Thursday 15 March 2018

Riding the rails through a Bomb Cyclone - January 2018 Trip Report

Riding the Rails through a Bomb Cyclone

We’ve all known that feeling at some point: it’s the middle of winter, and you’ve got a trip coming up; maybe a long one, maybe just an hour’s drive. You’re keeping an eye on the forecast, and you realize as the day approaches that a massive weather system is going to hit exactly when you plan to travel…great. Now you start running through your options. Will there be delays? Will you have to cancel (or have it cancelled for you)? Will you miss whatever it was you were travelling for? If you happen to be flying somewhere, there’s a good chance the airline will cancel your flight, and who knows when they might be able to re-book you. Just think of all the fun you’ll have trying to even find out what the new arrangements will be.
This was likely the fear for many people who had travel booked on January 4, 2018…but not for me. Why? Simple: I was taking the train.
VIA has shaped a lot of their winter-time marketing in recent years around the fact that, as a general rule, train travel is far more reliable in harsh winter conditions than any other mode out there. No chance you’ll slide into a ditch, or off a runway, or be unable to safely take off or land. Freezing rain? No problem. Snow drifts? Plow right through. Blowing snow? As long as the crew can see signals, worst case you might slow down a bit.

One of the winter-themed posters at the Halifax station. The slogan doesn't really rhyme or flow that well, but the message is there.
There’s obviously a chance you may be delayed, but odds are pretty good that you’ll get where you’re going.
This January I was making a post-Christmas visit to family in Ontario, after spending Christmas and New Years in Halifax. I had booked on January 4th, as it was a date that happened to work well for my plans and also happened to be the last of the extra trains that VIA was running for the holidays. As in past years, these extras were run with a set of Budd stainless steel equipment. I couldn’t pass that up, now could I?
In the days leading up to the 4th, the forecast became clear that a huge storm was going to hammer the US northeast and make its way across the Gulf of Maine to have a go at the Maritimes too. Gusting winds and precipitation were certain, though how much of that would be rain, snow, or something else remained to be seen. The storm had been dubbed a “bomb cyclone”, due to the way this particular Nor'easter formed - quite the name, and it turned out to be quite the storm.
You know a storm is really something when it has its own Wikipedia page:

The storm, a classic Nor-easter:
Somewhere underneath that swirling band of white is the Maritimes, and me on board VIA 15...
That morning the winds arrived, and the rain followed by the time I made my way to the station. The weather station at the Halifax airport recorded a maximum gust of 122km/h (!). It hadn’t become quite that intense yet, but it was sure starting to pick up. In the long run Halifax would see nothing but those winds and rain during this storm (enough to knock out power to much of the city and do plenty of damage), but as I made my way west I would see every type of precipitation that I think there’s a name for. Flights and ferry crossings were already being cancelled throughout the region, and even Maritime Bus was shutting down. VIA? Departure expected on time.
Arriving at the station, there was a good sized crowd waiting to board in coach, but hardly anyone visible for the sleepers. Similar to my trip in April last year, I soon discovered that there were only a handful of us actually boarding the sleepers in Halifax. We’d pick up quite a few more along the way, particularly in Moncton. It would remain a quiet enough train, but not empty by any means. A musician was performing in the station – more on her later.
I decided, for a change, to wait for a while in the sleeper lounge in the station. I’m not sure that many people know this exists – it is in the hallway on the way to the Westin, and unlike the Panorama lounges in Montreal and Toronto, it’s not actively advertised to sleeper passengers. It’s a nice little room, with complimentary coffee, tea and cold drinks, and nice chairs and couches to relax in. It’s a bit odd though, because it really feels separated from the hustle and bustle of the station (which I suppose is what many folks may want!)
Waiting to board at the Halifax station.
When the boarding call came I checked in, opted for the first sitting for lunch, and headed out onto the platform in the blustery wind, trying to not to get soaked on the short walk to my sleeper. The wind was visibly rocking the cars back and forth, and you could really feel it on board too!
VIA 15 at the Halifax station, ready for boarding. You can see it's wet (thankfully I didn't have far to go to my sleeper!), but the photo can't do justice to the howling wind.
This year’s consist was slightly different from last Christmas, and a bit more similar to the substitution last spring. Instead of the usual all-Chateau lineup, there was a mix of Chateau and Manor sleepers. The diner was an unusual one – non-refurbished “Kent” – so aside from the refurbished Manors, there were no other refurbed cars in the consist (though note that two of the Chateaus, as noted, had refurbished bedrooms).

