Thursday 3 August 2017

Cross-Canada Trip 2017 - DAY 9

DAY 9: The Last Day - or - All good things come to an end: the return to Halifax

April 22, 2017. VIA Train #14. Good morning!

Here we are: the final day of the adventure. My alarm went off at 8, but I snoozed until 8:30 and then went to shower. There was no wait for the shower, and no hot water issues in Macdonald Manor this time. It was a dull morning, but it seemed like there may be some promise of sun somewhere along the line. There was lots of snow on the ground in New Brunswick, and we were running about 10 minutes behind schedule.

After putting myself together, I headed down to have breakfast in the diner. Well, that definitely made up for supper! Just like on the trip up the previous week, breakfast was the one item actually being cooked on board. I went for the French toast (eggs any style or continental were also available), and it was exceptional. Steve was cooking on this trip, and while I always miss Gary when he’s not on, Steve definitely knows his way around the kitchen.

Breakfast on #14 - French toast with bacon and potatoes.

On time at Bathurst, with lots of snow on the ground. I took a walk up through the train to record the consist, and observed that the third coach was quite full, the second was maybe a third filled, and the first was deadheading and blocked off with the end gate.

I headed back to the Park for a bit as we slowly rocked along through the forests of New Brunswick. There was a pretty full crowd in the dome, and a few in the bullet lounge. Maybe it was the return to familiarity, but I wasn’t quite feeling the allure of the dome on this morning. I felt more like relaxing and reading in the lounge, so that’s exactly what I did. That stretch between Bathurst and Miramichi can be pretty boring, especially with the current slow orders…

We reached Miramichi just past 11, close to 20 minutes early. There was a slight delay there because one passenger getting off couldn’t find his bag. We were back on the go at 11:24am.

Some roomettes on this trip were occupied by crew, but there were no occupied sections (despite the pillows that I had noted), and otherwise only bedrooms were occupied. As was the case on the trip up, this train had been sold as Renaissance and only switched to HEP at the last minute, which explains why most people just got bumped to bedrooms and nobody really had the opportunity to book the cheaper berths or roomettes.

The first call for lunch came at 11:57am. As usual, I would be going for the second sitting at around 1:30, just after Moncton.

We were still running about 10 minutes early at Moncton, and arrived at 1:17pm. Ted Bartlett, the current president of Transport Action Atlantic, had come to meet me on the platform for a quick chat. He was kind enough to snap a picture of me as well, as seen below.

Next to Macdonald Manor, my trusty ride for both directions on the Ocean, in Moncton NB. Thanks to Ted Bartlett for the photo! 

A shot I can't resist: when there's been plenty of snow melt in the spring, there always seems to be this nice big puddle at just the right place by the platform to get these reflecting shots. 

Despite having arrived early, there was a push to get away from the station as soon as possible. CN 407 (Dartmouth-Moncton) was on its way, and if we left right away we could make it to a siding to meet them. Otherwise we would have to wait in the station track until they arrived, which could be a while.

We backed out of the station at 1:34pm. This is normal for Moncton these days – the west switch is CTC controlled, while the east switch is a manual one. By using the CTC switch they don’t have to get a separate authorization to use the switch, and they don’t need to leave someone on the ground to close the switch after they pass. So back out through that switch onto the mainline, and proceed forward. The westbound train still comes in at the east switch because it can be thrown in advance, and closed while the train is waiting in the station anyway.

In a testament to the volume I’ve written, my second pen died! So it was on to a third – conveniently a different colour from either of the first two (keeping the journal colourful).

I wandered up to the diner at 1:40pm, and discovered the call had been made during the stop in Moncton. As I settled in with the menu, we met 407 at Evans – 4 locomotives and a good sized train. The meet was exceptionally well executed. We never actually stopped, just slowly rolled through the siding as 407, which had been waiting for us, cleared out of the way.

Lunch was good enough. The tomato vegetable soup to start was okay, but nothing special. My first choice (the ham and brie) was unavailable, so I went for the salmon croquettes. The croquettes themselves were pretty good, but the rice was bland and the vegetables suffered from being reheated. Dessert, a “rocky road” brownie, was the one excellent part of the meal. I was seated alone once again, as I had been at breakfast that morning and supper the night before. I was at Table 7 for all three meals, for what it matters. The diner was roughly half full or less for each meal.

Lunch menu on #14.

Salmon croquettes. Decent, but accompanied by bland rice and uninspiring vegetables.

There's that tea I keep raving about...had to get in a bit more before leaving the train!

Dessert on #14. The best part of lunch by a mile.

There was no stop at Sackville, and then we rolled across the border back into Nova Scotia and made a brief stop at Amherst. Nice to be back in the province!

I decided to just sit in my room and read until Truro. I wasn’t really feeling like being social on this leg of the trip, and this demonstrated something I commented on before – the train can really be as social as you want it to be. Today, I was feeling a bit more reserved and low key, so I kept mostly to myself, and just relaxed and read. Perhaps after all the excitement of the cross-Canada trip, I was just happy to keep it low-key on this more familiar train. It’s always a shame not to meet any interesting new people, but it’s also good sometimes to have a bit of time to yourself.

Also playing into that low key feeling was some news that I received during the last bit of the trip – two of my uncles, both on my mom’s side, passed away over the course of the last week. Both had been ill, but I don’t think anyone was expecting to lose either of them just yet, and certainly not so close together. That's never easy news to hear, and it was impossible not to think about and feel heartbroken for my mom and my aunts, as well as the rest of the family.

