Monday 31 July 2017

Cross-Canada Trip 2017 - DAY 5

DAY 5 – Into the Mountains

The Canadian at Jasper, AB. 

Back to the cross-Canada saga! This is probably the part that many of you have been waiting for: the journey from Edmonton through Jasper, and into the mountains! Be prepared: this is going to be another long one. Not quite as much text as some, but it will be pretty photo heavy…

The final full day on board The Canadian begins with: snow! Yes, more snow. It looked like Hornepayne all over again! When I woke up I discovered that we were running over 2h late, so it would be a slightly later morning arrival into Edmonton. I was awake by around 8am, having slept very well. Of course the time had rolled back again – I like this business of getting an extra hour every morning! After a quick shower, I made my way back to the Park car.

Morning view on Day 5. Looks familiar. Also looks distinctly un-April...
Breakfast and lunch on the third full day are replaced by brunch instead. This was perfectly okay, as we’d been extremely well fed up to that point. There was still no going hungry – before brunch began, a continental style breakfast (muffins, pastries, yogurt, fruit, juices and tea and coffee) was available in the Park car.

We stopped for two meets in the morning before nearing Edmonton. On the station approach in Edmonton itself, the train runs through the CN yard and then backs into the station. We had quite a wait for clearance in the yard, where there was lots of CN activity among the snow. I had a good chat with Ted and Laurel and others in the Park lounge while we waited, and then went to hop off the train briefly as we arrived in the station.

Lots of interesting stuff in the yard at Edmonton, including this SW1200RS and a bunch of slugs. Unfortunately my camera thought that the rain drops on the window were far more interesting.
Some more interesting stuff in Edmonton. What a variety - slugs and LNG fuel tenders, a C40-8M, the tall peak of a brand new ET44AC (with DPU marker light illuminated), and some other classic CN power in there. There was something for everyone (except the CP guys. Sorry CP guys). 

Edmonton arrival at 9:20am – scheduled for 6:22am, so 3h20min late. Dep. 10:12am.

Edmonton! Well, Edmonton station, which is not exactly anywhere near the downtown. Snowy, cold, and blah...
It was not exactly pleasant out, so my sojourn outside was short lived, as I rejoined my companions in the warm comfort of the lounge.

As we got back underway we would soon pass Wabamum Lake. Rich had been looking for this because his mother in law grew up there. It was an impressive sight in the snow – an endless, white, snowy expanse.
Wabamum Lake, or "the endless white expanse"...
There were more freight meets – at least 3 (maybe 4) since Edmonton, one of which we overtook. There was a manifest, at least one intermodal, and a unit potash train. We would then pass a westbound stack train, with lots of empty cars headed towards the west coast. We also crossed the Pembina River bridge, which was stunning, but I was slow with my camera!

Conversations on board are always interesting, and are one of the highlights of any train trip. That morning I discovered a connection between one of my fellow travellers and a co-worker back in Dartmouth, and learned that the proper Irish pronunciation of the word Connaught is more like “connect” than like “conn-ott”. As we neared the Lobstock River bridge, someone explained that Lobstock is an old trapper way of communicating, which involves cutting off all the branches below a certain point on a tree to mark locations. Further along, Rich noted that the line we were on switched back and forth between parts of the old CNoR and GTR lines, competing railways that once paralleled each other. When CN took over, they just used the best parts of each one.

We met another eastbound at Wildwood – a 30xx and 29xx pair leading an enormous grain train.

The dome view is the more spectacular one, but you still get a really neat perspective in the comfortable bullet lounge.

Around that time I decided to head up for brunch. I didn’t note exactly when, but the last call was at 12:20 and I was back before then. As for the meal itself – wow! The brunch options all sounded intriguing. I was torn between the eggs benedict and the lobster ravioli. In the long run the benedict won out, and it was well, well worth it. Delightful! There were also complimentary mimosas, and apparently dessert, but I missed out on that part (not like I needed it!). I was seated with the couple I mentioned earlier that had just done their European/Iceland trip, and had a nice chat with them.

Brunch menu.

Brunch menu.

Brunch. One of my favourite meals on here so far. 