VIA 15 – January 4, 2018
8619 Baggage (ex-UP)
8103 HEP1 Coach (ex-CP)
8139 HEP1 Coach (ex-US)
8118 HEP1 Coach (ex-CP)
8130 HEP1 Coach (ex-US)
8506 Skyline (non-refurbished)
Kent Diner (non-refurbished)
Chateau Lasalle (32)
Chateau Brule (33)
Chateau Latour (34) *Refurbished bedrooms
Château Levis (35) *Refurbished bedrooms
Bell Manor (36)
Craig Manor (37)
Tweedsmuir Park (40)
The line numbering, as noted, was a bit wonky this year. Typically the cars are numbered with the Park as 40 and the other cars numbered from 39 at the rear, moving forward (on Ren sets, the first sleeper is numbered 30). I never got an explanation for why it was such a variation from the typical numbering.

I had suspected there was a chance we might get Manors again, so after I booked I went to the station and asked a ticket agent if there were any Manors showing up in the consist. After a quick look, he informed me that there were indeed, and I asked to be moved to Roomette 3 in one of them (this would ultimately be Bell Manor).
After travelling in them cross-country last year, I have fallen in love with Manor sleepers. Sure, there are lots of things I love about the Chateaus (a Chateau Drawing Room is impossible to beat, and the duplex roomettes are neat), but with their relatively recent refurbishment and nicer roomettes, the Manors are great cars to ride in.
Name plate in Bell Manor.
As anyone who followed my cross-Canada report may recall, I was in Roomette 3 in Brock Manor from Toronto to Vancouver. This trip felt a bit like Deja-vu, as everything about the room felt just like it had last year – the only real difference was the very different scenery out the window! The room was quiet, with no rattles, and everything worked very nicely.
Roomette 3 in Bell Manor

Roomette 3 in Bell Manor. Have a look at my Canadian on board tour post for more photos of this type of roomette.
We got away more or less on time. We started to move and then stopped for a few minutes – it seems there was a minor HEP issue, which was ultimately resolved in Truro with a momentary shutdown to switch HEP buses in one of the cars. This is the sort of problem that could cripple the Renaissance equipment, but can be easily and quickly remedied with the Budds.

I made my way to the diner as we began to snake our way around through the rock cut on the way out of downtown Halifax. I was seated at a table alone on the right hand side of the train, and enjoyed the views of the choppy water along the Bedford Basin, with a few ships visible taking shelter from the storm.
An Oceanex vessel shelters in the Bedford Basin. The rain pelting down against the train made photos very difficult!
The meal situation on this trip was very much like it was last spring – despite having a Budd consist with a full diner, the meals were still the pre-prepared catered meals that are usually served on the Renaissance equipment. The only exception would be breakfast, which was being cooked fresh. This is a departure from previous Christmas seasons, when the Budd diner had a whole different menu with all meals cooked on board.

Inside Diner "Kent". Note that this is one of the few diners that were not refurbished, so it still has its '90s era sunset-inspired (i.e. pink) interior colours. The teal table cloths are a new addition on the Ocean, as they showed up on the Renaissance sets last summer. I think they add a nice splash of colour and look better than the beige ones that had been used for years.

