Tuesday 8 May 2018

January 2018 Trip Part 2 - A frozen Ontario and a flooded New Brunswick

After my dramatic trip to Ontario through the bomb cyclone, the rest of my travels went pretty smoothly. Ottawa was, of course, still brutally cold - the first part of the week I was there was the last part of the extreme cold snap they had experienced through Christmas time and into January. In stark contrast to what I had left in Halifax, there was a hefty amount of snow everywhere, and I would see more during that week. However, things would shift towards the end of my visit, with the temperatures rising and rain arriving.

Shortly after arriving in Ottawa I headed off on a side trip to Kitchener to visit my brother. While there are loads of VIA options between Ottawa and Toronto (more than ever, really), VIA service on the north mainline is severely lacking. There is a Toronto-Kitchener trip in the late morning, but none of the Ottawa trains arrive early enough to make that connection – so instead, the only option would get me there by after 7pm, which would effectively waste the whole Saturday. So instead I planned to take #641 from Ottawa (which leaves at 6:40am…I keep thinking they should adjust that to 6:41 just for a laugh), and then connect on #73 to Woodstock, where my brother would come and pick me up. Ultimately this got modified a bit, and I ended up only going as far as Oakville on 73 and getting a ride from there. The result was that I was in Kitchener by early afternoon instead of early evening.

The ride was smooth and fairly uneventful. For 641 I was in Economy class in an LRC coach with the refurbished original seats, set up in the 50/50 forward-rear arrangement (all of them have been reconfigured this way to accommodate the few trains being run in push-pull mode). I had a forward facing seat, and the car was quite full by Fallowfield. I was in fact surprised to see just how many people boarded in Ottawa – this early morning train seems to be quite popular! There was a bit of drama in the seats across the aisle, as two passengers had tickets for the same seat. They did in fact have tickets for the same train, the same car, and the same seat – however, it would ultimately turn out that one person had a ticket for the wrong date! He got moved to the end of the car but didn’t get turfed, so they must have figured something out.
Early morning light as we speed toward Smiths Falls.

Snack service started past Fallowfield, and I decided to try out one of the new Economy options – the “breakfast box”. Along with a coffee, this was really quite decent.

VIA's "Breakfast box" - inside was a banana muffin, cheddar cheese, Greek yogurt, and sliced apples. The packaging on some of this seemed excessive (especially the bagged apple slices), but it was all quite good.

Still gloomy skies as we round the corner into Brockville station.

We had a bit of a delay around Smiths Falls and past Brockville, so ultimatetly we arrived ~45min late.
A rarity, and soon to be no more - CP's Expressway service (CP 133) on the parallel CP line, as we zipped past.

Our train would become #73, so those of us with connections were allowed to stay on board. In my case I had a seat assignment in another car so I had to move; however, we all had to wait while the cleaning crew came on and hastily collected garbage and vacuumed. I was impressed with how quickly they did their work!

For the final short segment of the trip I was in a refurbished LRC with the new seats. While I still don’t find these as comfortable as the old ones, I was really struck again by just how much nicer the new layout is – more spacious, better tray tables, and an all-around more modern look.

A couple of days later I made my way back to Ottawa, this time by public transit all the way from door to door. My brother was off to work on the Monday morning, so rather than get an early ride to the station I opted to catch the bus. This also gave me a chance to try out a little bit of Kitchener’s transit system (the second time I had, actually), and I was quite impressed. There had been a heavier than expected snowfall overnight, so the roads were buried under an impressive layer of snow. The cars struggling to make their way through the deep, slippery white stuff provided plenty of entertainment as I waited for the bus, which arrived on time despite the road conditions. I got to the station with no issues, and discovered a fantastic little cafĂ© by the station where I could kill time until the train arrived.
First part of my ride - Grand River Transit 21708, a New Flyer XD40LF. It handled the snowy morning without any issues.

This might just be one of my new favourite cafes - Smile Tiger Coffee in Kitchener, a great location, lovely atmosphere, and great coffee.

GEXR locomotives parked by the Kitchener station.

A visitor from another line - this Quebec Gatineau locomotive is on borrowed hours with GWI-sister road Goderich and Exeter.

Emerging from the snow, our train arrives!

Icy LRCs.

Passengers wait to board. The station staff had cleared paths through the fresh snow.

One of the ubiquitous Canada 150-wrapped LRCs. Canada 150 had come to an end, and these cars would soon be modified to mark VIA's 40th anniversary; it just hadn't happened yet. Over this week I would be in three of those four places.

An LRC won't get you to Matapedia or Moncton, but this one might just take you to Ottawa.

