Thursday 9 February 2023

Trains, Planes, and Automobiles: Christmas Chaos, 2022 Edition


There’s a pretty obvious reference in the title of this post. The 1987 classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles is one of my favourite films. The pairing of John Candy and Steve Martin, along with John Hughes' script and direction, make for a chaotic adventure that is equal parts hilarious and heartwarming. The fact that the film centres around several modes of transportation (there are buses and trucks in there too, which don’t quite make the title), always helped pique my interest, even though I always thought the train part was too short.


It’s technically an American Thanksgiving film, but given the snowy setting and the lack of analogy to Canadian Thanksgiving, it has always felt more Christmassy and in some ways reminiscent of travel at that time of year. Now I’ve had some eventful trips over the years, but fortunately never something that quite got to the level of the ordeal depicted in the film – at least, until this Christmas. 

I won’t say that this trip was quite like the movie – I didn’t end up shacked up with an eccentric shower-curtain salesman, and I never ended up driving in the burnt-out shell of a car with nothing but the radio still functioning – but it definitely had me feeling at least a bit like I had found myself in that film, checking off each of the transportation modes one by one as my hopes of getting home for Christmas Day steadily drained away.


The trip started entirely uneventfully, as these things have a tendency to do.

Part 1: The very normal not at all chaotic westbound trip

My train awaits departure at the Halifax station. The rather grey and snowless look around is typical of how this "winter" has been in Halifax.

I’m going to keep my report on the trip up pretty concise and straight to the point, because really, there isn’t a whole lot to say about it. It was smooth and comfortable, we made reasonable time, and the on board service was pretty much the same as my most recent trips. The only notable difference from previous trips was that the Renaissance service car nearest to the coaches actually had its takeout counter open, though I believe there was also cart service being done (there certainly was to the coach at the far end of the train). Most commentary this way will be in the photo captions.


At check-in at Halifax, I was able to check my bag through to Ottawa, with a transfer tag attached so the bag would go from 15 to 35.

Halifax station, looking festive! There was a larger crowd of passengers waiting to board, but I tried not to capture too many in this photo. 

The rather unglamourous end of the new bidirectional train. Passengers on the Canadian complain these days of the "buffer" cars removing the rear end view and making the tail end look unsightly, but that still beats our baggage-car-bringing-up-the-markers!

VIA 15 – Dec. 18, 2022

6433 (forward)

6437 (reverse)

8615 HEP1 Baggage

8223 Château Rigaud

8212 Château Latour

8220 Château Papineau

8113 HEP1 Coach

7600 Renaissance transition

7231 Ren coach

7309 Ren service car (canteen open)

7402 Ren diner

7312 Ren service car

79515 Ren Accessible sleeper (30) *Room 05

7520 Ren sleeper (37)

7522 Ren sleeper (38)

7519 Ren sleeper (39)

70108 Ren accessible coach

7003 Ren baggage


On departure, the usual announcements had been updated to include one stating “Since space is limited in the service cars, please allow other passengers to use the facility”, or something along those lines. The Ren service car lounges are pretty compact, and it’s also the only place to get WiFi service on the train. The available lounge space has really suffered with the loss of the Park car, and it’s not clear when (if ever) we’ll see anything else added to improve this.


Departure was right on time from Halifax. We had a bit of a delay for a meet with 120 at Kinsac, and a speed reduction at Hilden due to a faulty detector report (if I gathered that correctly). There were two settings for both lunch (1:15 and 2:45) and dinner (6 and 8pm).


Bedford basin views from the service car. It's no Park car, but when there's space, it's still not too bad. 
More service car views. Note the festive decor, which goes quite well with the red seats. 

Dining car, at Truro. Nice to see some Christmas decor return this year!

Lunch menu. Same options as on my trip in the fall. 
Clam chowder to start.

Shrimp alfredo, for a change. I thought this was better than the cold chicken, which I had back in October. Actually quite tasty all around. 

Pecan pie - superb! I was surprised to see this as the lunch dessert, but it would all make sense when supper rolled around. 

Dinner menu, later on.

Tomato bisque, always a good choice.
Butter chicken, excellent once again. 

