Canadian Railway Journey – poorly edited travel films

Inspired by a film Milan made about his bus trip, I made my own travel films during my cross Canada journey on the train. It isn’t very good, but, it is at least quite long. There is quite a lot of footage of scenery, as well as self-interviews – which don’t make very much sense. On the upside, it probably gives quite a good idea of what it is like to be on the train.

Parts one, two, and three are on youtube.

Canadian Railway Adventure – Day 5

This last update is arriving a little late. I didn’t write anything at the time, but I think it’s worthwhile to recall the rest of the trip and draw some concluding remarks.
On day 5 we had breakfast somewhere around Sudbury Junction. Normally we’d be having breakfast just out of Toronto, but we were running about 7 hours late due to the track cracking in Reddit. Breakfast occurred with a kind of familiarity which likely exists on no other passenger trains – over four days the train becomes a little insta-community on wheels. People are at ease with each other. As usual, I had the oatmeal.
Ontario in the snow is beautiful, and I spent most of the day in the dome car. I spent a lot of time talking to other passengers – this is something that gets easier and easier as the trip goes on. Partially because one has simply sat and ate with so many people, and partially because as the trip goes on everyone realizes there is no reason to keep to yourself. In everyday life, we are pretty reclusive around the “public”, and rightfully so – opening up to everyone would be tiring and perhaps dangerous (I hope I’m wrong on this point, by the way). But on the train, the “public” quickly becomes homely. A ready-made small town. Everyone has a lot in common – they’ve been on this train for too long.

This last update is arriving a little late. I didn’t write anything at the time, but I think it’s worthwhile to recall the rest of the trip and draw some concluding remarks. On day 5 we had breakfast somewhere around Sudbury Junction. Normally we’d be having breakfast just out of Toronto, but we were running about 7 hours late due to the track cracking in Reddit. Breakfast occurred with a kind of familiarity which likely exists on no other passenger trains – over four days the train becomes a little insta-community on wheels. People are at ease with each other. As usual, I had the oatmeal. Ontario in the snow is beautiful, and I spent most of the day in the dome car. I spent a lot of time talking to other passengers – this is something that gets easier and easier as the trip goes on. Partially because one has simply sat and ate with so many people, and partially because as the trip goes on everyone realizes there is no reason to keep to yourself. In everyday life, we are pretty reclusive around the “public”, and rightfully so – opening up to everyone would be tiring and perhaps dangerous (I hope I’m wrong on this point, by the way). But on the train, the “public” quickly becomes homely. A ready-made small town. Everyone has a lot in common – they’ve been on this train for too long.

We finally pulled into Union Station in Toronto around 3:30pm. The trip ended without much song or dance. I tipped the car attendant (I saw someone else doing it), said goodbye to my new friends, but didn’t exchange facebooks with anyone. Most of the folks I met were older, I suppose they don’t have facebook. To any accord, it didn’t come up. The train becomes its own community to be sure – but there is no need for that community to go on existing after arrival. No need for Via to create a “January 1st Canadian Eastbound” facebook group. (Although – I have the feeling this is the kind of thing they would do). I paid a red-cap to carry my luggage out to a cab, and took the easy way home. In principle, I’d prefer to take transit – but I had far too much luggage for that.

It was good to arrive home, to get back to school, to see my housemates again. I had a good visit in Vancouver, but now it is time to get back to work. As for the trip – it was wonderful. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Canadian Railway Adventure – Characters

I’ve met some pretty interesting characters on this trip. I’m no good with names (I’ve forgotten most of the names already), but as that will preserve their anonymity perhaps its a good thing. One couple I had breakfast with on I think the third day, outside of Reddit – the man had spent his career working in IT for banks. He’d been part of installing automated teller machines back in the 70s, and at the same time automated cash drawers for the human tellers. There was so much going on that at one point he was part of operation Slumber – which consisted of temporarily mothballing all the automated cash drawers for two years because there was simply too much electric infrastructure to maintain. Back then ATMs required a lot of human maintenance, so he was always running around working on machines. Alright, it doesn’t sound like much to say now, but at the time I found it a very interesting conversation.

Another man I spoke with quite a bit was a former OPP officer, who had worked for the railway during the early 60s – what he calls the end of the glory days of rail. From what I can figure “glory days” meant there were a lot more people working (even after the demise of steam, a freight crew was 5 people – now it’s 2), and that there was a lot more drinking (in the bunkhouse, during the turnaround time, the standard thing was to get plastered). It was certainly an era of transition – due to a strike in the 50s which the union largely won, the firemen did not lose their jobs at the end of steam – nor did the excess engineers. You see, steam trains needed a lot more engineers and crew than freights – because a double or triple header diesel freight still needs only one crew, whereas two steam engines require two engineers and firemen.

