|Our departing VIA 15 skirts along the shores of the Bedford Basin, making its way out of town on October 5th. Thanks to Darren Stephens for the photo!|
We’re just hitting American Thanksgiving, so it seems an appropriate time to look back at some train travels around the most recent Canadian Thanksgiving, a little over a month ago!
This trip would cover more ground than usual, starting by train in Halifax, going through to Montreal, Toronto, and then Brantford, and also involving a bunch of additional Corridor trains to and from Ottawa, Toronto, and eventually home. There was of course lots of good time with family, and some fun events sprinkled in – but for this blog, I’m just going to focus on the trains (I mean really, that’s why you’re reading, isn’t it?)
Going: Halifax to Brantford
Our trip started from Halifax on October 5, 2022. With two of us travelling, we started from Halifax on the Ocean, train 15. We were in a Renaissance bedroom, room 3 of car 37.
VIA 15 – October 5, 2022
8615 HEP1 Baggage
8212 Château Latour (crew dorm)
8201 Château Argenson
8220 Château Papineau
8112 HEP1 Coach
8126 HEP1 Coach
7600 Renaissance transition car
7227 Ren coach
7309 Ren service car
7402 Ren dining car
7312 Ren service car
79515 Ren Accessible Sleeper (30)
7520 Ren Sleeper (37) *Room 03
7522 Ren Sleeper (38)
7516 Ren Sleeper (39)
70108 Ren Accessible Coach (not in service)
7003 Ren Baggage
*I wasn’t able to confirm the line numbers on the Chateau sleepers, though they would have been 40 and 41, in one order or another (this hasn’t always seemed to be consistent)
The trip from Halifax started smoothly. There were two lunch settings – 1:15, or at 2:45 - and we opted for the second, which was less busy. Reservations were taken at check-in, and boarding started around half an hour before departure.
|Looking out from our train at another icon of transportation - the Queen Mary 2! Cruise traffic has very much returned to Halifax, and the transatlantic crossings on this ship are back up and running as well.|
|In case we weren't sure what train we were on... handy little information guides give passengers some information about the stations along the route. They're also free to keep as a souvenir.|
A note on checked baggage: since being discontinued during 2020, Corridor trains still have no checked baggage service. The Ocean does, and if you have connections onwards in the Corridor, VIA will still allow you to check baggage through to your destination. The baggage receives transfer tags with your subsequent train and car numbers identified, and at Montreal it is transferred on from the Ocean to your next train. In our case, that was trains 67 to Toronto, and then 79 to Brantford. The ticket agent had to make a special tag for Brantford, as I guess not many people have that end destination. Our checked baggage did get transferred successfully to 67 in Montreal, and I was able to identify that it was in the luggage rack of our car (01) when we boarded. That train then becomes 79 at Toronto, so the bag just stayed on board. I kept a close eye on it just to be sure. At Brantford, it was up to us to identify the baggage and take it off the train. Hopefully other passengers realize this, as I’m not sure if the crew are actually checking to make sure that any transfer-tagged baggage is actually dropped off at the appropriate end stations.
Back to the Ocean:
Announcements were made on departure about anticipated delays overnight. Trackwork on the Mont Joli sub was routinely delaying Ocean departures in both directions through August and September, and the delays were slightly improved but still present by October. As a result, only connections to later trains from Montreal were on offer.
By the time of this trip, the mask requirement for VIA trains had been lifted a week earlier. A few passengers and staff were still masked, but the majority were unmasked throughout the trip. I never had any issues with masks, and supported the implementation of mandates throughout the pandemic – but it was nice to have a bit more of a “normal” feel back to the trip.
|Views on the way out from Halifax, moving towards the Fall River area. There are no end of lovely streams, lakes, and rivers along this stretch of the route.|
The trip through the afternoon was quite uneventful. As we made our way along, there was copious evidence of the recent damage from Hurricane Fiona, with trees down through the woods all over the place - particularly through the Wentworth valley.
As usual nowadays, the lack of the Park car is a noticeable loss. The service car lounges are available, but tended to be quite full.
|Tantramar marsh views - always a highlight, crossing into New Brunswick.|
|Views from the vestibule, while passing through sleeper 30. Lots of colour outside, though there would be far more by the time we reached Quebec.|
|More sunset views between Miramichi and Bathurst|
Dinner reservations were taken during lunch. There were two settings on offer – 6pm, or 8. We opted for the second, in part because of our late lunch, but also hoping it would be quieter. It turned out quite the opposite was true. As the first setting got underway, an announcement was made twice reminding passengers with reservations for the first setting that they needed to go at that time, and that there wouldn’t be space later. Though not said, I guessed that this meant a number of people with first setting reservations had skipped on their designated meal time.