Ah ha! This explains why the pie was on the lunch menu. A special Christmas dessert on offer, a chocolate peppermint mousse cake. Really good, though quite minty. 

Service car, nearly empty late in the evening. It's not a bad space at times like this, but when it gets busy (as it is through most of the trip), it's darned near impossible to find anywhere to sit. It's not a well designed space for a long trip. 

Back in my room, I brought my Christmas lights along (as usual) to brighten things up a bit. 

Bedroom hacks: in any sleeper room, whether the older Budd cars or the newer Rens, things can sometimes rattle; it's a moving train, after all! To ensure a peaceful sleep, some ingenuity may be required. The bathroom door in my room kept rattling, so I tucked one of the small hand towels in the corner before closing it - did the trick nicely. 

The one bit of excitement in the evening was seeing a passenger escorted from the train in handcuffs by police at Miramichi. I had noticed that same passenger at a table across the aisle from me at lunch, where he proceeded to order a full bottle of wine to take back to his room. I suspect that may be related to his untimely departure from the train.


I happened to wake up for the meet with #14, which took place west of Rimouski. The siding there is a stub-end, so 14 was pulled in and would back out to the main after we passed, with the head-end crews swapped to their respective trains.


Snow! Finally! We've had so little in Halifax this year, I had to leave to find it.
Meet with 14, near Rimouski.

Next morning, breakfast time!

Breakfast! Forgot to photograph the inside of the menu, but it was the same options as my last trip. This is the egg option, and hit the spot nicely. 

Snowy morning views.

More snowy (and icy) morning views.

Icy windows, and snowy scenes.

Fresh snowfall in Quebec made for many picturesque scenes like this.

Service car in the morning, after most people had made their way back to their rooms to prepare for our arrival in Montreal. One nice thing about being in car 30 was that it was very easy to pop back and forth to this car. 

We arrived in Montreal at 11:09am, just over an hour late, but still plenty of time for connections to both 35 for Ottawa and 67 for Toronto.


Exo yard at Point St. Charles. This would likely be my last view of the MR-90 EMUs, as the first of them had already gone to scrap by this time, and the others would soon follow suit. There were also two of the new CRRC bilevels in the yard, but I didn't get a great look at them. 

The view on the approach to Central station has changed significantly in recent time, as the new REM system is nearing completion. The catenary and fencing are a major change, as are the extended elevated sections farther out from the station. 

Can you tell we went through some snow overnight?

Ah, Montreal! I love this station, but I would see a lot more of it than I wanted to over the following week...

The trip on 35 to Ottawa was smooth and uneventful. The consist was 6414 hauling a 4-car LRC train, where I was seated in car 3476 (Business class). I found my bag in the luggage rack at the front of the car, and opted to grab it myself rather than wait to see if it would be brought off in Ottawa (I’m sure that would be done, but I figured I’d save the effort). 

Business class lunch. Quite tasty, though I noticed the glass and cutlery on my tray were lacking the VIA branding. 

VIA 35 after arrival at Ottawa. The high platform here is excellent, and hopefully they will eventually be able to add high level platforms for additional tracks. 

Part 2: Trains, Planes and Automobiles – Canadian Edition


The return trip is where things got interesting. In the days leading up to my scheduled departure, the weather forecasts turned increasingly dire. A massive once-in-a-generation (or so they say; these things are becoming increasingly common) storm system was developing, which would sweep across the eastern half of the continent and bring high winds, some mix of snow and rain, and wild temperature swings. Some parts of the United States saw deadly cold temperatures, or record-setting snowfall. In Nova Scotia, it was mostly just torrential rain and high winds. In Ottawa, where my journey home would begin, it started with snow overnight, warming temperatures in the morning that made the existing snow wet and slushy, and then more snow and a sudden temperature plunge into the evening that, along with high winds, would soon cripple every form of transportation in the region.


Boarding Train 26 in Ottawa (on the right). This was during a bit of a calm in the storm, as the snow overnight had stopped and it had warmed up. It would soon take a turn. 

The weather wasn't too awful in Ottawa, but turned pretty nasty quickly as I started out on Train 26, and it seemed to be getting worse as the train made its way. Still, our train (another 4-car LRC consist) made good time, and seemed unimpeded by the foul weather outside. I thought to myself that I was sure glad to be on the train, and not trying to travel any other way! Alas, I may have spoken too soon.


