Concluding the tale of my train trip on Via Rail’s The Canadian, from Vancouver to Toronto, starting on a Tuesday night and ending the following Saturday afternoon.
Saturday was the last day of our journey and we were having trouble leaving Northern Ontario. Our train was supposed to arrive at Sudbury Junction at 1:17 a.m. and depart shortly afterwards. But at 5:45 a.m., when I woke up, the train was stopped and I saw Sudbury outside.
We heard later that a combination of freight traffic that forced us to pull over repeatedly and the need to go slow through the site of a recent derailment had cost us a lot of time.
At breakfast, the talk was about the blizzard outside our windows and whether we would make up some time in the final stretch. At 7:30 a.m. the crew estimated we were five hours behind but felt we would catch up a bit because the last-day schedule factors in delays.
I heard no complaints about being so late. But there was calculating. Would a late arrival leave enough time to catch that connecting train or get to the airport for a non-refundable evening flight?
A group of us spent the morning in the lounge and dome car watching the blizzard and discussing the delays.
For cross-country trips, passenger trains are second class; there is no track dedicated to passenger service. Passenger trains must yield to freight trains whenever there is a single track. That means sitting at a siding, sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for an hour. Freight train operators have great incentive to be on time. If a shipment is late, they face penalties. Also, freight trains are often very long, with 100-plus cars; they are too long to get off the main track and fit on a siding. Via’s cross-country train maxes out at around 32 cars.
We were due in Toronto at 9:30 a.m., just after breakfast.
With a 1:30 p.m. arrival the latest prediction, we were offered a bonus lunch.
But as lunch time neared, the train made up more time. The blizzard did not seem to slow it down. We were beckoned to an early lunch of turkey and bacon wrap or roast beef sandwich, plus vegetable soup. As the Toronto suburbs started to appear, we were surprised by the offer of dessert - cake or fruit salad.
We said our goodbyes over dessert. At our table, all four of us said we would be eager to make the cross-country trip again, in either direction.
In response to a reader’s query: I am not aware of any murders during our journey, à la Agatha Christie. I tried to eavesdrop whenever the opportunity arose, but never caught a hint of murder. The word was not spoken within my ear range. Though I guess you’d be inclined not to utter the word if you were trying to keep things hush hush. (In a Google search, I found the novel Murder on The Canadian, by B.C. author Eric Wilson.)
The Canadian pulled into Toronto’s Union Station at 12:10 p.m. It was two hours and 40 minutes late on a 4,466-kilometre journey that is scheduled to take 82 hours.
Union Station in Toronto is under wraps for an $800-million restoration and expansion.
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