There were a few more freight meets after brunch. I finally decided to do a full walk of the train, taking photos along the way – those will be featured in an upcoming post touring the inside of the train. While up that way I decided to spend a bit of time in the non-refurbished Skyline ahead of the diner. To say that it was in rough shape would be an understatement – the dome seats were terribly uncomfortable, and compared to the Prestige Park it looked really shabby overall. But the dome windows were well taken care of and cleaned.
The dome in the second Skyline. The 90s-era upholstery is starting to look pretty rough, and the dome just generally looks shabby compared to the refurbished cars. But the view is still excellent. 
Looking back from the second Skyline. 

The snow continued. We were given an ETA at Jasper of 3:30pm, and then another ETA of 3:15. We’ll see…

Another intermodal meet, 4 units on the head end.

Reservations were taken for dinner, and I opted for the second sitting at 7:30pm.

As we moved along the snow lightened up a bit, and the dome windows cleared off. The scenery began to slowly shift to become more dramatic. More trees, and we were clearly making our way up in elevation, even if there were no signs of the mountains yet.

Winter in April.

Meeting an intermodal train in a curve. You really get a perspective on just how tall those double-stacks are when you pass them like this. 

The scenery starts to get a bit more dramatic, and is somewhat reminiscent of northern Ontario.
We passed CN Medicine Lodge (MP156.5) at 1:31pm. It wouldn’t be long then until we would reach Hinton. For railway buffs (or even those with some knowledge of famous railway incidents), the name Hinton should jump out right away. It was the approximate site of one of the deadliest railway disasters in Canadian history. On Feb. 8, 1986, a CN freight train ran a red light and collided head on with a VIA passenger train, killing 23 people and injuring many more. Railway disasters like that are extremely rare, and many actions were taken in the wake of Hinton to try to ensure such an incident wouldn’t happen again. No matter what, it was a sort of surreal feeling to roll through that area, a place that I had only known of from accounts of what happened on that fateful day.

We arrived at Hinton AB at 2:06pm, after overtaking a WB intermodal/grain train at MP 167.9 (3068 and 2851 leading, no DPU). The snow had stopped, and some rolling foothills had begun to appear. A tease of the mountains soon to come… Unfortunately with the low cloud cover, there may have been much more dramatic sights that were obstructed from view.

Hinton is the last stop before Jasper, and there is a massive lumber mill there. We had made up about 30 minutes, and were under 3h late by this point. There was a manifest freight waiting for us to clear, with a C40-8M and C40-8 leading. The Park stopped right by the cab, so we had a good peek inside and got a wave from the engineer.

The mill at Hinton AB.

Arriving in Hinton.

A classic cowled C40-8M leads on a waiting freight.

How considerate: the crew parked their train in just the right spot so we could check out the cab interior from the dome!
As we got going from Hinton, it was undeniably clear that we were into the mountains! Still lots of cloud cover, but there was no doubt they were there. The views along the Athabasca River were stunning. By this time I had secured a spot in the dome, and I was not planning to move from it – as the views started to become more impressive, the crowds began to pack in to see!

Ah, there we are! Mountains!
We were at Swan Landing at 2:31pm, where we met an eastbound with 2836 and 2405 leading.

Shortly after there we spotted something unusual – a helicopter hovering over the trees, with someone repelling down a line into the woods. Cool!

A helicopter hovers over the woods. A moment later, that guy would drop down the line into the trees below.
The clouds tone things down a bit, but they just can't hide where we are...
View from a bridge, on a frozen-ish river.
Along the Athabasca.
The Athabasca.

Even under overcast skies this looks great.

All cameras were out and being put to work, trying to capture what we could see of the main attraction.

A bit of sun started to make its way out, though it was still cloudy. Then, we went through the tunnel that leads into Jasper National Park, and…
Entering the the other end is Jasper National Park.
...the sun broke through! It was like something out of a movie. The park is absolutely stunning. I’ll let the photos do a lot of the talking for this section, but know that they don’t even begin to do it justice. After so much gloom over the last several days, the sun now made this part even more special. Breathtaking - really.