Lo and behold, it seemed that was exactly what had happened. When we went for our setting at 8pm, the diner was absolutely packed. Not only would we be seated with someone else, it quickly became evident that we might not even have space for the two of us at all! The whole situation was quite overwhelming, so we asked if there was still an option to have our meals by room service instead. Our attendant, Francois, was more than happy to oblige (he seemed shocked by just how busy it was!), so we headed back to our room and Francois brought us menus and took orders. In the long run, this turned out to be quite pleasant. We missed the atmosphere of the diner, but were able to enjoy our dinner in a more private setting, and the food was still excellent – in fact, it was overall one of the best meals either of us have had in some time on the Ocean. The Ren sleeper rooms have a fold-out table from the wall, and a small flip-down table between the two seats (on the "couch"). I realize I only photographed the one here, but if you look back at Part 1 of my Christmas report, you'll see the table from the wall.
|Main courses - butter chicken (left), and a butternut squash ravioli (right). Full silverware was brought to the room, along with proper cloth napkins (not pictured).|
|Dessert - pecan pie. Superb!|
After dinner, we settled in with some tea. There is no self-serve option any more, but your attendant in the sleepers can bring drinks – tea/coffee are complimentary, and I think some other soft-drinks may be as well. Any alcohol must be purchased, of course.
After a good night’s sleep, I realized in the morning that we were quite delayed; we were approaching Ste-Foy as I headed to the diner for breakfast. Much to our dismay, we ended up stopped in the yard at Joffre, and found out that we were being held up to wait for VIA 35 to leave Quebec and make its way through to Charny. This would put us behind by nearly another hour, and meant that breakfast “views” were all from the yard.
|"Breakfast views" in Joffre yard. At least this pair of beltpack equipped units showed up to offer some interesting viewing!|
|Breakfast menu. Note that prices are still listed for Economy passengers, but at the moment, only Sleeper Plus passengers are being allowed in for any meals. I'm not sure if this might be any different in the quietest parts of the off-season.|
|The location outside the window isn't that exciting, but inside, this is still probably my favourite place in the world to have breakfast.|
|"Breakfast bread". This wasn't bad, but the bread itself was a bit of a letdown. The only subpar meal over the entire two weeks of travelling. |
After we eventually made our stop in Ste-Foy, we had a meet with VIA 20 right by the station as we departed.
|Station stop at Ste-Foy, a longer stop with opportunity to go outside to stretch.|
|Views over the Chaudière River, heading back onto the main and away for our next stop at Drummondville.|
That morning, the crew had put out complimentary self-service tea, coffee, and cookies in the service car adjacent to the Renaissance sleepers. This is similar to what used to be on offer in both the Park car and sometimes the sleeper service car in the old arrangement. At the moment, it seems this may get set up at the discretion of the crew, as nothing similar was on offer on the return trip, and our attendants didn’t seem to be sure whether it would be set up or not. With both lounges potentially open to coach passengers in the new setup, it’s hard to reserve any space for sleeper passengers only.
|Enjoying complimentary coffee and digestive biscuits in the service car lounge. It's a comfortable space, if it isn't too busy, but it can fill up quickly.|
The rest of the run to Montreal went smoothly, and ultimately we were in fine time for our connection to #67; but as we arrived at 12:35, about 2h30 late, we didn’t have any time to explore Montreal before boarding our next train.
|Not our train, but the other of the two Corridor-assigned Renaissance set, making its stop in Montreal. These two consists operate on Ottawa-Montreal-Quebec trains only.|
|After a short time in the station upstairs, we're back down to the platform and onto Train 67, with a veteran F40 on the head end.|
The train on to Toronto, VIA 67, was an almost all-LRC consist, with a single HEP2 coach tacked on the tail end. We were in Business class, and as usual, both the ride and service were excellent. The crew on this trip in particular were really lovely, and reminded me more of the sorts of crews we tend to see on the Ocean, rather than in the Corridor.
|My only photo from on-board 67 - Business Class lunch. As usual, Business Class includes drink and snack service, a full meal, and additional rounds of drinks throughout the trip.|
Arriving in Toronto, about 15 minutes late, our connection was on to VIA 79 for Brantford. This is the same equipment as 67 (a run-through), so we were given the option to stay on board and just move to our new seats. We were also in Business class on this train, as the connecting fare was the same as it would be if we switched to Economy instead. That said, there’s little point to Business on this short of a run. You do still benefit from the increased space, and you will be offered a drink and a snack – but no meal. Still, it was a smooth and pleasant trip, and we arrived in Brantford about 15 minutes behind, thanks to a meet just before arriving in town.
