Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Cross-Canada Trip 2017 - DAY 6

DAY 6 – Farewell to the Silver Lady

The Fraser River in the early morning mists, last day on board The Canadian.

Good morning! Has it come to this already? After 3 full days and 4 nights on board The Canadian, and 5 nights since I left Halifax, I was finally waking up to my last few hours of the journey.

My alarm went off at 5am (Pacific Time…again with the extra hour!). I had slept very well, and it was still quite dark, so I decided to sleep until 5:30. What could I really see, anyway?

It was about 5:46 (that’s very specific for an approximate time) when I finally made it the dome. Much to my surprise, I wasn’t the only one up. I actually had to wait behind someone slowly making their way through a corridor, and then I arrived in the dome itself to discover that when Ted “joked” that he’d see me in the dome at 5:30, he wasn’t kidding…His first words to me, as I settled in to a seat: “You’re late!”

There were a few others in the dome as well. By this point I had missed the gorge and the canyons (thought it would have been too dark to see them – Ted said he could see the shadowed outlines, and still thought they it was an impressive view), but the Fraser River Valley is still absolutely stunning. Misty clouds added to the atmosphere, and as the sun started to break through it was truly breathtaking.

Mists on the Fraser River. Very X-Filesy

Once again it was clear that we had moved into an entirely different climate. In stark contrast to the drab, snow-covered sights of the past few days, everything here was lush and green. So alive! It really was spring here.

The morning light starts to grow, and mountain peaks begin to glow.
Low clouds and slowly brightening skies.

I spotted one train on the opposite side of the valley, and we arrived at Hope at 6:30. By this time we were, amazingly, only expected to be 1 hour late at Vancouver! I had sort of hoped we would maintain the previous several hour delay, since it would have provided some more views in the daylight. But arriving closer to on time would give more time in Vancouver itself, which would be nice in its own way.

Crossing the bridge at Hope, BC, as the rising sun illuminates the peaks. This has to be one of my favourite photos from the trip.

Hope, BC.

The dome is at its absolute best in the mountains. Only there can you really appreciate the scope of the landscape in all directions, including straight up! Every moment in the dome that morning was unbelievable, as we snaked our way along the side of the valley and through tunnel after tunnel.

We arrived at Chilliwack at 7:20am – now only 40min late.

As we moved away from the mountains and into more civilization, the best views were clearly out the back of the train, with the sun creeping over the rugged peaks (you could say it was “peaking out”…sorry…). The mountains ahead were becoming gentler, softer, and lower. More farm fields began to dot the landscape.

Another one of my absolute favourite photos from this trip, out the back window of the Park. One of the most spectacular sunrises I've watched.

I couldn't decide whether I liked that last photo or this one more, so you get both of them!

Sun peaking over the peaks.

There was a railfan out photographing us as we approached Abbotsford, at 7:40am. There would be another railfan shortly after that, with a tripod and hi-vis vest.

Karine offered a bit of commentary on her work. As one of the crew based out of Vancouver, she works Vancouver-Winnipeg-Vancouver, which takes 6 days and covers 96 hours! That’s quite the lifestyle, but she seems to love it.

We had a meet at Page – 5750-5733-2287 leading, with 161 cars (there, my first car count for the trip – thanks to Ted for instigating that one!)

Moving into farmlands and more populated areas.

Farmlands along the valley.

More views along the river.

As amazing as the mountains had been the day before, this final run down the Fraser River was a strong contender for the best views of the trip so far.

I reflected that morning that there had not been a single boring moment on the entire trip. Everyone seemed to feel like the trip was over too soon. I brought books and music, and apart from a few chapters of one book I didn’t use them at all. Ted and Laurel had brought books and bridge lessons to kill time, and they likewise hadn’t even touched them. There was just so much to do and see, so many people to talk to, and so much to take in. But of course that’s what I really wanted to do. If I had wanted to read my books, I could have locked myself away in my roomette, or found quieter places to sit on board. Part of the beauty of the train is that it can be as social of an experience as you want, but you can also stow away and keep to yourself when you so choose. It can fit whatever you want it to be.

The day had become a bit overcast, but it was still gorgeous. The second call for breakfast came at 8:05 – Danny, the steward, made the announcement in his trademark style. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the 2nd call for breakfast in the dining car – please come!”

For the first time on this trip, I actually went to breakfast specifically with someone (Ted and Laurel), and we were seated as a group. After all the time we’d spent chatting and carrying on over the last few days, all of which started right in the lounge in Toronto, it seemed quite fitting. Ted regaled us with what he could remember of the song “The City of New Orleans”, an excellent tune penned originally by Steve Goodman and famously popularized by both Arlo Guthrie and Willie Nelson. It's not a song I was familiar with before, but I was really glad to be directed to it. It's a nostalgic song about the train the City of New Orleans, written back at the time when the railroads were starting to lose their grip on the American travelling public, and the golden era of long distance trains was coming to a close. It's a bit of music I'll forever associate with this trip (even if the only version I heard on board was Ted's!). If you don't know the song, it's worth a listen: The City of New Orleans

Breakfast itself was lovely, and a nice way to end the trip. As we wrapped up our meal, Ted handed me their card and asked me to send my best photo at the end of the trip. Well Ted, this blog is full of many of my favourites (see the captions above!), and quite a few were from this day. I hope that will do the trick!