Looking towards the rear of Kent. The original etched glass partitions, which have been in this car since it was first built for the CPR in the 1950s, look every bit as gorgeous today.
VIA had stripped most of the Christmas decorations by this time, but I found one little remnant of festive décor hiding in the diner!
A lot of people love to disparage the catered meals on the Renaissance equipment. In my experience, most of those people either a) haven’t been on the train in years, b) have strong pre-conceptions that affect their enjoyment of the food, or c) just happen to be unlucky and get some of the occasional duds. Overwhelmingly I have found that the meals in recent years are actually pretty top-notch, and there are many of them that wouldn’t feel out of place alongside those that were cooked by a chef on board. To their credit, VIA has put a lot of effort into improving that food service, because the earlier years of Renaissance food were, admittedly, somewhat hit or miss and at times not that appetizing. This can still be the case out of Montreal (though more on that in part 2…)

Despite not being cooked on board, lunch was stellar. I opted for the smoked meat on rye (which turned out to be a reuben), with potato salad, sauerkraut, and a local Propeller ESB. Followed by an exquisite caramel apple cheesecake square for dessert.

Lunch menu.

Soup to start.
Lunch. As you can see out the window, we were still in the rain - the scenery outside would be all white by the time I finished the meal.

Fully satisfying.

As I enjoyed my lunch, I watched the landscape outside change from rain, to freezing rain, to wet snow or sleet or something, and finally to snow.

While I was enjoying my lunch in the diner, David Morris was trackside and captured two great photos of our train in the freezing rain at Milford. This gives you more of an idea of the sort of weather we started off with. Before long we would arrive in the snow! In this photo I'm cozy inside the diner (the 7th car in the train) enjoying my lunch. (Photo by David Morris)

Here's the going away shot from David. You can't see me, but I'm up in the diner happily enjoying my lunch (Photo by David Morris)
We crossed a few roads around Brookfield that were covered in ice and looked like you could skate on them – not a day to be driving!

By Truro it was properly snowing, though it had been a freezing rain mess earlier. As I alluded to before, a train rider that we had on board hopped off at Truro to deal with the HEP issue, and we were back on our way. A decent sized crowd had boarded here. Sadly, to my dismay, I saw that one whole end of the train mural on the wall at Truro had been removed, with the wall now covered with boring white siding. At least part of it still remained…
The increasingly snowy landscape, as we moved farther north and slowly west.
As we made our way along the Wentworth valley and over Folly, the snow turned heavy with huge flakes coming down. It was really quite beautiful, and left a stunningly picturesque landscape.

The one downside? The dome windows in the Park were covered (on EVERY side) with a buildup of ice and snow, so there was no view to be had. Drat. Oh well – for variety, I decided to relax in the lower bullet lounge instead, and enjoyed the view of the snow-covered landscape through the wrap around tail end windows.
Check out that dome view! I guess you can at least see...up?

Wait, nope...the top windows have become obscured too. Unsurprisingly, the crowd here is small...

Even the back windows are covered! That's more rare...
Now there we go, still one nice view from the tail end!
I had a great chat with a few of the attendants, who had less to do at that time due to the quiet train. They informed me that they were on to strip that train as soon as it arrived in Montreal, and then deadhead back to Halifax on the following departure. I commented that I had heard rumours that the Budd equipment might be staying on to allow a Renaissance set to be withdrawn for work – they assured me that they had been told it was coming off, but later in the trip they would get word that they were no longer to strip the train, as it would in fact be going back into service immediately. More on that in Part 2…

The trip along this stretch was mostly uneventful. We made a stop in Amherst, but bypassed Sackville. As we crossed the Tantramar marshes and paralleled the Trans Canada, I thought again about how much I would not want to be driving on this particular day. The highway looked a mess, and the few vehicles out there were moving slowly.
One of the few brave (?) souls out on the trans-Canada. We were keeping up a much better pace than he was...
Along the way the dome had cleared a tiny bit, so I could get a bit of a view, but not much. I did still spend a while up there though, peering through the icy glass, and relaxing as the light faded and we approached Moncton.
A bit of a view...this was about the best that we had on the last stretch to Moncton.
We arrived in Moncton on time. I stepped off for some fresh air during the station stop, only to be blasted with ice pellets and driving wind. A few minutes was plenty of time to appreciate that, and I headed back on board.
Moncton, with ice pellets blowing around.
We left Moncton still running on time, and now with a much larger crowd on board. When I headed for the second dinner call (around 6:30), the diner was fairly busy. I was seated at a table with one other person, and we were promptly joined by an older couple. As is so often the case, I had some very interesting conversations with the three of them, and continued to be amazed by the variety of backgrounds of people you meet in this environment, and the fascinating stories you hear.

