Wednesday 2 August 2017

Cross-Canada Trip 2017 - DAY 8

DAY 8: Back through the Corridor and on to The Ocean

April 21, 2017 – time to get back on a train, and make the rest of the trip home! The day began with breakfast at the Cavern, the bar/restaurant in the basement of HI Toronto. It was quite good – eggs, bacon, beans, potatoes, toast and fruit.
HI-Toronto hostel, with outlandish mural.
I packed up my things, and made the short walk back down to Union station. It was a cool and gloomy day, but no rain.

A very cool bit of art on a building on Front St. before Church St.

Did you see the photo of the dog fountain in my recent "Mini Report"? Well here's the context: when I was there in April, I spotted this fountain under construction. There were several more dogs wrapped up and ready to be installed around the edges. It was neat to see it in operation a few months later!

So here I was, back in the Business Lounge at Union Station, where the Canadian adventure began 6 days earlier. Six days…where did the time go? There was the seat I took that evening, where I first talked to Ted, all full of excitement. Now I sat in that lounge again as someone who had ridden coast-to-coast by train, with a full journal and a whole host of photos, memories, and stories to share.

The boarding call came for #64 at 11am. I headed out through the perpetually-under-construction concourse, and up to the platform. #64 had a typical consist for that train right now – a P42 with baggage and a mix of HEP2 and HEP1 cars.

GO Train at Union station. The new glass roof makes photos so much easier.

VIA 64 at Union Station.

VIA 64 – April 21, 2017

910 P42 (Canada 150 wrap)
8618 HEP1 Baggage, ex-UP
4008 HEP2 Club (Business) (01) – Seat 13D
4005 HEP2 Club (in Economy service) (03)
4118 HEP2 Coach (04)
8112 HEP1 Coach, ex-CP (05)
4121 HEP2 Coach (06)
8101 HEP1 Coach, ex-CP (07)

I was seated in Seat 13D in Business Class in 4008. It was nice to be in a HEP2 Club for a change, since I had only been in LRCs recently. The HEP2 Clubs still have the old Club style seats, which are much comfier than the new ones in the LRCs, even if the LRC layout is quite a bit nicer.  Business Class on the train was much more spacious than the previous day’s flight, even in Premium Economy.  
Inside HEP2 Club 4008.

I recognized one of the attendants on board (Alex), as he had been on one of my Christmas trips from Montreal to Ottawa last year. He was really nice, and very thorough with his job. He seemed to remember me, but then he suggested he had recently had another “Tim Hayman” on board – a tall guy with sunglasses, who got on at Guildwood or maybe Belleville. Is there another train riding Tim Hayman out there? Who knows…

The car was pretty full leaving Toronto, but not packed. I had an empty seat next to me, and it would remain that way for the rest of the trip.

We departed at 11:30am, on time to the second. Drink service began right away. A friend of mine was out to watch our train at both Eglington and Guildwood, though I didn’t manage to spot him.

Trackmobile, ballast cars, and some other maintenance stuff outside Union Station.

Guildwood at 11:48 am, plenty of people boarding.

As I was still a Premier member, I got my priority meal choice. There were pork or pasta hot options, and a cold plate salmon again. I went for the cold plate, as it sounded quite a bit like what I had last time and really enjoyed. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t quite live up to that…

Hot towel service at 12:03pm. Oshawa at 12:09, more people board. Lunch service at 12:35. Cobourg at 12:45.

Crossing one of the dual rail bridges over Port Hope, shortly before Cobourg.  

Lunch was good, but not as good as the way up. The salmon was shredded with a lemon pepper sort of thing going on. The cranberry and carrot salad/slaw was quite good, but the little side salad was really strange (Edit - it took me months, but I think I've figured out what it was - daikon!), and the cookie was okay but a bit dry.

Lunch on 64. If anyone can tell me what that salad on the right was, I'll be impressed. I ate the thing and never figured out what it was actually made of... (Edit: Daikon! Took me a while to figure it out, but I stumbled across that in a review of a local Korean restaurant, and by George I think that's it)

There were several others on this train heading for Halifax, including a rather boisterous sounding quartet. They were mostly new to the train, and it sounded like none of them had been on the Ocean before. It could be an interesting trip…

Belleville at 1:23pm. A few more board.