Other Corridor Trains
I’m not going to go into full detail about the various Corridor comings-and-goings, because there were quite a few and they’re not nearly as interesting to delve into as the longer distance trips.
In brief summary, I travelled on the following Corridor trains over the period between Oct. 7th and 18th , in addition to the Ocean connections noted above and farther along in this report:
70 Brantford-Toronto (LRC)
42 Toronto-Ottawa (LRC)
45 Ottawa-Toronto (LRC)
75 Toronto-Brantford (LRC)
72 Brantford-Toronto (LRC)
73 Toronto-Brantford (HEP)
72 Brantford-Toronto (LRC)
Most of those were in LRC cars, a mix of Business and Economy class. There are still some LRC cars around with the older seats, but every car I was in had the newer style ones. On the one HEP train, VIA 73 (Oct. 15), we were in a refurbished HEP1 coach. This was right after VIA started implementing “buffer cars” on HEP trains (see Eric Gagnon’s posts HERE and HERE for more background), which meant that consist had been shuffled around a bit and seat assignments had been changed. The refurbed HEP1s are really nice, so I had no complaints about being in one instead of a HEP2.
Instead of detailing each of these particular trains, I’m going to provide some commentary via a series of photos from on some of those trains and around various stations.
One other note about baggage: both Toronto and Montreal have resumed offering baggage storage options. If you’re travelling in Business class or have connections to/from the Ocean or Canadian in Sleeper Plus, you can store bags for free while you’re out exploring around the city and waiting on your connection. For Economy passengers, you can store bags for a fee. You just need to be sure you get back to the baggage room before they close, which was 6pm in Toronto, and 7pm in Montreal.
And now, the photos. Read along through the captions for context and commentary...
|Train 70 arriving at Brantford station.|
|Views getting closer to Toronto - a few surprising bits of waterway amidst the urban sprawl.|
|VIA 901, one of the only "unwrapped" P42s currently operating, waits with a train at Union Station in Toronto. The skylights that were put in when the station trainshed was renovated make the view much nicer around these tracks.|
|Bit of time to kill in Toronto, why not head over to the Skywalk by the CN Tower? To watch trains, of course. Couldn't figure out why everybody else was looking the opposite way...|
|Ready to board VIA 42 for Ottawa. Track 17*, just like in Montreal the day before. (*Edit: Ok, so there's a "17" on the sign, but my train is actually boarding from Platform 16, as each side has its own number, and it's technically on Track 8, as the track and platform numbers aren't the same. Thanks to Tom Box for this correction)|
|The line along the Lakeshore has some really stunning views, particularly out towards Pickering. You could almost believe Lake Ontario was an ocean, though it's awfully calm.|
|Another Business Class lunch example. Baked hake, which generated some interesting pronunciations (as it was on the menu for two trips) - the more francophone staff struggle to pronounce the "h", so you get something sounding like "ache"; but one turned it into something fancier sounding, calling it "haké" (or "hack-aye")|
|Trains at Ottawa station - LRCs in all directions!|
|On board 45 for Toronto. A very compact consist, with the 3 LRC cars and locomotives on both ends. We were operating reverse, so the business class car was at the end of the train. Some people complain about these seats being hard, but I do like the design - and the legroom and personal space is superb. Looking across at the 2-seat side, but the side I'm on is single seats.|
|Business class lunch, as served. Some attendants remove the foil, while others hand the whole tray over as-is.|
|Ghostly LRC reflections at Kingston.|
|Passing VIA's Toronto Maintenance Centre - note the LRC locomotive, RDCs, and blue and yellow sleeper "Edmundston". The LRC locomotive is preserved by the Toronto Railway Historical Association, and the rest of the equipment is owned and under restoration by the VIA Historical Association.|
|An interesting observation inside a refurbished HEP1 coach. VIA has added instructions for proper use of the leg rests on these long distance coaches. Primarily used on long-haul trains, the HEP1 coaches have excellent legroom and overall space, and the seats are once again very comfortable after the recent refurbishment.|
|HEP1 coach on VIA 73, arriving in Brantford.|
|A different interior view - this is inside a refurbished LRC Economy class coach. Many of these cars have received the same seats that the Business class cars have, but in a 2+2 arrangement, slightly closer together. Though perhaps less comfortable than the classic LRC seats, the overall space and new tray tables are a huge improvement. Note as well that these coaches now have curtains (previously only installed in VIA 1/Business), and are also set up in the 50/50 half forward/half backwards arrangement for push-pull use.|
On the return trip, we ended up splitting up the segments – we travelled Brantford-Halifax on 72 (as noted previously), spent the night in Toronto to attend an event, and then departed the next day on VIA 64 from Toronto-Montreal, to connect with VIA 14 for Halifax. VIA 64 was an impressive 7-car all LRC set, with two Business class cars – and both were in service, operating as car 01 and car 91 (VIA never uses “02” in line numbering – additional business cars end up as “91”, and in any case the first coach is always “03”).