Dinner itself was thoroughly enjoyable. I opted for the classic fish chowder, followed by pan-fired haddock with cream sauce and steamed vegetables. Accompanied by a nice glass of white wine and followed by a sort of black forest cake, it was all lovely.
Supper - pan-fried haddock in cream sauce with steamed vegetables. Really nice, and well cooked.

A sort of black forest cake for dessert.
After dinner I headed back to the Park car, to discover that I had made it just in time for a performance from the musician I had seen in the station – Orit Shimoni: She was travelling as part of VIA’s travelling musicians program, and put on a great little show for the handful of us there in the Park car lounge. Her story is fascinating – she really is the definition of a travelling musician, with no fixed address and touring full time all over the place. She had plenty of great stories, and her performance was really lovely. We all had a great time, and it made it even cozier and more relaxing as the winter winds raged outside. Somewhere not long after that I realized that I recognized someone else in the Park car – it turned out to be someone I know through Transport Action Atlantic. You never know who you'll run into!
Performance in the Park!
We were on time through Miramichi, and by Bathurst we were still pretty close – but that was where the on time performance would start to go downhill. As we rolled into the station lights at Bathurst, the blowing snow and roaring winds made quite the sight, with enormous drifts all around the station. The platform is long enough to accommodate the full train there, so normally we would just make one stop. However, on this particular night they had cleared a path directly out from the station doors and we made three stops – one to load baggage, one to load the coaches, and one to load sleepers. We would make some more interesting stops as we went along; at Charlo, there was no clear platform at all, so we stopped to board one passenger at a nearby grade crossing – which was still difficult!
Blowing and drifting snow at Bathurst. This was just a taste of what the night through the wilds of northern New Brunswick and Quebec would be like!
It was beyond Bathurst that we really started losing time. Snow is generally no physical impediment to the movement of trains, but there can be a visibility issue. The engineers radioed back to let the on board crew know that with the huge drifts across the tracks, they were having trouble with snow build up on the windshields. Basically, when they hit really big drifts, the snow was piling up on the nose and was impossible to clear with the wipers. We had to stop several times for the crew to get out and clear the snow off! To try to avoid this, they advised the on board crew that they’d be running slow. Between that and a few more stops to clear snow, the rest of the run to Campbellton took much longer than usual. We had left Bathurst around 20min late, and arrived at Campbellton about an hour and a half late.

I decided not to get off during the stop in Campbellton, as it was still snowing and blowing a fair bit. Instead, I decided to get ready for bed, and settled into my cozy roomette.
Looking out the window at Campbellton. I was on the side of the train (left) that got the brunt of the precipitation through the night, and got thoroughly iced up!
I slept well, but during the sporadic times I woke up I did notice that we had stopped a number of times. As I would learn the next morning, not only had the engineers had to stop many more times to clear snow – they also had to chisel ice buildup off the headlights! When I finally got up, I rolled up the shade to look outside, and…well…I couldn’t really see much of anything. The window was quite thoroughly iced over!
Morning view!
As I headed up to the diner for breakfast, I realized from looking outside that we weren’t anywhere I immediately recognized…as it turned out, we were somewhere between La Pocatière and Montmagny. When we arrived at Montmagny shortly after I finished breakfast we would make a crew change, and were running a full 3.5h late.
Hmm...I don't recognize this place... of the only times I've ever seen this in daylight!
 I thoroughly enjoyed both lunch and dinner the day before, but breakfast was definitely the highlight, as expected. There was a choice of either eggs any style with sausage or bacon, potatoes, and toast, or French toast with bacon or sausage; both options were cooked fresh in the kitchen. I was really torn on which one to go with, as I had found both to be really excellent last year. After some consternation, I opted for the eggs.
Breakfast menu.

Breakfast menu.