This pretty much encapsulates the view from #26. A lot of white, blowing snow!
As we got further along, the windows kept accumulating ice. This was the view shortly after Coteau.

With some time to kill in Montreal, I headed outside to run a couple of errands. The wind was ferocious, and I quickly decided that it wasn’t a day to be walking around. There was a break in the snowfall, but it was bitterly cold. With the only things I really needed to do done, I headed back inside the warm of Central station.


Downtown Montreal, near VIA HQ. "The ring" is lit in appropriate colours.
A sign of things to come. The delays begin...

Check-in for #14 was opening by 6pm, and we were allowed to start boarding by 6:15pm. The Service Manager (SM) mentioned there was no rush. By this time, I noticed that the later connection from Ottawa (train 28) was showing as severely delayed, so I correctly deduced that our train would be delayed to accommodate those connecting passengers. With that in mind, I didn’t rush to board, heading down a little after 6:30pm.


Arriving on the platform, I made my way to my roomette in car 40, which was Chateau Montcalm. There were 3 Chateau sleepers on this train. The first one, facing backwards, was operating as a crew dorm. The second one, facing forward and numbered 40, had all accommodation types open. The third, numbered 41, appeared to have only had roomettes sold. Berths were not made up, though it’s also possible there were passengers in bedrooms – I was never able to confirm this for sure.


Hello, #14.

VIA 14 – Dec. 23, 2022

6428 (forward)

6434 (reverse)

7011 Renaissance baggage

70230 Ren Accessible coach

7516 Ren sleeper (39)

7518 Ren sleeper (38)

7502 Ren sleeper (37)

79526 Ren Accessible sleeper (30)

7308 Ren service car

7401 Ren diner

7303 Ren service car

7208 Ren coach

7602 Ren transition

8118 HEP1 coach

8203 Château Brulé (crew dorm) (reverse)

8219 Château Montcalm (40) (forward) *Roomette 03

8221 Château Radisson (41) (reverse)

8609 HEP1 Baggage


As expected, our train was delayed for the late 28. Initially expecting half an hour, it ended up being a good hour and a half before we would get underway. 28 had run into even more severe weather on its run from Ottawa, and also had equipment issues. When it finally arrived, a replacement trainset had been brought to the station to continue its journey on to Quebec, with all passengers moved over to that train.


The connection to our train was made quickly, and we got underway in short order, just past 8:30pm. By now, the snow was coming down heavily outside. The first dinner setting as already complete, as it had started at 7:15pm, just after scheduled departure. My dinner reservation was for 8:45, so I headed up shortly after we left the station. On my way to the diner, I took note of a conversation between the SM and one of the attendants as I passed. I didn’t catch what was said, but I got the impression something wasn’t right. This was the first indication I had of what was about to come.


Very snow scenes departing from the station. 
Once again, my Christmas lights are up. They were starting to get a little temperamental by this point and died by the end of the trip. Maybe that was another sign...

Once in the diner, I was seated with 2 other passengers, both of whom were bound for Bathurst. We started chatting and made our orders, and then the train stopped, by Point St. Charles, just before the bridge. I initially assumed this was just a wait for another train or a clear signal, but after a few minutes an announcement came over the intercom: we would be going back to the station.


Appetizer - smoked salmon, fennel salad.

Main course - coconut cranberry chicken.

That chocolate peppermint dessert again, this time with fancy decorative collar still attached. The consensus at the table was that it was a bit heavy on the peppermint.

As it turns out, VIA had just been informed that a section of the Mont-Joli subdivision, near Rimouski and Mont-Joli, had been rendered “impassible” by the storm. Trees were down all over the tracks, and the line would need to be cleared before we (or the westbound train coming from Halifax) could pass. There was rumbling that our train might be cancelled. Cancelled? What then? While we worked our way through our food, the three of us at the table tried to digest the information that was coming in, while also messaging with friends and family. I started looking at flights just in case, quickly realizing that anything available on the following day (Christmas Eve) was well out of any price range I could conceivably justify. There were drinks all around, and no bill at the end of the meal.