Breakfast menu - last meal options aboard #1.

Last meal on #1 - an excellent breakfast to cap it all off.

Industry and urbanization began to abound as we approached New Westminster. Skytrains started to pop up on the line that paralleled us. The last stretch towards Vancouver is really slow, and full of freight activity – there was all kinds of power around, from CN to CP and BNSF, and even a CSX unit.

Another great view, as a tug leads a barge up river.

Some classic SD40-2Ws are still kicking around.

Hey look, more slugs! Oh, and some CP things sneaking in there.

CN units trying to camouflage among the pumpkins.

More pumpkins, and a dirtier SD40-2W.

An impressive bridge, as viewed from the diner. 

A blue and yellow thing among the shades of red and orange.

A warbonnet, slowly morphing into a pumpkin.

Look ma, no hands! On the controls, that is...a driverless Skytrain on the Millenium line.

Stillcreek at 9:26am. It continued to be a slow crawl into the city, with lots of development around. Amidst the urban landscape the vegetation was still lush, with everything in bloom – even apple blossoms along the way.

One odd bit of vegetation was accompanying a film studio by the tracks – a handful of palm trees, perhaps planted to make any Hollywood visitors feel more at home.

The 20 minute call for Vancouver came at 9:29am. That would put us only 7 minutes late! Now that’s a feat…

We stopped in the yard by the Rocky Mountaineer station at 9:33am. From there, The Canadian reverses around the bend into Pacific Central Station. We were only stopped for about a minute before we began to back up. Many people headed for their rooms, but I stayed in the dome to enjoy the view from the back seat, just like the backup move at Ste-Foy on The Ocean. It's not like there would be any particular rush to get off the train.

Curving into the yard.

Rocky Mountaineer station.

As we backed up I spotted my first West Coast Express train of this visit, at Burrard Inlet Jct. Rounding the curve the Vancouver Maintenance Centre and the platforms of Pacifc Central came into view. There was a lot of equipment at the station, presumably in preparation to assemble the 4th Canadian set that would soon start running for the summer.

Starting to backup towards the station. The track to the left of the WCE train is the station/maintenance centre lead.

WCE train at Burrard Inlet Jct. These trains use the Waterfront Station rather than Pacific Central, but they are maintained at VIA's facility.

Heading around the curve...
Approaching the VIA maintenance centre. Note the washrack on the left track for cleaning trains.

VIA Vancouver Maintenance Centre. Note the WCE car on the right.

A grubby looking Skyline and a Prestige Chateau.

VIA used to have a rebuilt FP9A (6300) that they used as a switcher in Vancouver, but in recent years they've just used one of the F40s. 

The main building of the maintenance centre.

Final station approach. Note the significant amount of equipment on the other tracks. Our deadheaded equipment would be added to this collection.

Almost there...

....almost there...

Arrival. Our train on the right, and spare equipment on the left.

We came to a stop at precisely 9:46am – a whopping 4 minutes late. Yep, 4 minutes. After running in excess of 3 hours late, we were able to make up all that time and be practically on time. I think I can forgive 4 minutes on a 4 night, 2732 mile trip!

And that’s it! As I made my way down from the dome there was a goodbye hug from Karine, and then it was back to my room to collect my things and step off The Canadian to officially end this journey. I stepped onto a train in Halifax on Friday, and on this Wednesday morning, the 19th of April, 2017, I stepped off of one in Vancouver. Coast to coast, and every mile of it covered on board a VIA Rail train. I know I’ve written a lot of words about this trip over this series of blog posts, but it’s difficult to really put into words just what a special experience this was. It was bittersweet to say goodbye to everyone that I had met during this trip. The 4-night trip seemed like a huge undertaking when we set out, but it just flew by for everyone. I bid farewell to many of my travelling companions in Pacific Central station, and we all wished each other well as we headed off to whatever awaited us.

Here we are! Vancouver. What a trip! It looks like I'm posing with the train, but really I'm trying to hold on...I'm not ready to go! 

That was what was most special about this trip. For those few days, all of us on board felt like a little travelling family of sorts. We got to recognize and know each other, even if only a little, and the train felt like our home away from home. From our many different backgrounds and experiences, and heading in so many different directions, we all shared that little part of our lives together. While I can make that train trip again someday, it will never again be that same group of people together; and just like so many experiences in life, part of what makes it so special is that it can’t ever be duplicated. I think a lot of us shared that same feeling as we headed our separate ways.

Now, while that did complete the coast-to-coast aspect of this trip, it was still a long way from the end. Since we were on time, I actually had a pretty full day ahead of me in Vancouver. Then of course there would be the trip home…it’s still a long way to travel, even if I’d opt for a more expedient method on the way back.