Breakfast, take 1.
The diner wasn’t fully packed, but it was busy enough throughout the morning. After breakfast, I headed back to my room to clean up and go for a shower, then headed back to the Park car to enjoy this stretch of the line that is rarely seen in daylight. There were several people in the dome, and the ice and snow had now cleared enough that we had a good view (when the snow wasn’t blowing around the train!) It was a beautiful sunny morning, and the wintery landscape was breathtaking – especially after the complete and utter absence of snow that we’ve had in Halifax this winter!
A gorgeous morning view from the dome.

There was still some ice on the dome in the morning, but a smaller amount that allowed for some creative photos, rather than a totally obstructed view.
The most impressive sight though was the train itself – the entire left side of the train was encased in a thick layer of ice, filling the grooves between the Budd fluting, coating the windows, and covering every space under the cars. The locomotives way up front just looked white, with all the ice cover on them. The right side of the train was well covered too, but the left had clearly hit the greater brunt of the winds as we headed generally west through the night.
Our train in the morning...thoroughly coated in ice!
The approach to Joffre yard was neat to see in the mid-morning daylight, and there was plenty going on in the yard. As we crossed the bridge to Ste-Foy, there was an icebreaker and a ship making their way through the slushy ice covering the surface of the St. Lawrence.
Approaching Joffre.

CN/Ultramar tank train at Joffre.

A C40-8M pulls out between strings of cars in Joffre. Unfortunately he didn't start soon enough to get clear of that pole!

Yep...that is our train. I swear, the locomotives are still under there somewhere!

A CN ex-GECX Tier 4 demo unit.

Icy geeps at Joffre.

Taking the wye at Joffre to head across the bridge to Ste-Foy.
At Ste-Foy I knew I needed to get off to grab some photos of our frozen train, as it would be my only good chance. I headed up to the coaches to get off at the first stop so I’d be up near the front to get the locomotives. Stepping off I was immediately hit by the brutal cold. It looked nice out, but it was beyond frigid…it was around -200C, with a windchill pushing below -30! My hands started to hurt after just a few seconds of having them out of my gloves so I could grab a photo or two on my phone. Fortunately, my actual camera could be operated with gloves on!

The sight up front was incredible. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Just keep in mind that this was the LESS iced up side of the train!
Icy front end - one ditch light is busted, and there's ice and snow in every crevice. Remember that the front of this loco got cleaned several times through the night too!

The keen eye will note that there's something wrong here - the inside wiper should not be in that position. The wipers on each windshield are internally linked, so for one to end up fouling the other like this means that the linkage got broken at some point!

Even more ice at the back end and between the locos! Remember, this is the *less* iced up side of the train.

The second loco, nicely chilled.
Back of the first loco.

...and more ice...

Rear end ice.

Icy, icy, icy...
The few brave souls who stepped off for fresh (and frigid) air.

The crowd cleared out quickly. I think this photo actually captures the bitter cold feeling pretty well.
Looking ahead down the track at Ste-Foy. A transfer van is on the back of a cut of freight cars. VIA trains bound for Quebec City continue this way.
Despite the cold, I decided to wait on the platform with one of the attendants as the train moved forward to make its second stop, rather than getting back on right away. This gave me a chance to photograph the tail end as well.
The tail end of our icy streamliner.
The Park Car attendant clears the snow out of the steps.
This is a common sight in the winter on the Budd equipment - snow builds up inside the vestibules at the end of each car, as the step traps don't have a perfect seal. It wasn't as bad on this trip as the snow was heavy and icy - light powdery stuff usually makes its way in more easily.
Finally it was just too much, and I got back on. As I warmed up inside, I expected we’d be on our way in a few minutes. Yet we continued to wait. Soon I found out from the crew that apparently someone had forgotten to actually call in the new locomotive crew for us! So they were just on their way, and it would be more than another half hour before we would be on our way. This seems like a bizarre oversight, but I suspect it had to do with this being the last extra departure of the Ocean for the holidays. There isn’t usually a train on a Friday morning, so clearly someone missed the memo that there would be this day.
During the wait at Ste-Foy, this CN employee was out clearing snow from switches with a blower of some sort. Note the snow brooms mounted at each switch stand.

View from the back of the Park dome as we back across the bridge over the St. Lawrence.