As we wrapped up dinner, back in the bowels of Central station, the train was hooked up to shore power – a sure sign we weren’t going anywhere soon. The next update that came was that there would be a conference call between VIA management, operations, and CN to discuss a plan. On my way back to my room, I was able to pick up tidbits of information as this call was completed. The initial good news: the train wouldn’t be cancelled. The bad news: we’d be very, very late.


A decision was made to delay our train until the next morning, with a 6am departure. The train coming the other way, currently stopped at Campbellton NB, would stay in Campbellton overnight and depart after we left Ste-Foy, so the two trains would meet in a typical location and allow the head-end crews to swap. CN evidently provided assurances that the line would be cleared in time for this plan to work.


For the night, we could stay on the train, but a few doors were also left open and passengers were allowed to come and go as need be, particularly good for those looking to stretch, get some fresh air, or go out for a smoke. I took the opportunity to go up to the station for a stretch, and to grab a few things from the depanneur in the station before it closed. Access to the platform was still controlled, and passengers had to get a station agent to let them back through. We were told this would be an option until around 3am, then we’d just need to be on the train.


While I was upstairs, I noticed several Corridor trains still showing on the board, extremely delayed. What I didn’t realize then was that these were among the Corridor trains that were stranded, and would remain stuck until later the following day.


Stuck down here for ages, feeling a little artsy. This vestibule was well positioned.

A look at my lights from the outside, while stretching my legs. 

More platform views, past the HEP1 coach. We were here all night...

Upstairs, looking deserted. Note several delayed trains still showing on the lower board, a sign of the mess that was unfolding farther west in the Corridor.

Back end, looking down towards the tracks that ultimately led to the Mount Royal tunnel, now for the proprietary use of the REM.
Before going to bed, I took a walk to the head end. The snow was really coming down by now, the frigid wind was howling, and it wasn't hard to see why there might be issues ahead.

After my visit upstairs, I walked the platform and then settled back into my roomette, and got off to sleep. This was one of my best train sleeps ever, as it turns out it’s pretty easy to settle down when the train is stationary. I woke up briefly around 6am to notice that we had indeed departed, though I take it we had some lengthy delays just outside the station; but I went back to sleep, waiting until it felt like time to get up before the last call for breakfast.


I headed for breakfast around 8:50am, near Drummondville. This was a very odd place to be in the morning hours in the eastbound direction. It was a lovely looking day outside, white from the storm, but now sunny. While I had breakfast, I could hear the crew discussing arrangements for the day. The extreme delays had complicated lots of things, including food arrangements, and the crew’s working and rest hours. A plan was being devised to ensure all crew members got their required rest, while also keeping sufficient staff on hand. It being Christmas Eve had complicated some potential food arrangements, as restocking options along the way were limited; but as much additional food as could be arranged had been brought on in Montreal.

Breakfast views, still very much in Quebec.

Breakfast! Despite everything else, this was a good start to Christmas Eve.


Can you tell it's winter? Joys of travel in the old Budd equipment in the snow. 

Interesting tidbit: this was just sitting in one of the luggage racks, but had clearly been used on some previous trip to mark off the crew dorm (likely when it was at the end, or the sole Chateau next to the coaches).

Zipping along by the A20. 
Truck in the ditch on the A20, a reminder of how messy the roads had been (and still were, to some extent). Would he have fared better in a RAV4?

We arrived at Ste-Foy at 11:16am. We were told that we might well be delayed there, as work on the line ahead was ongoing, but our stop ended up being the typical length. We left Ste-Foy at 11:46am, and though we were extremely behind schedule, it seemed we would keep making our way onwards.

Ste-Foy. Fresh air stop, and the air was extremely "fresh".

There is bus service to the Ste-Foy station. I'm not sure when this actually started, but I recall in the past one had to hike up the hill to get to/from a bus. 

Vestibule views. 

With how this trip went, there weren't a lot of opportunities for photos at stations, so here's an extra one from Ste-Foy. 


There would be 3 settings for lunch, at noon, 1:30, and 3pm. I went for the 1:30pm setting, and found myself seated with the two passengers from the night before, as well as the passenger who was travelling in the roomette across from me. We had talked quite a bit the previous evening. Funnily enough, he was also going to Bathurst, making it a table of 3 Bathurst bound passengers plus me, heading for Halifax.


