napping and napping some more. There will be extended stretches where, gasp, no cellphone service will be available.

I’m travelling in January because the fares are quite a bit lower in winter (that might be the biggest reason), I’ve done this before in summer and want to see the country in winter, and friends and family are available for visits. Spotting The Canadian winding through the mountains on the new plastic $10 bill settled it: time for another cross-country train journey.

The Canadian takes a round-about route, going from Vancouver to Kamloops, Jasper, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, across northern Ontario through Sioux Lookout, Hornepayne, Sudbury, and Parry Sound, before reaching Toronto.

It should be comfortable. We have compartments on a sleeper car, each with its own fold down bed, toilet and sink. But there’s only one shower per car, for up to 18 or so people to share. That part might be interesting.

We should also be eating well with the meals that are included in the sleeper fare. The Canadian has a good reputation for food. It has chefs on board who make meals from scratch, versus the reheating you’ll encounter on lesser trains.

Train facts from Via Rail:

During its holiday period, 21 days from Dec. 18, 2013 to Jan. 7, 2014, it carried 274,462 passengers; there were 1,195 departures.

The busiest route was Montréal-Toronto, with 61,163 passengers. (Multiple trips each day.)

About 7,500 were on the Montréal-Halifax run. (Three weekly trips, each way.)

About 6,700 on the Vancouver-Toronto route. So, at four trains each week (two departing from Vancouver, two departing from Toronto), multiplied by three weeks, that’s 12 trains. Then 6,700 divided by 12; that’s roughly an average of 560 people per trip. But not all at once, since the trains drop off and pick up passengers across the country.

I’ll try to do some counting on my trip and report back.

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Train trip series:

Going on a Vancouver-Toronto train trip, in January

Vancouver to Toronto by train: the beginning

Vancouver to Toronto by train: enjoying the journey

Vancouver to Toronto: running for the train after it leaves, and more

Vancouver to Toronto by train: we are hours late and we shrug

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