The CCGS Amundsen, doing what it does best.

There were lots of interesting sights at Joffre, but perhaps the most interesting was this series of bridge spans.

Quite a few of these bridge spans were mounted on flat cars.
Clearly, the cars cannot couple together with these spans in place - presumably to transport them, they would need to insert idler cars in between.

Our icy train makes its way out of Joffre yard.

A trackmobile shoving an impressive string of cars at the west end of Joffre.

Here's a look at the ice build-up on top of the train. Those are deep grooves in the stainless steel fluting, and they're filled right up...
Back underway, now running over 4h late, it was nice to finally be back up to a good running speed as we made our way towards Drummondville. Back in the Park car dome, I got chatting with some other passengers on board. Despite the delay, everyone seemed to recognize that it was quite the feat that we had made it this far right through the middle of this storm. There was a mother and son on board who were headed for Ottawa to see a hockey game that evening. They had been booked to fly, but after Air Canada notified them that their flight would be cancelled and likely rescheduled to Saturday or Sunday, they decided to buy a last minute train ticket instead. As far as I know, they made it to the game on time. They weren’t the only ones that had flights cancelled and booked on the train instead.

The trip through Drummondville was pretty quick. We tripped a defect detector shortly before there (hardly surprising, given all the ice buildup under the train!), but were on our way quickly. The run to Ste-Hyacinthe was also smooth.
One of the engineers checks the train after we tripped a detector.

CN crews clear switches at Montbec (by St-Hyacinthe). I have a huge amount of respect for all of the people out working in this kind of miserable weather.

The station at St-Hyacinthe, looking a lot like our train.
Somewhere in there we got the notice that due to the lengthy delay, VIA would be serving “second breakfast” as a substitute for lunch. Anyone interested was welcome to come back to the diner. Just before Drummondville I headed up there, and ordered the French toast…so in the long run, I got to enjoy the best of both!
Second breakfast (or I guess you could call it lunch...)
As we made our way it was clear that we had all missed early connections – in my case, to VIA 35 for Ottawa. I was informed that instead I would be on 635, the next departure to Ottawa, and it looked like we’d make that without issue.

Unfortunately on the last stretch the delays continued to pile up. Just before St-Hilaire we met CN 120 and VIA 24. Then there must have been issues with crossing signal malfunctions, because on the last stretch in towards St-Lambert we had to stop and flag every grade crossing. There were lots of CN crews out at these crossings, as well as all over the place clearing switches and the like.
CN 120 blows by us, ultimately bound for Halifax.

Containers blowing up snow.

VIA 24, with a wrapped P42 leading.

Much of the time our train blew up so much snow you couldn't see it ahead! Here, it is only partially surrounded by snow.

CN crews at a crossing, checking for malfunctions. We stopped and flagged every crossing for a good stretch.
We also got stopped for another signal, and finally made it to St-Lambert at 2:36pm. At this point it seemed very unlikely that we’d actually make that connection to 635, as it was scheduled to leave at 3:00pm. As we rolled across the bridge to Montreal, we met CN 528 with NS and UP power on the head end, and on the other side the view of the city across the frozen and misty river was quite something.
More red lights...admittedly, we were already moving and past these, but it still sums up how the last part of this trip felt!

More CN crews out and working at Lemoyne.

A pair of CN units running light, with a likely very frozen crew member on the rear.

CN 528 with an NS leader meets us as we head across the Victoria bridge, just minutes from our Montreal arrival.

A UP unit trailing on CN 528.

The Montreal skyline across the frozen and misty St. Lawrence.

Snaking our way through the tight curves leading to Montreal's Central Station.

An AMT ALP45DP, also looking frosty, through the still iced-up window of my roomette.
We rolled into the station in Montreal at 2:51pm – just shy of 5 hours late. Here’s the arrival/departure status display from VIA’s system, showing how the whole trip went. This information is pretty well accurate, and gives a good breakdown of where exactly we lost time.