We departed Truro at 4:16pm, 6 minutes early. I suppose they must have accounted for everyone that had a ticket! We continued to make great time on the final run to Halifax. We stopped briefly next to Grand Lake by the Oakfield Bridge, and I’m not clear why. The stop was only for about a minute, and then we were back on the go.

Snaking around one of the many lakes as we get nearer to Halifax.

Whatever bits of sun had come out were short lived, and the day had returned to overcast gloom with a bit of rain. At least it wasn’t snowing! The Park car crowd had thinned out, and I took to the dome for the last part of the trip. I love that stretch in from Truro to Halifax, especially as we near the city and start to see the assortment of lakes and the slowly emerging civilization, followed by the snaking run along the shores of the Bedford Basin.

We passed through Windsor Jct. at 5:10pm, Bedford at 5:16pm, and Fairview Jct. at 5:24pm.

Yep, we're back in Halifax alright...HMCS Fredericton in the Bedford Basin.

The Halifax Harbour Bridges - the MacKay in the foreground, and the Macdonald behind it - as well as the trio of striped stacks at Tuft's Cove make this an unmistakable location. Less prominent in the photo (and harder to see on such a gloomy day) is the Bedford Institute of Oceanography just to the left of the MacKay bridge. On a normal workday I'm looking out from that side of the basin... 

An unusual switcher: CN 5439, an ex-Oakway SD60, does switching duties at Rockingham. While a pair of GP40-2Ls or similar is more common, these SD60s have popped up here more regularly of late. 

One final forward shot from the Park car dome, as our train curves around the yard in Rockingham, about 20 minutes from arrival in Halifax station.

Finally, we covered the last few miles through the familiar rock cut, as the 10 minute call came for Halifax and the station soon appeared. We arrived at 5:41pm, a full 10 minutes early – pretty darn good for the eastbound train, which tends to struggle more with its on time performance than its westbound counterpart.

I packed my things, bid farewell to the crew, and made the long walk down the platform to the station. Then it was off to catch a bus, and back home once again.

Heading down the platform as the journey comes to an end. 

The ex-CP baggage car that replaced the previous ex-UP car that had been in this consist.

VIA 14, being refuelled as the baggage is unloaded and passengers disembark. A short while later it would back out and turn around on the Halterm container terminal loop, before backing in to prepare for the next day's departure as #15.

I’ll finish this Cross-Country report off with the final excerpt from my journal:

“It’s crazy how fast that all went, and every minute of it was such an incredible experience. Happy Birthday Canada! There’s a way to celebrate 150 J

I’m still in some disbelief that I’ve actually done it – coast to coast on VIA Rail. I can speak from experience about The Canadian, at last!

There are still more trains to ride, and you know I’ll definitely want to get on The Canadian again, but wow…I have lived my #1 railway dream. How crazy is that?

The journey ends, save for a familiar city bus ride home with Halifax Transit. For now, I’ll sign off.


The train that completed the journey, and brought me full circle back to where I began - VIA 14, Halifax NS.


So the Cross-Canada trip report has pretty well come to an end, but there’s still one more piece left to go. I’ll be doing a train tour post to give people a look at exactly what it’s like on board The Canadian. Keep an eye out for that soon!


  1. A very thorough diary of your trip. Thanks very much Tim. I plan to go next year sometime. Although I made the trip twice almost 40 years ago, I will use your experiences in what to expect along the line.

    Barry Brake

    1. Thanks Barry! Glad you enjoyed it.

      I hope you're able to make the trip next year, and that it all goes well. I'm sure many things have changed in the last 40 years, but there are no doubt still lots of familiar elements!

  2. Well, it's September 17 and I finally finished your cross-Canada trip, albeit a little late. Great reports in all cases, Tim! The food, the passing trains, the was all in there. Thanks very much for not only sharing this trip but for also preserving it as your own memories for future enjoyment and reference.

    1. Thanks Eric! I'm glad that you enjoyed it. I set out to be thorough and cover all aspects of the adventure, and I feel pretty good about the way it all came together. It's already been nice to be able to go back and look through it again, even just a handful of months after the trip itself. One thing's for sure - the more I look back, the more I want to go do it again!

  3. Hi Tim.

    I finally had the 5 hours needed to read the whole story which was excellent of course. I have written many stories of my train travels to Vancouver but it is always great to read another person's view of the experience.

    Since 1960, I have taken the trip 8 times - in 1960 by CP to work at the Banff Fairmont hotel for the summer on the CP route. In 1968 on the CN route with my wife to visit her sister in Vancouver, in 1983 by CP with my wife and 2 children, in 1993 on CN to Jasper and then up to Prince Rupert on the Skeena
    and returning from Vancouver. in 2009, we went as far as Edmonton then drove down to Calgary and out to Banff before returning to Edmonton and home.

    In 2012, we did the Vancouver return trip again, stopping in Saskatoon for a one night stay before heading south to Regina for 3 nights then back to Saskatoon for a night before getting back on the train home.

    In 2014, I took my blind friend, Bob, to Vancouver and back - his 'Trip of a Lifetime' In 2015, my wife and I celebrated 50 years of marriage with a trip to Vancouver and Victoria. All Aboard!!

    Peter Payan

    1. Hi Peter,

      Thank you so much for the kind words. I'm glad you made it all the way through and enjoyed it!

      Those all sound like incredible trips. I'm sure many things changed (some minor, some significant) over the years - no doubt a very different trip in 2015 than in the 1960s. Amazing though that this train has continued, albeit with changes in route, schedule, and many little things, for so many years - and with the original passenger equipment, no less. I hope it will continue to roll for just as many years onward!