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New Canadian Timetable: More Time, Less Scenery

VIA #1, The Canadian is led by newly rebuilt F40PH 6434 near Jasper, Alberta photo by Timothy Stevens via Wikimedia Commons VIA #1, The Canadian is led by newly rebuilt F40PH 6434 near Jasper, Alberta photo by Timothy Stevens via Wikimedia Commons

Over the last few years, thousands of travelers have chosen VIA Rail Canada’s flagship transcontinental Canadian train from Vancouver to Toronto as the top “land cruise” in North America. The main feature was the spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery between Kamloops and Edmonton, and VIA Rail scheduled trip for daytime viewing of that stretch in both directions: eastbound was a bit better than westbound, but both offered great mountain views. Arrange a comfortable roomette, eat the excellent fresh-cooked meals in the dining car that are included in the sleeper fare, head for the dome car for the best views, enjoy the vistas as the train passes through, and stretch out at night in a comfortable bunk.

Sadly, that’s about to end. Starting July 26, the train’s new schedule means you’ll pass through the top mountain scenery stretch during the night both eastbound and westbound. And the entire trip will be about 14 hours longer—still four nights on board, but more daytime running at both ends.

This isn’t VIA Rail’s preferred choice. But host railway Canadian National is apparently so busy with freight trains that the Canadian suffers chronic multihour delays sitting on sidetracks and stations waiting for its turn on the mostly single-track mainline. Last month one trip was almost 48 hours late getting into Vancouver. Given that CN wasn’t able to keep the Canadian to its schedule, VIA Rail had no choice but pad the schedule to allow for long delays. The old schedule was already padded: In 1955, the Canadian required only three nights onboard.

Today’s Canadian uses legacy equipment from the 1955 Canadian, then running on the Canadian Pacific line rather than the Canadian National. And that’s where it should really be running now: The CP line offers superior scenery to the CN line in both the Rockies and North of Lake Superior. A railfan I know holds that some dark political conspiracy keeps the Canadian off the CP line, and at least some enthusiasts are pushing to have the original route restored. But given today’s situation, all you can expect for the foreseeable future is a longer trip without the best scenery.

Ed Perkins, editor

For more travel tips from Ed Perkins, see our companion site Ed on Travel

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