On the way back I took trains 84 and 644 (deliberately choosing a slightly later train to allow a layover so I could meet up with someone in Toronto). There isn’t a whole lot to say about the ride on either one – I was in LRCs again on both segments, both times in cars with the old seats, and sitting backwards on 644. We did end up with some delay, ultimately arriving in Ottawa around 50min late.
Ah, Union Station. The main hall is looking great, but the VIA concourse below is still a mess.
Along the way I was informed that I wouldn’t be able to get a ride from the station in Ottawa (previous commitments that were overlooked in the plans), so I would be hopping on a bus to make my way to Tunney’s Pasture. The bus ride (in a New Flyer D60LF) was easy enough, but the bus got thoroughly packed by the time we made it through downtown, and the ride seemed to last far longer than it should. This experience really reiterated how excited I am for the Confederation Line LRT to open later this year, as it will make that trip faster, smoother, and far more comfortable!

I was back in Ottawa for the week, and had the opportunity while there to ride back and forth on the O-Train Trillium line, as well as finally catching a ride on one of the Alexander Dennis Enviro500 double-deck buses. What a cool way to ride around the city! The view from up top over the driver is pretty impressive, and I found the ride comfortable and smooth.
O-Train Trillium Line - Alstom Coradia LINT at Bayview station, the soon-to-be transfer point with the new Confederation Line. I do like these DMUs, particularly the seats, which are superior to the ones in the old Talents. Still, I miss the Talent's smoother acceleration and large clear glass door behind the operator.

View from the upper level on an Enviro500

OC Transpo Alexander Dennis-built Enviro 500, #8049, at Greenboro. This was unfortunately the best photo I could grab before the bus headed off.

As the week passed along, I kept a close eye on the equipment showing in Reservia for the upcoming Ocean departures. When I got off the train the week before I had been informed that the HEP/Budd set would be staying on the Ocean for at least the next trip, and perhaps for a while beyond that, so I was curious to see if my return might get the equipment substitution. This substitution seemed to be solidified a few days later, when the Renaissance set that was meant to stay in rotation had a complete electrical failure leaving Halifax, forcing the cancellation of a train (with passengers bussed or re-scheduled), and a deadhead of the equipment to Montreal.

The Renaissance equipment has always had issues in the winter, as it was never built to operate in harsh Canadian winter conditions. This winter was a difficult one for VIA across the board, with brutally cold temperatures causing problems all across the system – slowing down Corridor operations, causing extensive delays on the Ocean, and even stranding the Canadian in Saskatchewan at Christmas. The Ocean’s Renaissance equipment struggled, with multiple hour delays, electrical failures, and non-functioning toilets and doors. With the holiday season over and the Ocean back down to just two sets of equipment, VIA made the call to run only one Ren set (reduced to as short as feasible, with 3 coaches and 4 sleepers) and keep the HEP equipment on for a while longer. This would ultimately turn into a full 3 month substitution, as it was into April before the train would return to its usual all-Renaissance configuration.

Anyone who knows me (or who has followed this blog) knows of my preference for the HEP equipment, so it goes without saying that I was pretty excited when I got the call from VIA to inform me that the equipment for my return trip had changed (of course I already knew this before they called, as I had been keeping an eye on things online). Just like on my cross-Canada trip last year, since I was booked in a Renaissance bedroom (Cabin for 2), I was moved to a Cabin for 2 in the Budd equipment as well at no extra charge (normally the Budd rooms have a steep single occupancy surcharge). I specifically requested to be in bedroom B, which in a Chateau is forward facing and has solid walls on both sides, as it isn’t set up to allow conversion to a suite – in theory, this should give slightly better soundproofing. It turned out the train would have only Chateaus this time, and a bedroom B was still available.

As the day of my return trip arrived, I was dismayed to realize that I had come down with a proper head cold - not a fun thing to travel with! Fortunately I had no seat-mate on my trip from Ottawa to Montreal on VIA 26, in yet another trip in an LRC coach with the refurbished original seats. The trip was smooth, despite my discomfort, and we made good time to Montreal (12min late). While that Corridor trip wasn’t that much fun with a cold, I would soon realize just how great a proper long-distance train can be, if you really must travel while under the weather.

New high-level platform at Ottawa station, almost ready to enter service. This is part of a fairly extensive renovation of the platforms at Ottawa station, which will ultimately facilitate easier and more comfortable boarding.

VIA 26 at Ottawa, accepting passengers.

On board VIA 26 and ready to depart Ottawa under dreary, rainy skies. A Toronto-bound train waits on the adjacent track.
Checking in for the train in Montreal, the SM commented that we had a shorter train today, the consist having been reduced to just 10 cars. This was indeed the case, and the consist was as follows:
VIA 14 – January 12, 2018
64XX (neglected to get this number)
8619 (ex-UP baggage)
8103 HEP1 Coach (ex-CP)
8139 HEP1 Coach (ex-US)
8506 Skyline (non-refurbished)
Diner Kent (non-refurbished)
Chateau Lasalle (32) (Room B)
Chateau Brule (33)
Chateau Latour (34)
Chateau Levis (35)
Tweedsmuir Park (40)

The familiar destination board in Montreal.