Panorama cars on the storage tracks. These operate on The Canadian from June onwards, between Vancouver and Edmonton.

Pacific Central station, looking one way...

...looking towards the platform access...

...and looking the other way.

Outside. It's a beautiful station, and the sign is really impressive! This station hosts VIA, Amtrak, and Greyhound services.

So, Vancouver: after a spectacular trip, it was time for a short visit in Vancouver. I made my way to the Skytrain and in short time would arrive at my home for the night – the Hostelling International Vancouver Central hostel, on Granville at Nelson. I couldn’t check in yet, but they would hold my bags until I could.

First Skytrain ride of the visit. I would spend a good chunk of my time in Vancouver on board these trains. I seriously love that system.
HI Vancouver Central, Granville St.

One of my best friends and his wife (who I also consider a good friend – I saw, lest my phrasing suggests otherwise!) moved out to Victoria a couple years ago.  I would have loved to go visit them, but I just couldn’t quite manage the time. Fortunately, he was able to take the day off and offered to come over to Vancouver for the day. So we met up early on, and spent most of the rest of the day together.

It had become an overcast and sort of misty day – not at all unusual for Vancouver. We headed out first to check out Central Hobbies (an easy Skytrain ride, and one of the places on my list to visit). It’s a really fantastic hobby shop – well stocked, almost to the point of being overwhelming! I could have spent more time (and probably a fair bit of money…) there, but I wanted to try to make the most of the day (particularly with a non-model-railroading friend), and was also somewhat restricted in what I could pick up due to the impending flight the next day (for which I had only carry-on bags).

While walking back from Central Hobbies to the Skytrain, I spotted this guy in the distance, just chilling. 

Upon closer examination, he was in a really annoying spot to photograph. A high fence and trees blocked the view.

Interestingly, it turned out to be a trio of CN units with just that one CP loco. He wasn't moving, so I snapped this super lousy shot over the fence and through the drizzle, and headed off.

We made our way down to Waterfront Station, with the thought that we might check out Stanley Park. But the day continued to be wet and kind of unpleasant, and we were starting to feel ready for something to eat. So we popped into the first place we saw by the station – Steamworks brewpub – and proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon there! The food was great, the waiter was excellent (he made it clear that he’d rather be doing what we were doing than working!), and the beer they brewed there was really very good. Plus there was a nice view across the water, including the yard down below where the West Coast Express trains were parked awaiting the afternoon rush. A great place to catch up with an old friend.

Steamworks Brewpub. A great spot, and very convenient to the Waterfront Station.

The view from inside - nothing to complain about there!

The afternoon flew by, and my friend had to make his way back to the ferry for the island, so I accompanied him on the Skytrain+bus ride out to the Tswassen terminal. It’s a lengthy ride (about an hour), but it was interesting to realize that you could get to the ferry by conventional transit very easily.

Riding the Skytrain on the Canada Line. 

After bidding him farewell, I made my way back to the hostel and checked in properly, then headed off to meet up with another friend who had suggested he could arrange a tour of VIA’s maintenance centre. Unfortunately the guy who was to give us access was off sick, but someone else he knew at the station was there and willing to let us in to check out the stored equipment at the station. The highlight of this was getting to tour inside two of the Panorama cars (1721 and 1722). I had never been in one before, and I was completely blown away by how nice they were. I’m now convinced that I need to make a trip on The Canadian in the summer some time, if for no other reason than to actually try riding in one of those cars. They don’t have the nice forward view of a conventional dome, but they would be amazing when you’re right in among the towering mountain peaks and valleys.

This friend then gave me a quick tour around the various rail yards and facilities in the downtown area, and dropped me back at my hostel. I contemplated going out to get something to eat, but at this point I was just exhausted and ready to get some sleep.

Panorama Car 1722 at Pacific Central.

Inside 1721.

Inside 1721. Those are comfy seats!

End door on 1721. You can see that the floor is raised slightly, as it slopes up from the vestibule.

Another view inside 1721. The lights weren't on in 1722, which made for a better experience of what the panoramic windows were like, but less ideal for photos.

A Manor sleeper.

The hostel itself looked a bit sketchy from the outside, but was actually quite decent inside. I had a private room with en-suite bathroom/shower, which was definitely nice to have. Granville St is very alive and bustling at night, but also felt reasonably safe. The location was undeniably convenient, in terms of access to transit, and the price was right. 

Vancouver at dusk.
Vancouver after dark.

After a busy and enjoyable day, I got settled down to sleep. I planned to get up super early the next day to go ride the new Evergreen extension of the Skytrain and try out the West Coast Express, so best to get to sleep!

Goodnight from Vancouver!

In the next part, we’ll check out a little more Vancouver transit (because there has to be some train riding involved on every day of this trip), and then head for the airport to make the return to Toronto.

Here's an appropriate one to cap this day off. Pacific Central looks its best as the sun goes down.

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