Kingston at 2:02pm.

After-lunch coffee. I'll bet you can't guess how I was travelling...

I spotted a couple of swans in a pond north of the tracks during that stretch parallel to the 401 past Kingston. There were also a few wild turkeys shortly thereafter. There, a bit more wildlife for the trip…

We overtook a stopped VIA train (P42 and LRCs, multiple Canada 150 wraps) just before Gananoque.

Brockville at 2:50pm. No boardings in Business Class, and still no seat mate. The seat next to me remained occupied solely by my copy of Good Omens, which by now was about 30% read. The flight and subsequent Corridor trip lent themselves better to reading, as I got back to familiar and less exciting territory.

We passed Invista/Brochem, and there was no sign of the plant switcher. I’m thinking of trying to build a model of the SW900 they have there, so I was hoping to get a glimpse for reference. No luck.

Meet with the CN local westbound at Prescott, right at the Boundary St. crossing, as it made its way back to Brockville.

It was nice to see Johnstown, my old hometown, again. There was a lot of clearing happening down near the tracks on Sophia St., and it looks like that area may be getting more developed. I do miss that little hamlet…

There were several tanks at the CASCO interchange, but no switcher in sight as we passed.

Cornwall at 3:43pm. About 10 min late by this time, due to a brief slow order around Prescott. The skies remained cloudy, with sporadic breaks of sun.

45min to Dorval, 1h10min to Montreal.

Coteau at 4:10pm. At Coteau, I spotted CN 4139 waiting with a cut of cars on the lead to the Alexandria Sub.

We pass a WB AMT train, 1324 with MLVs, at Baie D’Urfé. Somehow we were still about 10 min late approaching Dorval. There really isn’t a lot of tolerance in the timetable on these Corridor runs. You can make up over 3 hours on #1, but lose 10 minutes on a Corridor train? You're staying 10 minutes late...

Dorval at 4:36pm. I noticed that the large “Montreal” sign on the main airport building had been re-done in Habs colours (with their logo in the “o”) for the Canadiens playoff run. There was lots of excitement about their playoff run, as well as the Leafs’ – unfortunately, both would be cut short before long.

We were on the move at 4:40, with next stop Montreal. Another AMT train – MLVs with 1356 leading. It was getting a bit sunnier here, but still lots of dark clouds.

Montreal was already starting to look a little greener than it did the week before, as we rolled into the station. There was a VIA consist (F40 and Ren set) backing out of the station, and an AMT train heading out to the St-Hilaire line as we approached the station. On the way in, local railfan photographer Michael Berry caught my train from the outside. Now there’s a shot you don’t usually manage to get while you’re riding the train!

Photo of my train approaching Montreal, by Michael Berry. See link to his Flickr page, below.

The consist for the Ocean was waiting in the station as we arrived at 5:04pm. As I got off the train, I almost forgot one of my two bags – yikes! That would have been unfortunate.

6427 waits with the consist for the Ocean, currently being prepped prior to boarding.

A friend of mine dropped by to hang out for a while before my train, and then before long it was time to check in. I was happy to see that Zach, one of the crew members I’ve gotten to know fairly well, would be the service manager on #14. He gave me a warm welcome as I checked in, and made a reservation for the late (8:30pm) dinner sitting.

Additions to the VIA sign inside Montreal's Central station celebrate Canada's 150th and Montreal's 375th. I didn't even notice as I took this photo, but there's appropriately an add for The Canadian on the screen below. 

As I headed down the stairs to board #14, the train that awaited me looked an awful lot like the one I had left in Vancouver. The Ocean was once again running with stainless steel HEP equipment, and had a very similar consist to what I had ridden on the way up over a week ago. Despite looking a lot like the Canadian, with mostly identical equipment and a similar length consist, the Ocean still felt like a fundamentally different beast.

Boarding the final leg of the trip - back on The Ocean, and back in Macdonald Manor. Thanks to Tara, another VIA attendant who happens to be an able photographer in a pinch.