This is the only lunch photo I took. The menu was the same as the eastbound lunch menu on my October trip, but the salmon croquettes (reportedly disappointing) were replaced with this pasta dish. Needed a bit of seasoning, but not bad. Chowder appetizer, and pecan pie dessert again.

One of the service cars was set up with a coffee and tea station, on offer for all passengers all day. 

While we were eating, the train arrived at Rivière-du-Loup. All still seemed well, but we found ourselves sitting there for quite some time. Word came that we were waiting here for CN clearance, as the line ahead still wasn’t quite clear yet. It wasn’t clear how long we would wait, but it still seemed that we would eventually get underway again.


As we left from lunch, we were told there would be three settings for a partial dinner service. It would be soup and sandwiches, but we were welcome to come to the diner. Options were 5:15, 6:30, or 7:30pm. I decided to wait until 7:30, having had a later lunch.


During the wait between lunch and supper, we just sat at Rivière-du-Loup. As the sun slowly set, it was becoming clear that something was not right, and my car attendant gave due warning that it didn’t look like we’d be going any further. And then, shortly before 5pm, the announcement we had all been dreading came over the intercom: the train was being cancelled, and would be going back to Montreal. The westbound train would be headed back to Halifax.

Final view of the trip. That's as far east as we would make it, just by the station at Rivière-du-Loup.


As it turns out, CN was not able to get the work done in time, and the crew that was assigned had reached their hours for the day. It was Christmas Eve, after all, and they were calling it a day. Good for them…but for us, it meant that both we passengers and the crew would not in fact make it home for Christmas Eve, or even much of Christmas Day.


Passengers were given two options: get off at Rivière-du-Loup, or ride the train headed back for Montreal. All stops would be made along the way, so passengers could also choose to get off where they started or at any other station that worked for them. Close to 100 passengers (mostly Economy) got off right then and there. Some likely managed to find someone to come get them, but others were just sick of being on the train and wanted off, without necessarily a plan of what they would do. We were told that no taxis were available in town, but apparently the local police showed up to offer rides to stranded passengers.


We were also informed that we would be refunded in full for the trip, and receive a travel credit for 100% of the value of the trip, good for a year. A nice gesture, given the circumstances.


I figured the only sensible option was to ride back to Montreal. As soon as the announcement came, I started looking up flights on my phone. I figured that I could always have opted to rebook on the next train instead, but the additional delay, coupled with concerns that CN might still not get the line open in time (they ultimately did, but I wasn’t willing to bet on it at the time), had me thinking that a flight would be a better option. Fortunately, there was a Porter flight from Montreal to Halifax late on Christmas Day that still had availability, and though more expensive than a typical flight, it wasn’t out of range. So I went ahead and booked that, and resigned myself to this new reality.


Around 7:30, still sitting in Rivière-du-Loup, I headed to the diner for supper. The locomotives were being run around the train so they could run back to Montreal (a benefit from this new bidirectional train arrangement), and it took a while to get all the connections made. Normally this wouldn’t be done mid-trip, so there were a few minor issues to sort out.


Part of the thrown-together supper offering. The diner was partially set, and we were served soup (in take-out containers rather than bowls), and had our choice of sandwiches. Drinks were also served, with the usual alcoholic and non-alcoholic options on offer (where supplies remained). Economy passengers also got the same soup and sandwiches for free, but provided to eat in the service car or take back to their seats. 

The train finally got underway shortly after 8:30pm. We would make it to Ste-Foy, where we backed in through Charny rather than making our usual direct run in (due to a CN freight tied-down on the mainline), at 11:27pm, departing again at 11:43pm. This unusual second night on board the train would be a short one, as we would be arriving in Montreal in the early hours of the morning, but I did manage to at least get a few hours of sleep. We were told along the way that upon arrival in Montreal, we would be allowed to stay on the train until 6am if we wanted, keeping in mind that most transit wouldn’t be running until then. For those of us not from Montreal, VIA would be putting us up at the nearby Sheraton hotel until the morning, a nice gesture to give us some time to recover and rest out the remainder of the night.