|Toronto Union station. Classic view!|
|LRC business class seating. Some seats align better with the windows than others...|
|Business from in Business...meeting of trains at Kingston!|
The ride to Montreal was smooth and enjoyable. Service was excellent, again, and after running on time most of the way we got to Montreal 8 minutes late. This gave some time to drop our bags and run a couple of quick errands downtown before checking in for #14. For checked baggage, we didn’t bother asking if there was an option to check directly from Toronto – we just carried on all bags, and then checked the larger one in Montreal.
|Montreal. A little rainy, but I always love this city.|
Boarding for VIA 14 started a good half hour before departure. As we headed down to the train, we could see that the consist had been shortened up from our previous trip, reflecting the shift to the off-season post-Thanksgiving. Initially, this train had been only offering Renaissance sleeper accommodations and was entirely sold out. We had booked in earlier when a single room popped up available, but a few weeks before departure a Chateau was added to inventory, which allowed us to move to a bedroom in that car.
VIA 14 – October 19, 2022
7009 Renaissance Baggage
70217 Ren Accessible Coach
7512 Ren Sleeper (39)
7518 Ren Sleeper (38)
7502 Ren Sleeper (37)
79526 Ren Accessible Sleeper (30)
7308 Ren Service Car
7401 Ren Dining Car
7313 Ren Service Car
7231 Ren Coach
7602 Ren transition
8118 HEP1 Coach
8219 Château Montcalm (40)*Room B
8221 Château Radisson (crew dorm)
8609 HEP1 Baggage
The train was quite busy, with most spaces in our sleeper filled and clearly a good load in the coaches and the Renaissance sleepers. I would later discover that a tour group had booked an entire one of the Ren sleepers – more on that later.
We departed from Montreal right on time. There was a bit of drama not too long into the trip – at Saint-Hyacinthe, the train was met by police cars with lights flashing and several officers on the platform. The service manager was turning someone over to their custody – turns out a passenger in the coaches was intoxicated and being extremely belligerent, and after failing to heed his initial warnings, he was escorted off the train early. I can’t imagine he had a very pleasant evening from that point on!
|View of the new Champlain Bridge, seen from the Victoria Bridge leaving Montreal. The lights are very cool at night!|
We had opted for the later dinner setting – options were 7:15 (right after departure) or 8:45pm. The second setting was less busy this time, and we were able to find a table for 2. The meals were excellent, again.
|Dinner menu on VIA 14.|Smoked salmon appetizer. The soup was the tomato bisque, again, just visible at the top of this image, Paneer tikka masala - really delicious. When we ordered, we were initially told there was only one left - but Peter (our server) went to great lengths to track down another! Pecan pie, just like the way up - no complaints with this one.