As a child, his father had worked for the railway, which meant they had a family pass. This entitled them unlimited free travel, but only on the slower train – the Dominion. The Dominion ran old heavy weight steel coaches. The train was so heavy that in the mountains it was split into two sections pulled by separate locomotives. The second class section (which he was on) had an outdoor observation car! He did not ride the Canadian much as a child because the pass did not entitle free travel upon it. However, he did say he saw the Canadian being pulled, albeit partially, by a steam engine in the late 50s. Apparently CPR claims the Canadian has never been pulled by Steam – but he saw a steam engine behind two diesels pulling it up a grade near Thunder Bay. For reasons I don’t entirely understand, the steamer had to be positioned behind the diesels, so it did not have the classic steam engine out front appearance. But still – remember these cars are the same as are in service today, and it is neat to think that they have been in service since before the end of steam.

Two obvious characters on the train were Melanie and Christianne, the two girls who volunteered to fly to B.C. and take care of Fred the Dog. Fred the dog, when his master passed away on Vancouver island, stayed by his side for three days before the body was discovered. His master had no family in the region – only a sister in Montreal. The dog could not be flown because it was too big, so Via Rail offered to transport him along with two handlers from Vancouver to Montreal free of charge. The trip itself was not without traumatic moments, both for the dog, the handlers and the crew. The delay coming into Toronto wreaked havoc with their arrival plans – and also created a visual embarrassment for Via because it’s tardiness became part of the national press coverage it was presumably trying to purchase by giving the dog free passage. But, in the end everything seems to have ended well.

I also met a guitar player by the name of Kori Kameda. We picked him up in Sioux lookout, a few hours from his home in Dryden. The fact the train was 7 hours late meant he arrived at the station (there isn’t actually a station in Sioux lookout. Well, there is an old “CNR” station building, but it is condemned – but with a big sign pledging money for a renovation). I wasn’t planning on getting my mandolin out on my own, but when I saw him playing his guitar, and he said he was game for jamming, I grabbed my instrument and we had a fantastic jam. The bar car attendant suggested to both of us that Via rail offers free passage to musicians travelling on the Canadian in exchange for playing a few shows a day, divided between the Park car (first class lounge) and Skyline car (lounge and dome car for coach passengers). This option highly interests me, and I think I will pursue it next time I need to travel across country.

Canadian Railway Adventure – Day 4 Afternoon

It feels late in the day, but it’s only 4:25 in the afternoon. Today was strange – we were meant to arrive in Sioux lookout at 6 in the morning, but we didn’t actually arrive until the afternoon. We’re eight hours behind on paper, but since that means we arrive in Toronto in the evening rather than the morning, it feels like we’re a day behind. Sioux lookout, or “the Soo”, or “the little Soo” to contrast it from “the big Soo” – Sault Saint Marie – is named after a hill from which the local indian band would watch for their enemies the Sioux. It’s really a town in the northern reaches of  nowhere, hundreds of miles north of Thunder Bay. The most interesting thing about Sioux lookout is that it has an LCBO and a Beer Store, and that if the train is significantly late, passengers have time to run to purchase liquor.

Right now we’ve just momentarily stopped in Ennis, which is even smaller. The town seems to ha ea. hotel and a grocery, but not much many houses. These northern towns are supply points for northern ontario, but since there isn’t much in northern ontario, they are not very big ones.

Along the way the train often stops for no apparent reason.There is of course, a reason – it has to do with the track up ahead. The track is sectioned off into blocks, and the rule is, no two trains can be in one block at the same time. When the train comes to a block there are two lights, one over the other, which can each be either red, yellow or green. If there are two green lights, it means the section of track the train is entering is clear, as well as the one after that. If the lights show green over red, the section the train is entering is clear, but the next one has a train in it. Green over yellow indicates that the section is clear, and that the next section may be clear by the time our train reaches it. Or at least this is what I was told by one of the staff.

The basic reason that progress is so slow has to do with the style of rail freight in this country. To maximize profits, the railway runs freights which are as long as possible. This is not more efficient from an energy standpoint, because a train twice as long requires twice as many engines to push it. However, it means less crew is required – because a train twice as long has the same crew as a shorter one. And, when freights are longer than sidings, it is the shorter train which must pull over to let the longer one pass. This is not a matter of priority per say, rather it is simply impossible to give the passenger train priority over trains too long to pull over for it. The simple solution would be to run shorter freights, but that would mean more people would have to have jobs, which would reduce profits, which would be unacceptable. The expensive solution is to build longer sidings, and more double track sections of mainline. However, the cheapest solution – which I think will likely happen – is put into place the CN/CP reciprocal running agreement I mentioned earlier. This really would be the best use of our existing rail infrastructure in Canada – although it would also mean the end of “The Canadian”. Sure, they could keep the name and the equipment, and potentially do the run much more quickly – but it would lose its usefulness to the communities alongside it.

Canadian Railway Adventure – Day 4 afternoon

It feels late in the day, but it’s only 4:25 in the afternoon. Today was strange – we were meant to arrive in Sioux lookout at 6 in the morning, but we didn’t actually arrive until the afternoon. We’re eight hours behind on paper, but since that means we arrive in Toronto in the evening rather than the morning, it feels like we’re a day behind. Sioux lookout, or “the Soo”, or “the little Soo” to contrast it from “the big Soo” – Sault Saint Marie – is named after a hill from which the local indian band would watch for their enemies the Sioux. It’s really a town in the northern reaches of  nowhere, hundreds of miles north of Thunder Bay. The most interesting thing about Sioux lookout is that it has an LCBO and a Beer Store, and that if the train is significantly late, passengers have time to run to purchase liquor.