We were at St-Lambert at 2:52am, where I got up and started pulling my things together. We eventually arrived back in Montreal at 3:15am, backing into the station. I wasn’t clear on why we backed in, though I wonder if this may have been to put the in-service baggage car in the usual spot for offloading. It would also allow the locomotives to be outside of the station during the stop, perhaps useful since they planned to stay there for the better part of 3 hours.

Christmas lights back on, yet again. Didn't realize I'd be on the train through Christmas Eve into Christmas morning when I set these up!

Hello again, Montreal. 

Christmas morning, back in Montreal, feeling some déja vu. Though because we backed in, we're at the opposite end of the platform this time. 


I’m usually excited to be arriving in Central station, but I can’t say that was the case this time. Barely awake, I made my way upstairs, and headed to the interim desk that had been set up to hand out hotel reservations. That process, unfortunately, ended up being a lengthy mess. There was only one person handling this (it was 3am on Christmas Day, of course), and it seemed some issue came up with the hotel. Briefly, it sounded like we might not have rooms at all. After a while, though, they finally had the process sorted out, and passengers got set up with taxis to the hotel. Those trying to make their way back to other destinations were also helped with making new train reservations, though cancellations the next two days would cause issues for anyone headed for Toronto.

I've got to admit, that sign really hit differently this time...
Taxi stand outside Central station, waiting to get to the hotel (it would be walkable, but close to 5am on Christmas Day, with luggage? Might as well take the cab).

With my checked baggage back in hand (it all came up on the carousel, as usual), I squeezed into a taxi with two other passengers, one of whom was one of the Bathurst-bound passengers I had eaten two meals with, and we made the short drive to the hotel. As we sat in relative silence, all exhausted from the ordeal, “Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses played over the radio. Oh yeah, it’s Christmas morning, isn’t it?


Check-in went smoothly at the hotel, after finally making it there at 5:15am, and I made my way to my room. How nice to lie down in a proper bed! We were given a noon checkout time, so I was able to get some much needed sleep.


Montreal views, time for some proper sleep!

The next morning (or rather, later that same morning), at least somewhat rested, I made my way downstairs to grab breakfast and buy a transit fare to get to the airport. This wasn’t at all how I expected to be spending Christmas morning, but what can you do? While grabbing coffee, I ran into one of the VIA service attendants who I’ve gotten to know quite well over the years. He explained that the crew were now being required to work the next train back home, which would see them on duty that afternoon. A few had simply refused, and were making their own way home. He wasn’t thrilled about it, but figured he needed to get home anyway, so why not?


This seems a good moment to just put in a word for the VIA on board staff on this trip. In short, they were all incredible. They went above and beyond during what had to be an extremely exhausting and stressful ordeal, during which they were just as in the dark as we passengers were about what was going on. They also wanted to be at home with their families for Christmas, and now not only would they miss out on that, they’d also be working extra time over that whole period. VIA is lucky to have such wonderful people working for them, and I really hope that the corporation as a whole will start recognizing that and treating them better!


After checking out of the hotel, I caught the 747 bus to the airport. The 747 is a fantastic express bus service that runs frequently 24/7, and gets out to the airport about as quickly as a taxi. The fare is $11, which you can either pay in cash or you can buy a pass at any Metro station or dedicated fare machines next to the 747 bus stops. It’s the same fare as the all-day pass, so you can also do any other transit riding you may need/want through the course of that day on the same fare.

Merry Christmas! Not the view I had planned...

747 fare machine, right by the bus stop. I didn't know these existed, so I had walked to the nearest Metro station to buy my fare. It's another little thing that makes this bus super convenient. 

747 bus arriving at the airport. Super convenient! The REM will eventually provide service to the airport (by 2027), which may be even better; but the bus service is awesome. 

The airport was busier than it might otherwise be on a Christmas Day (notoriously a quiet travel day) due to all the flight cancellations and delays in the leadup to Christmas this year, but it was still pretty quiet, so check-in and security went smoothly. This flight boarded from one of the smaller gates, which meant walking out on the runway to board the Porter Dash 8-400, which is always fun.

Snowy Dash 8. Not the GE rail variety, but it'll do the trick. 
I always love getting to board a place right off the runway. It's a little thing, but just feels kind of fun and out of the ordinary. 