The rest of the evening was relaxing and uneventful. By the next morning, we were running about 2 hours late, as expected.
|Campbellton vestibule views.|
|HEP section of our train at Campbellton, NB.|
|HEP to Renaissance transition.|
|Views along the bay leaving Campbellton.|
|Breakfast after Campbellton.|
Breakfast was quite good, as it often is, especially paired with views along the Baie-des-Chaleurs. As breakfast wrapped up, reservations were taken for lunch. I heard some discussion happening farther down in the diner, as the service coordinator running the dining car was having a chat with what turned out to be the head of the tour group that had booked a whole sleeper (and possibly a bit more than that). This group would require the bulk of a dining car setting to themselves, so the plan had been that they would go at noon, and the later setting would be on general offer. But the group had decided, after all these plans were made and reservations had been taken from other passengers, that they’d rather switch to the later setting. So instead, only noon was on offer, and they’d have to go re-do reservations for everyone who had already picked the later setting. The service coordinator explained these implications to the group leader, but she didn’t seem to care – “our people changed their minds, so we need to have the later meal.”
I got the impression that VIA wants to accommodate these groups, as they evidently bring in substantial revenue – but they seem to be able to cause some serious headaches for the onboard staff. As another passenger on that train, it was hard not to feel a bit frustrated by the rather entitled attitude of the tour group leader, and the lack of consideration for other paying passengers.
Having had our breakfast quite late, I asked the dining car coordinator if there was any option to get a meal later on, perhaps by room service. After I asked, he did mention that he could fit at least a few people into that second setting (2pm), so that’s what we did.
|Renaissance dining car, set for lunch. There are 4-seat tables on one side of the car, and 2-seat tables on the other.|
|Beef lunch. Quite good, all-in-all. The appetizer option was a clam chowder, and the dessert was carrot cake again.|
The afternoon rolled along quite smoothly, and it was a lovely day – even without the Park car, it was an enjoyable scenic ride. After Moncton, we were informed that due to our late running, we would be provided with an extra meal. For very late trains in the past, VIA would often order takeout to meet the train in Moncton (St-Hubert, Swiss Chalet, or similar). With the delays being chronic for a few months, it seems they came up with another solution – a little bonus meal box of sorts, delivered to sleeper rooms and also available for coach passengers to pick up from the service car. The package contained a vegetable soup, VIA snack mix, digestive cookies, and a granola bar (not in the initial box, but brought around afterwards). After being fed well at breakfast and lunch, this little meal was a perfectly good hold-over to make up for the late running.
|Extra meal box, delivered to rooms and available for Economy passengers to pick up in the service car. Granola bar not pictured, as it was delivered separately (someone forgot to pack them in the first place!)|
|One more on-board observation: the end gate was closed between the in-service Chateau sleeper, and the second car being used as a crew dorm.|
We were still running about 2.5h late by Truro, The sun set along the last stretch to Halifax, and we were pleased to see that we’d get the quick run on the mainline instead of the detour around Rockingham yard. But then, just before making it through to the end of the cut to downtown, we stopped. The service manager came on to announce that we would be stopped because a CN train switching the south end container terminal ran through a switch, and crews were in the midst of cleaning that up. So we would be waiting another 25 minutes, just moments away from the station! The SM finished his announcement by saying “I hate to say it, but, well, let’s blame CN”. Fair enough!
Fortunately, that delay was only about 25 minutes, and we arrived in Halifax at 8:56pm, 3h5min late. A bit tired by the end of the trip, especially with that last extra delay so close to home, but all in all it was a pleasant and enjoyable ride back home.
|Making the long walk down the platform at Halifax. With the new train configuration, it's a short walk from the Ren sleepers, but a long walk from the Chateaus and the coaches.|
|Our train, finished its journey. After all passengers and baggage are off, the crew will back the train out of the station tracks and use a nearby runaround to move the locomotives to the opposite end. Then they'll back the train into the station, ready for its return trip, and call it a night.|
It was interesting to experience the current Ocean operation now that things are back to 3/week operation, the crews are more settled back in, and various Covid restrictions are a thing of the past. The absence of the Park car, or any suitable substitute, is still very much noticeable – but at the end of the day, I continue to enjoy making this trip by train.
Since we’re around Thanksgiving, that’s a good note to end off – I’m particularly thankful that we do still have some trains to ride, even if their future remains in a near constant state of jeopardy. Hopefully we will eventually see some action to help ensure that these trains stay around for many more years to come!
For my next post, I’ll have something a little different: an exploration of a miniature world, which I felt really deserved its own post. And then I’ll be back on the rails around Christmas. If the stars align, I *might* even manage a peek at the brand new Siemens corridor trains. Stay tuned!
|"Nightstar" at night. A very delayed #14 pauses at Moncton on a very chilly evening. November 14, 2022.|