Winter 2012

A Wonderful Beginning the First Quarter of my Journey Across Canada by Streamliner Train

Greetings from the HI Jasper Wilderness hostel that much to my surprise has Wi-Fi although the sign says extremely limited bandwidth (no videos, no Skype, I’ll be courteous and not update the website).

I arrived here today shortly before 4:00pm Mountain Time after a ride that felt way to short and was exactly what I wanted from the Canadian, the last vintage streamliner left on its 1950s equipment on a snowy overcast day (still didn’t see Mount Robson, missed it last time with the broken down train), with excellent conversation from not just retirees but also a variety of professional thirty somethings. There was also excellent but nicely informal Canadian prairie service (the attendants on the Canadian are from Winnipeg and all switch there, going on weeklong tours to Vancouver or Toronto in either directly) from just our two on board attendants for the maybe 40 people traveling by sleeper. They have all worked for VIA for years and years.

I guess I should start describing the journey at the beginning, last night, when at 8:00 boarding was called with the station agent joking that it was delayed three hours. I walked down the train by the four sleepers (thought there were only three but it turns out VIA also runs an empty fourth in winter) to mine situated just before the diner. I walk on and go straight to my section, upper berth number 1, VIAs route guide leaflet on the seat. Since I am in the upper (and cheaper) section I am given the backwards two seats. I sit down and meet the guy in the bunk beneath me who is a graduate student trying to finish his masters theses from Toronto. Soon Dennis, our attendant, comes through and does VIA’s required emergency exits explanation and informs us there is champagne and Hors d’oeuvres in the Parc car, the bullet lounge at the end of the train. The attendant also wants to kick us all out so he can set up the bunks. We all (the six sections where I am sitting are all taking) wonder back to the Park car, the bullet lounge at the back of the train and find the some plastic champaign glasses sitting filled on the bar, and some tiny little hors d’oeuvres nibbles. At some point we have left Vancouver on time at 8:30 and go up to the bullet lounge and start chatting. The other attendant for the sleepers, Jacqueline (from a French speaking town in Manitoba) soon comes up and offers us more champagne, and my favorite feature of train travel begins; the random conversations. There is me; the graduate student from Toronto, a guy from Regina who works for car dealerships and travels to Vancouver frequently to the headquarters generally by train, his friend, and a couple other younger travelers from Toronto, plus a very small of retirees. We follow SkyTrain out of Vancouver and go across the swing bridge next to the SkyBridge (all stuff I remember from the Rocky Mountaineer, and Amtrak Cascades also trakes) plus the endless darkened ports full of their containers. The most memorable part of the evening I remember now is some how the Canadians started discussing health care and they ask we what a co-pay means and I have to explain that detail of our non-nationalized health care system.

At 10:19 we start crossing the CP Bridge into Mission. This is new track age since for me since we’re on the Eastbound route. We soon come to a stop because a passenger is boarding at the Mission signpost, the first VIA flagstop that requires notice at least 40 minutes before the train leaves the last staffed station. This flag stop is only served by eastbound trains as well since directional running is occurring. The station consists of just a signpost that we pass at 10:26. Soon a man gets on, the person the train has stopped for also traveling by sleeper, soaking wet from the rainy night since there is no canopy to wait under. At this point I realize another total difference between Amtrak and VIA; accessing the baggage car. On VIA it will make a separate stop at every flag stop so you can load your luggage on. My bag has a tag for Jasper that feels quite similar to one on Amtrak (pre-printed) that I checked at a counter with a scale.
At 10:28 we pass the real Mission Station and then the West Coast Express fleet (of five trains) parked beyond the single platform for the weekend. There is a bridge to the opposite side of the tracks and I am quite surprised that VIA hasn’t moved there Mission signpost there.
At 11:23 start coming to another stop in Agassiz, I guess someone is getting on or off (the schedule says 2233). At that point (I could have stayed up until 3:30am when some of the dome car did) I decided it was time for bed wanting to get off at Kamloops at 6am. I wonder back the four cars pushing and pulling the heavy 1950s doors (there not air release like more modern ones) back to upper bunk #1. Two reading lights are on and I do something I have always wanted to do on the train, put on my pajamas, not stuck sleeping in my jeans. They are lying in the little organizational net on my nicely made bed, with a printed comforter and a chocolate on the pillow (Dennis told us to leave anything we needed for the night out). I put my PJs on and pull the heavy curtains to the outside world closed the downside to the upper berth really hits home when we come to a stop somewhere. I have no easy way to look out the window so I have no idea where.
I sleep quite well (definitely better than in any seat) awaking just before North Kamloops as I wanted shortly before 6:00am. Slipping my jeans over my PJs I go find Dennis at the open vestibule door who is surprised to see me so early and lets me off where I go for a wonder at a station with a small building in a rail yard far away from everything.

I’m too tired to finish typing up today’s journey tonight so I hopefully will do that tomorrow hopefully after a fun day of skiing Marmot Basin.