Ah! Blue sky! Breathtaking views! Photos do not do this justice.

The sun makes it trickier to avoid reflections, but man oh man, how nice it was to see it at last...
Even more blue sky.

So many different views along this stretch, and they were all incredible.

A very sharp line in the clouds.

More amazing views. Note to self: wear more muted clothing to avoid reflections.

Mountains, mountains everywhere. More blue sky too!

A very sharp line in the clouds...

There was plenty of wildlife along this stretch. Sheep, elk, goats, deer, and a family of 3 bears (not sure what kind, but they were a light brown colour), and then a large black bear to the right – someone farther up on the train spotted that one and they announced for everyone to look for it. There he was, just sort of stoically watching the train pass by. I wonder what he was thinking?

We arrived at Jasper at 3:25pm. This would be a 45 minute stop while the train was cleaned and serviced. We were free to roam the town and do whatever we pleased, as long as we were back in time for the boarding call. I bid farewell to Rich and his son, who were getting off here to take The Skeena (VIA doesn’t use the name any more, officially, but everyone still seems to call it that) up to Prince Rupert .

Arriving at the yard in Jasper. This freight appeared to be waiting for us to clear.
While many people spent the time in Jasper exploring the town, I did exactly what anyone who knows me would expect me to do…I spent the full 45 minutes within a stones-through of the tracks, watching and photographing The Canadian, The Skeena, and freight trains coming and going. Jasper is a gorgeous place, and a real hub of railway activity.

The Canadian at Jasper station. 

We've just arrived, and the window washing crew is all ready to get to work. 

Washing windows on the Park car. All of the domes and windows along the sides of the train were washed during this stop, just as they had been at Winnipeg. This ensure we had crystal clear views (when not obstructed by rain or mist) for the rest of the trip through the mountains. 
Washing the massive windows on the Prestige Chateau. 
The Skylines get their windows washed too.

The Skeena, with a short consist - 6421 leads 8144 and 8504. 6453 is a spare loco, coupled behind for now to keep it hooked up to the shore power.
Jasper - I've travelled 2408.8 miles from Montreal, but how far from Halifax? 

Sign by the station - I think someone was taking inspiration from an FPA-4 for that top image...

One of the features on the main street in town - the Chaba Theatre. Retaining a bit of a classic look on the outside, but I'm not sure if the same is true inside.

Jasper: a town with a every direction.

Inside Jasper station. The ticket counter and electronic displays are consistent with the designs in many Corridor stations. The Rocky Mountaineer section of the station was directly behind me.  
Oh look, Jasper has one of these black steamy things too.

Here's a fun one: Banff Park, parked in Jasper Park. 

Rear window on Banff Park - looks like someone took a stab at a Canada 150 maple leaf emblem.

The classic vantage point - VIA #1, The Canadian, with freights rolling around in the background. You can't find a much better backdrop than this.

I thought the freight in the yard was leaving, but they were actually waiting for this guy to arrive first.

With that eastbound out of the way, the freight in the yard rolls out heading west. We would overtake it not too long after leaving.

The remains of a VIA logo, over top of the remains of the old CPR beaver crest. This Skyline was not refurbished, but had the newer style logo at the other end. 

The 45 minutes was gone before I knew it, and we were back on board. I made a quick phone call as we got rolling, and was cut off in short order as we headed into the mountains and lost reception.
One of the first peaks leaving Jasper. I have no idea what that thing is up on top.
Following the river again. So much ice...

We overtook a westbound intermodal/grain train at MP22.9 – this train had left Jasper just before us.

I headed for the dome, and had to wait a while to find a seat. People are interesting at times – the dome was packed and people were waiting to find seats, but there was a) a girl sleeping (I eventually sat next to her), and b) two Prestige passengers who I knew were travelling together but had decided to sit separately, taking up two seats each in the reserved Prestige row. By this point they had reduced the Prestige reserved area down to just the first row, so those two had taken up that whole section and bumped two other Prestige people back into the “general” area, taking up seats that others could have used. That’s the annoying, entitled sort of attitude that makes people annoyed with the whole idea of Prestige. Why needlessly take up extra space when people are obviously looking to use it?