My attendant, Tara, was another familiar face – I’ve been on a few trips with her before. She’s originally from Antigonish, where I lived for four years while attending St. FX.

Amazingly, my new room assignment was in Car 36, Room B. This would put me back in the exact same sleeper that I started my trip on over a week ago, just in a different room! This time I would be in a forward facing bedroom, which was nice for the variety. It felt pretty similar, just with everything swapped around. I had neighbours in the adjacent room this time, and really noticed how poor the soundproofing is between rooms, thanks to the folding walls that allow the rooms to be combined into suites.

The consist for this trip was almost unchanged from the way up, just with different locomotives and a new baggage car.

VIA 14 – April 21, 2017
8612 Baggage (ex-CP)
8139 Coach (Deadhead, blocked with end gate)
8140 Coach
8138 Coach
8505 Skyline
8407 Emerald – Diner*
8211 Chateau Lasalle (34)
8202 Chateau Bienville (35)
8334 Macdonald Manor* (36) - Room B
8303 Amherst Manor* (37)
8312 Butler Manor* (38)
8208 Chateau Dollier (39)
Tremblant Park* (40)

*Indicates refurbished cars. Line numbers in brackets.

Lots of bedrooms were occupied, and cars 36, 37, 38 and 39 all clearly had passengers in them. 34 and 35 did have line numbers, but it didn’t look like there was anyone in them. There were pillows out on some of the berths as well, though it wasn’t clear if they would be occupied.

We departed at 6:59pm, one minute early, exactly as the welcome aboard announcement ended. I snagged the front left seat in the Park car dome as we began to roll. After 4 days of having those front seats off limits, it felt like a treat! Unfortunately the lack of dome-window-washing on the Ocean became painfully obvious in contrast to the spotless domes on The Canadian. As we snaked out of Montreal, it was strange to see a different train ahead, after getting so used to that same one for several days!

Snaking out of Montreal towards the Victoria Bridge, under the old catenary supports. With only a single Skyline and all of the sleepers marshalled behind the diner, the Ocean looked markedly different from the Canadian that I spent 4 days behind, even with the same equipment.

The Montreal skyline - and Costco. 

We met the Amtrak Adirondack as it came off the Victoria Bridge. That’s the first time I had seen that, but given the current schedule, it should be a reasonably frequent occurrence.

The Amtrak Adirondack approaches, as we sway through the crossovers.

Amtrak's Adirondack heads in to its final destination of Montreal.

The dome lights were switched off as we came across the bridge. In addition to the noticeably dirtier windows, it was striking to see just how different these refurbished original-layout Park cars are from the Prestige rebuilds. There were little things that I didn’t previously notice, like the more subdued lighting in the lounge, that just make those cars feel more refined and more relaxing. The classic Parks are great, but suddenly the lights in the lounge felt overly bright and harsh as the evening wore on.

We met a freight at St-Lambert. We made two station stops, and were away by about 7:20pm.

Freight meet at St-Lambert. The dirty dome windows were really noticeable after the spotless ones on #1.

I got chatting briefly with a couple from River John, NS, who had flown up to visit family in Ontario. They had decided to cancel their plans to fly back and take the train instead, because the husband had horrible ear pain on the flight up (boy, do I know that feeling…). This was their first time on the train, and they seemed excited about it.

I enjoyed yet another cup of Sloane Rouge Provence tea as I watched the light fade from the sky. I must have drank my weight in this stuff over the past week!

Signal lights on the roof, as we approach Mt. St-Hilaire.

An empty dome. While it was quiet in the evening, it wasn't generally this empty. I took this shot strategically as some people left for supper, and before another couple arrived.

St-Hyacinthe at 7:55, Dep. at 7:58. It was getting dark by then, and the foreboding skies killed any hope of a sunset. We went into a siding for a meet not long after that, and waited for a freight and then a VIA train before we would get moving again at 8:28pm, just as the second supper call was made.