This was my first time on a Porter Q400 since they revamped them during the Covid shutdown. I was disappointed, as I expected I would be, by the new seats. They are thinner and slightly less comfortable, and they are squeezed tighter together to accommodate the extra row of seats that was added (facilitated by the lighter weight of the new seats). This definitely takes away from one of the advantages Porter had, but their service was still respectable. I’m definitely looking forward to trying out their new Embraer E2s, as those jets seem to be much more spacious by comparison.


We had a slight delay for deicing, but the flight itself was remarkably smooth, and fast! We had a good tailwind, so time in the air was only 1h15min, pretty remarkable for a turboprop over that distance.


Christmas skies. A different sort of landscape, though the clouds do mimic rolling snow covered hills. A bit of a "Santa's-eye view"?

Back in Halifax, I retrieved my bag, and caught a taxi back into town. Finally, I was home – still on Christmas Day, but more than 24 hours after I had planned, and not at all the way I expected.


Trains? Check.

Planes? Check.

Automobiles? Check (and even a bus in there too)

Eccentric character selling shower-curtain rings? Nope, though I did have a loud snoring seat-mate on the plane.

Home later than expected, but still safe and sound and on the holiday? Check.


So there you have it, a trip to remember if ever there was one. I’d be very pleased not to have another trip quite like this, but it was an adventure for sure! In the long run, I still got home, and the time spent on the train was actually quite pleasant. We were well fed, warm, and taken care of, and I got to meet some nice and interesting people. It certainly could have been worse!



Prologue: The Aftermath

I don’t know that I’ve really mentioned it on this blog before, but I’ve also been involved for years in transportation advocacy work. Since early last year, I’ve been the president of Transport Action Atlantic (TAA), as well as a board member with Transport Action Canada (TAC, the national affiliate). Both TAA and TAC are entirely volunteer non-profits, which advocate for public transport of all forms, but have a major focus on passenger rail.

Given my involvement with TAA/TAC and the fact that I had also been a passenger on one of the affected trains, it seemed appropriate to engage in the national discussion about the issues that plagued VIA over the holidays. When the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities (TRAN) announced their intention to hold meetings on the subject and call VIA to testify, I took the opportunity to make a submission from TAA, highlighting issues that we saw should be addressed, and also drawing attention to the fact that it wasn’t just trains in the Corridor that were affected.

This ended up leading to quite a bit more than I expected. On Jan. 26, I was invited to appear as a witness before the committee, following on from VIA’s testimony in the morning. Ahead of that, I also ended up doing quite a few media interviews, including with CBC Radio, Global News, the Telegraph-Journal, and a local radio station in Sackville NB. It’s been quite the few weeks!

I won’t go on at length here about this part of things, but I’ll link to a few of these appearances for anyone interested.


TRAN Appearance Video:

CBC Maritime Noon Interview:

CHFM Interview:

CHFM web story:



So that’s all for now, and thanks for following along to this point (if you did…if you just skipped straight to the end, then…well…hi!)

At the end of my last post, I had written: “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!” I haven’t had a chance to get to that “next post” yet, though it’s still in the works. As for the new Siemens trains, if you have a peak at that CHFM story above you may note a hint on that front (though it didn’t happen when or how I initially thought it might). More to come at another time!

Uh oh, who decided it was a good idea to run trains on Windows? ;-)  This was from a few weeks later, but the sign pretty well captures the meltdown of VIA travel at Christmas... 


  1. An enjoyable read of a less-than-enjoyable trip, Tim! While the tree on the train in Cobourg seemed to grab all the attention here, your trip east was more than daunting. Thanks for highlighting the positive moments as well as the delays and downturns. Let's hope it was the last storm of the generation like it!

  2. Well written, Tim, along with pictures of the snow and the meals. It was like watching a movie. In my youth I liked being on a snow bound with no one to worry about but after marriage and kids it was more stressful. I spent ten years riding the GO train from Whitby to Toronto and delays and cancellations were commonplace, usually replaced with shivering in a station or waiting for 1 bus for a trainfull of commuters.

  3. Thanks for this travelogue of travel gone awry. It's unfortunate that your trip was interrupted through no fault of VIA's - CN needs to up its game - and that you had to spend Christmas away from family.