So getting off #15 in Montreal, 635 was due to leave in just over 8 minutes. Would we make it? It wasn’t cross-platform, so we had to go upstairs. Arriving in the station itself we were promptly directed down to the next platform, and rushed on to 635. We departed at 3:04pm….! Yep, in just barely 15 minutes they got all of us transferred, and even more impressively, they transferred our checked baggage…because it made it to Ottawa with us! Kudos to everyone at VIA who made that happen.
As compensation for our delay and missed connection (and perhaps because it helped fit us in on an otherwise busy train), VIA upgraded us all to Business class. I was already booked in Business for that segment, so it wasn’t really an upgrade. I also lost the seat assignment that I had carefully picked. But in any case, I was on that train, and would make it to Ottawa only about 2.5h later than my originally scheduled time.

The ride on 635 was pretty uneventful. I was in an LRC club, which was really rough riding, but the trip was still comfortable, the food was alright, and we made decent time into Ottawa – arriving at 5:01pm (3min late). After a rather eventful trip, I arrived safe and sound, relaxed, well fed, and comfortable. All in all another excellent train trip.

Business Class on 635 - the "light" meal on this afternoon train.

Looking between cars on 635, from LRC Club 3469. As you can see, the snow build-up happens between cars on the LRCs too! The Renaissance cars with their sealed vestibules and external steps are the only VIA cars immune to this issue.

Inside the station in Ottawa, still looking festive.
This trip was a really good demonstration of why the train is such an excellent way to travel at this time of year. Every other form of transportation was shut down in the Maritimes – planes, ferries and buses were cancelled, and the roads were virtually impassable for cars. Yet the train ran, and we made it to Montreal – 5h delay? Hardly a big deal when you consider what we went through. While getting there, I had a warm cozy bed, a hot shower in the morning, great meals, an unending supply of tea and coffee, good company, and great views. Many people in the Maritimes didn’t have those luxuries that day, as the storm knocked out power to thousands of people. So really, the train was probably the best place that one could be!

Over the following week I rode four more VIA trains to make a side-trip to Kitchener, and also had the chance to ride some buses and the O-Train. I’ll talk a bit about those at the start of my return trip blog post, which will follow soon. My return would, by fortuitous coincidence, end up being on the Budd stainless steel equipment once again. My train luck these days is really quite something! Stay tuned…


  1. Very impressive performance by VIA to get you to Montreal and beyond! A true testament to the people who work hard in all weather to keep the trains moving.

    Great photos and great narrative, Tim!

    1. Thanks Steve, and completely agreed! I was incredibly impressed with everyone at VIA on this trip (well, maybe apart from whoever forgot to call in the new crew at Ste-Foy!). I was also impressed, as noted, to see all of the CN employees out clearing switches, working in the yard, etc. - it is always amazing that the railways just keep running through whatever mother nature may throw at them.

  2. Extremely interesting with great pictures - If you want to meet interesting people take the train - It always get you there even if late once in a while.

    1. Thanks Richard! It really is a great way to meet interesting people, and part of what I love about it is that every single trip is different, thanks to the new variety of people every time.

    2. As a South African railroad pensioner, I found Tim's report very interesting especially as we don't have such severe Winter weather. Thanks Tim - much appreciated!

  3. Interesting read, I'm currently on board ICE 1009 between Erfurt and Nuremberg with some running at 296kph. But standing in the vestibule is not as comfortable as I am sure that roulette was!

  4. it was cool to see ow the locomotives weres o iced over and the skyline car and park car were covered in ice and snow. great blog

  5. Fascinating and well-written travelogue! Love the photos! It shows how passenger trains are still important even in an era of freeways and jetliners!

  6. Tim -

    Another great train story. Any idea when you'll have time to tell us of the return trip?

    Curious mind(s) want to know :-)


    1. Thanks John. I guess I should get to that, shouldn't I? :-) I had planned to have the second part up within a couple of weeks, but here we are a month and a half later; time flies, eh? Let's see what I can get to in the next week or so...

    2. Tim -

      No major rush; it's just that you write such a decent travelogue. You related to Bill Coo, perhaps? :-)


      PS. Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana

    3. Why thank you John, you're too kind :-) As you may have already noticed, Part 2 is now up and live. I hope it was worth the wait!