There were still clouds at this point, but many of the peaks were visible. A bit of rain fell, but it wasn’t too overcast. We met an eastbound at Grant Brook (MP 31.9 - intermodal with 8851 and 5684), and then the first call for dinner came at 5:30pm. We had technically passed into a new timezone at this point, but we were informed that the train crew would not be changing until later at night, allowing them to keep dinner sittings on the current time.

Another eastbound meet five minutes later at Moose Lake, with a pair of GEVOs (a Tier 4 and an AC) leading. Moose Lake was quite something – enormous, frozen, and spectacular! By this point it was raining, though some of that could well have been condensation from the clouds as we made our way into them.

There were two people in the dome who had joined us at Jasper, and who I would discover were Japanese. It was fascinating – they spoke no English, and I speak no Japanese, but we actually managed to have a sort of conversation despite that. Lots of gesturing and intonation, but he was able to quite clearly ask me if I wasn’t terribly cold – I was wearing a t-shirt, while he had a full jacket on. I did my best to explain that I was just used to it (a good Canadian, I suppose), and we shared a laugh. It was a really interesting experience, and a reminder of the ways in which we can sometimes communicate based on shared human experience, even without a common language.

We missed Mount Robson in the clouds, but we could see the base. Now the sun had broken through again, with some blue sky, and soon it would be really quite beautiful! The dome crowd had thinned out, but the rest of us that stayed saw some of the best views of the trip.

We officially moved out of the Rockies, and now entered into other mountain ranges as we made our way closer to Valemount. We passed the Premier Range, and Karine pointed out as we passed the spot where the image of The Canadian for the $10 bill was taken. I told the story about VIA 6403, the locomotive that appeared (with modified nose logos) on the bill. VIA decided to renumber the real unit to 6459, so that they wouldn’t have any embarrassment should 6403 be involved in a wreck or something. Why they couldn’t have just changed the number on the image (heck, they already photoshopped out the VIA logo on the nose) remains a mystery. Even stranger, they decided they wanted a publicity photo of the real 6403 with the new bill, so they had to temporarily renumber another unit to 6403 because they’d already changed the real one!

Blue sky and cloud balance.

Raindrops on the windows, but they can't hide the view.

Views, views everywhere. Ted tries to find the space between trees.

The crowd in the dome.

A tunnel portal. One of many.

Heading west, some of the best views were behind us. The back seat in the dome was the place to be!

Wintery peaks. Again, in April. 

Clouds can spoil some views, but there's no doubt that they make some even more spectacular.
The Premier Range. As always, photos don't even begin to really capture the sheer scale of these...

Meet at CN Charles – ET44AC and C44-9W leading.

Karine called me out as a “rail buff” when I provided some more context on block detection circuits and dispatching. She commented that she loves having rail buffs on board to fill in some of that information that she can’t always remember, or just doesn’t know. She was great throughout the afternoon, and I had a lovely time chatting more with her and the other passengers in the dome.

We were now 1.5h behind, and Karine remained optimistic that we could be closer to on time at Vancouver.

We met a train of tanks with an ET44AC and SD75I leading at CN Canoe River, next to a cairn for a crash that once took place involving a train filled with Korean war soldiers.

The micro climates in the mountains are fascinating. The weather changed from sun and blue sky to clouds and rain, sometimes just for a few minutes and then back again. It was hard to tell if the light was fading or if it was just the gloom at times.

The sun begins to lower over the mountains. There would be no sunset to enjoy this evening, but the late afternoon light was still something special.

CN Albreda at 6:59pm MT.

So far the most dramatic scenery had been at Jasper National Park, a good stretch after Jasper, and then the Premier Range as we headed away out of the Rockies. But even the most “subdued” of the mountain stretches were still stunning.

A group of musicians had boarded the train in Jasper. They were going to be performing in the Park car later in the evening, and I was looking forward to that. I ran into one of the musicians in the Park lounge, and she commented on the Jurassic Park shirt I was wearing (bonus points if you'd already figured that out from the reflections in some of the photos above...). That was the second time that day, and I noted that, saying that the first time was from one of the young boys on board. Her response – “well, I’m really a 10-year old boy at heart anyway!”