Supper was…interesting. The dining car crew were lovely, as always – Breagh and Ocean-Leigh were among that group, and it was nice to see more familiar faces. I was seated at a table on my own, which was quite the contrast from the days on The Canadian. Despite the equipment being exactly the same, the atmosphere was different. It was quieter and less bustling, the table cloths and place settings were different – just a much more low key kind of environment in every way. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it felt strange.

The food itself was a pretty big disappointment. The chowder and dessert (a raspberry cake) were good as always, but the main course (a stuffed chicken breast) was exceptionally lackluster. The asparagus was overcooked, the potato was bland and dry, and the chicken was just sort of okay. This was largely thanks to the fact that the meals on here were once again the Renaissance catered meals re-heated, rather than food cooked on board (despite the presence of a real diner). Those meals can be great, but the quality out of Montreal is often really lacking.

Menu on #14. Standard Renaissance options, despite the full HEP diner.

Seafood chowder - the one highlight of this meal. 

"Lackluster stuffed chicken breast, with bland, dry potato, overcooked asparagus, and vaguely palatable gravy." - Somehow, I don't think that description would have sold it, even though it's more accurate. At least the wine was good.

Raspberry Cake - perfectly nice, though not as good as desserts on The Canadian.

Zach came by and asked how it was, and I said the same as I wrote above. He ended up sitting down and we chatted for a good 45 minutes. He started his VIA career on the Canadian, and worked there for several years before he moved to Halifax to work on the Ocean. He knew Karine when he worked out there, and was happy to hear she was still sticking with it. I told him quite a bit about my trip, and we chatted about all sorts of things before he had to go prepare for the stop at Ste-Foy. I headed back to my room briefly, before planning to hope off for some fresh air.  

During supper, I had also overheard conversation from a group of 3 at an adjacent table. They were all former VIA on-board employees who worked in the Corridor, northern Quebec, and Winnipeg starting in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It sounded like they had quite the careers, and I overheard some really interesting stories.

It was wet and rainy at Ste-Foy, so I stayed on board. As we got back underway, I decided it was time for bed.

So for the last time on this 9-day adventure, I headed off to go to bed on board a train; my 6th night on the move, albeit not consecutively at this point. I hoped that after two nights on solid ground I’d be able to re-adjust to sleeping while rocking and rolling about!

Goodnight from VIA 14!

My bed in Room B of Macdonald Manor, all ready for my last night on the train for this trip.

In the next part, we will move on to the final segment of this adventure, as we finish the trek back to Halifax.


  1. Hi Tim. Thank you very much for your report, it was quite interesting to read. I always wanted to run the "real Canadian" on the CPR but I didn't that before it was cut. Maybe I will however run the Super Continental (or the actual Canadian) one day, who knows. Otherwise, to answer your question about the salad included with the lunch, my guess would be a celeriac (or celery root) salad. This is something that you could find relatively easily in France. Otherwise, on your comment about making up time in the corridor, I would like to remind than with the turbo, or even the LRC in the nineteens, it was possible to make the run between Montreal and Toronto in less than four hours. Now, you will be lucky to make the same run in less than five hours, so, even if it's true that they make a lot more stop during the run there is, I guess, some possibility to make up some times.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! Yes, the original CPR route would have been something amazing to ride, but I think the CN route is still a beautiful trip and worthwhile doing if you have the chance.

      Re: the salad - hmm, you may be on to something. It was really strange - it had a texture that was almost like a noodle, but not. I couldn't identify any clear flavour that gave me any indication of what it was. Perhaps I'll have to track down some celeriac to compare!

      The current Corridor schedule is a real embarrassment. The absolute fastest trip on that run is currently 4h49min. Train 64, which I was on, takes 5h17min. I remember when the express LRC runs were at 3h59min, and they still kept something comparable to that for the first while after the LRCs disappeared. The fact that the best performance they can manage now is an hour longer and they still struggle to stay on time, is just sad. How are we a country where the fastest passenger trains are a thing of decades past, and not now? Are we ever going to actually start *improving* our passenger rail system? That's a question for the politicians who hold the purse strings for VIA...

    2. So back to that little salad - I'm now fairly certain that it was in fact daikon! It sure looks the part, the description fits, and it is typically served in salads in that way.