VIA 14, in all its silver splendour, awaits.
I boarded the train and got settled into my room, and made my way for supper not long after departure. Once again, the usual Renaissance catered meals were being served in the Budd diner. However, this was one example where you really wouldn’t know if someone didn’t tell you. I had the beer-braised short ribs (after the usual always-excellent fish chowder), and it was honestly fantastic – no complaints at all!


Inside the menu.

Fish chowder to start...

...some sort of Black Forest cake to finish...
...and the main course - delightful!

After supper I fetched some tea from the Park car, and went back to relax in my room for a while. I did step out at Ste-Foy for some fresh air (not nearly as cold as the week before!), and then headed to bed.

Our train at Ste-Foy - cool, but like a completely different season from a week earlier.
I never find it easy to sleep when I have a cold, but I was ultimately able to get comfortable and dozed away through the night. 
Night-time setup in bedroom B, Chateau Lasalle. The upper bunk is still stowed away, as I don't need it.

Comfy lower bunk in room B, with convenient reading light and little shelves and pockets to stow things. The keen eyed will note that this was taken the following day in daylight.

Sink and vanity in the bedroom. The door to the toilet is to the left. The blue cover below flips up over the sink when not in use.

Storage for carry-on bags and other items, up above the vanity. The toilet door is just left of the mirror, and the door to the hallway is to the left of that. There is also a small closet by the door.
The next morning I had set an alarm, and woke up as we made our way along the Matapedia valley. Still feeling under the weather, I continued to snooze until around the last call for breakfast.

Morning view through the Matapedia valley.
Breakfast - French toast, just like on the way up. Never a disappointment.

Mid-morning view from bed - crossing the Miramichi River.
Just like the way up, breakfast was a highlight of the meals on the trip, and definitely helped get the day off to a good start. But still feeling lousy, I ended up back in bed before long to just relax and nap on and off. With my own private room I was able to be as anti-social as I felt, and the next time I emerged was to take a shower and ultimately go for lunch.

Lunch - chicken pesto sandwick with potato salad. Really quite good.

Dessert - like the way up, this was excellent.
Over lunch we were making our way between Miramichi and Rogersville. In stark contrast to the week before, it was relatively warm and raining, and the snow had all but disappeared. The obvious consequence of this was widespread flooding (not as extensive as the most recent floods, but it did result in evacuations and states of emergency in several areas of New Brunswick). Some of the scenes from the train were shocking, with raging torrents and nearly washed out roads! We even had to stop a couple of times where there was water right up to the rails. Ultimately we made it through, but with some delay.
You don't have to be familiar with this location to know that the water shouldn't be there. Check out the whirlpool on the left!

Water right up along the tracks. Normally there's just a small flow in the ditch.

Washout waiting to happen - this is along NB Route 26 past Rogersville.

We arrived in Moncton close to an hour and a half late.

My sleeper, Lasalle, with attendant Joanne.

Reflecting on the Park car - always a hard shot to pass up.

Almost all closed and secured. I guess I better get back on board!

Beyond Moncton we got stopped at Painsec to meet CN 407. As it turned out, we also had to wait for a meet with the local job returning to Moncton, with what looked like a wildly overpowered train!

CN 407. The fifth unit is a yard unit (from either Halifax, Dartmouth or Truro) headed to Moncton for servicing.

The very short local turn. Gotta love that Casco hopper!

Due to these meets we ended up closer to 2h behind schedule, but would ultimately make that back up again over the rest of the trip.

The remainder of the trip was really quite uneventful. I split my time between reading in my room and enjoying the views from the Park car.

Not as bad as the way up, but rain and residual ice on top of the train made for lousy forward views - at least in the camera's eye.

A bit of sun across the marsh!

Curving around the marshes as we re-enter Nova Scotia.

A somewhat blurry photo of the daytime setup in the bedroom, with the beds stowed away and the chairs unfolded. It's a comfy setup, though the upholstery (last refurbished in the late '90s) is showing signs of age, and could certainly do with an update.
A little bit of sun broke through the rain, and we got a fantastic bit of sunset as we made our way over Folly Mountain. Finally we arrived in Halifax after dark, at 7:26pm – just over an hour and a half beyond our scheduled 5:51 arrival time.
Sunset towards Truro, shortly after crossing Folly Mountain.

So there you have it, the rest of the January trip. More excellent train travel, and though the return was less “exciting” than the trip up, it was another great reminder of why I love travelling by train, especially on the Ocean.

Until the next time…
Back in Halifax, and the final long walk to the station under the glow of the platform lights.