A quick comment on the crews: overall, the Winnipeg crew were really friendly and nice, while this crew (Vancouver) has been a bit different, though still excellent overall. Karine and Walter were both fantastic, and the young trainees on the trip did seem to have promise. There’s just something that felt noticeably different from my more common experiences on The Ocean. Maybe it’s just the feeling of dealing with new crews that I don’t know. A friend of mine had noted that he always found the crews on The Canadian to be really “professional” – they do their jobs very well, but they often don’t feel as personable or “homey”, if you will, as many of the crews on trains like the Ocean and Chaleur (when it ran). Kind of like the difference between the staff at a really nice hotel and those at a family-run bed and breakfast. Both can do an excellent job, but the atmosphere is a little different. This isn’t really a criticism by any means, as I didn’t have anything to complain about; just an observation.

We got slowed down past Clemina East (MP96.4, 7:19pm), and got stopped in a siding. There appeared to be some flashing lights ahead, perhaps of MOW equipment or a hirail. It was raining heavily at this point, and it would soon be time for supper. We were given a heads up that we would be stopped there for a while, and then the call for supper came at 7:28pm.

Supper, my last one on this first trip on The Canadian, was excellent. What else is new? Based upon the strong recommendations of folks I knew who had done this trip before, I went for the rack of lamb. Chicken and rice soup to start. Another superb meal, though every single thing on that menu looked great. Dessert that night was a raspberry cheesecake, which was really excellent.

Final dinner menu.

Chicken and rice soup.

Final dinner on The Canadian. Rack of lamb.

One more dessert - simple, but excellent. 

During supper we passed Pyramid Falls. It may not be the most spectacular waterfall, though it is really beautiful, but it’s distinction lies in the fact that it can only be viewed from the train. There is no other access to actually get you there. There was an announcement on board as we passed.

I was seated, once again, with a new group of people. Across from me were a father and daughter who had boarded at Edmonton, on their way to Vancouver. They were nice enough, but the conversation never really went anywhere. They didn’t seem to be the sort to keep a conversation going, so it was a little disappointing. Ah well, to each their own. Part way through the meal I discovered that the guy next to me was also a railfan, riding the train from Jasper mostly just for the sake of it. It also turned out that he was someone whose name (Troy Mellody) I’d seen pop up on several Canadian railfan groups that I’m part of on Facebook. In fact, I had seen a photo of his (of Banff Park in Jasper) just a few days earlier.

We had a great chat, and then met up again in the dome as the light fell and we rolled on through the night. We chatted for a few hours about all things railway and VIA related. Unfortunately the musicians had finished their performance before we made it to the Park, but it was still an enjoyable evening relaxing in the dome.

When I eventually headed to bed, I wrote: “It’s hard to believe this is my last night on here – even harder to believe it is already the fourth one! I will definitely be sad to depart tomorrow. It almost feels like I haven’t had enough time! Today was a definite highlight for scenery. I plan to get up early tomorrow to see every bit of…”

And that’s when my pen ran out. Gah! Good thing I brought backups! Amazing that I wrote so much already; that was a brand new pen that I started with at the station in Halifax.

My plan for the morning would be to catch every bit of what I could see in daylight, since some of the most spectacular views are supposed to be along the canyons. Ted had joked that he’d see me in the dome the next morning at 5:30am – I wrote at the time “I won’t hold him to that… J

Then finally:

“Final night on board The Canadian. Train #1, trip #1.

Well, to bed I go. Goodnight! We’ll “speak” again in the morning.

My goodness, there are stars! STARS I tell you! A clear night at last….or a bit of one anyway.

Ok, goodnight!”

p.s. There were around 6 more freight meets during supper and afterwards, just in case anyone’s keeping a tally. 


In the next part, we make the final run into Vancouver, and officially end the coast-to-coast journey.

Raindrops on the dome. I gave them a hard time for obstructing photos of other things, so here's a moment to appreciate them for what they are. They're actually beautiful in their own sort of way.