Right now we’ve just momentarily stopped in Ennis, which is even smaller. The town seems to ha ea. hotel and a grocery, but not much many houses. These northern towns are supply points for northern ontario, but since there isn’t much in northern ontario, they are not very big ones.

Along the way the train often stops for no apparent reason.There is of course, a reason – it has to do with the track up ahead. The track is sectioned off into blocks, and the rule is, no two trains can be in one block at the same time. When the train comes to a block there are two lights, one over the other, which can each be either red, yellow or green. If there are two green lights, it means the section of track the train is entering is clear, as well as the one after that. If the lights show green over red, the section the train is entering is clear, but the next one has a train in it. Green over yellow indicates that the section is clear, and that the next section may be clear by the time our train reaches it. Or at least this is what I was told by one of the staff.

The basic reason that progress is so slow has to do with the style of rail freight in this country. To maximize profits, the railway runs freights which are as long as possible. This is not more efficient from an energy standpoint, because a train twice as long requires twice as many engines to push it. However, it means less crew is required – because a train twice as long has the same crew as a shorter one. And, when freights are longer than sidings, it is the shorter train which must pull over to let the longer one pass. This is not a matter of priority per say, rather it is simply impossible to give the passenger train priority over trains too long to pull over for it. The simple solution would be to run shorter freights, but that would mean more people would have to have jobs, which would reduce profits, which would be unacceptable. The expensive solution is to build longer sidings, and more double track sections of mainline. However, the cheapest solution – which I think will likely happen – is put into place the CN/CP reciprocal running agreement I mentioned earlier. This really would be the best use of our existing rail infrastructure in Canada – although it would also mean the end of “The Canadian”. Sure, they could keep the name and the equipment, and potentially do the run much more quickly – but it would lose its usefulness to the communities alongside it.

Canadian Railway Adventure – Day 3 Night

It’s Sunday night, after midnight, on the Canadian speeding away from Winnipeg. Speeding away from the prairies, the “Canadian West”, towards rocks and trees and Ontario. We will reach Ontario soon, but it will take the rest of tonight, tomorrow, and then another night to reach Toronto.

Winnipeg was an excellent stop. The train remains in the station for 3 hours if it arrives on time, which is long enough to leave the train and actually do something. The train actually arrived a little early, And  Camille and her boyfriend Jeff met me at the station. I didn’t recognize Camille at first, since her face was fully covered by scarves and toques – only her eyes showing. Jeff said that in Winnipeg, one must learn to recognize people just by their eyes. The conductor told us it was cold, minus 19.I think it was actually a few degrees colder than that – cold enough that you feel your face starting to freeze, and then unfreeze when you stretch it.

After trying a few other places which were closing early because it’s Sunday, we ended up at a Sunday night blues jam with Big Dave Maclean. The bar encouraged us to buy lifetime passes to the weekly event – a bargain at only 10$. However, I think my chances of being back in WInnipeg on a Sunday any time soon are pretty slim, so they allowed me to pay a 5$ cover charge instead. Apparently lifetime memberships to events at pubs is a common thing in WInnipeg. It makes sense – it encourages commitment, repetition, devotion in people. The music was excellent (I will post a few short youtube clips of the performance), and so was the beer from the Half Pint brewery. I had  an excellent Indian Pale ale which although quite low in alcohol (4.8%), was very hoppy, aromatic and flavourful. It doesn’t stand up against Central City’s “Red Racer” IPA, but then again, that beer is probably too floral to be called a traditional IPA anyway.

Jeff, Camille’s boyfriend, seems to be quite the character. He’s an avid cyclist, having completed several massive continental-exploring bike tours. He also has some sort of advanced degree in physiology, so he could share my despair of having to TA and fail students. It was good to see Camille again. She’s still working in the Thai place, wanting to open her own restaurant. I think she would do wonderfully, but it is so difficult to raise the capital needed to start a place. Even renting, one must be prepared to lose money for over a year to make a serious shot at opening a new place. They are both involved in bike advocacy, volunteering at a centre which acquires bikes from various sources (donations, the dump etc…) and helps people in need of transportation fix them up for their own use. The emphasis on learning to do things yourself, while at the same time being given a bike, I think combines the truths of egalitarian re-distribution and Emmersonian self-reliance.

I got back to the station after 11, less than half an hour before the train was to depart, but there was really no rush. Since they doors had been re-opened at 10:30, everyone else had already boarded the train. The completely new crew asked to see my ticket (the first time, since checking in, that anyone has looked at it), and seemed generally confused at not having to explain anything to me. At this point, spiritually it is not really “their” train. We the passengers have already been together for two days – we converse easily with one another, we have developed a mutual rapport. Up until Winnipeg, the crew was very much part of this instaculture – cracking jokes, engaging in long conversations with passengers, even making fun of us (when I asked the conductor where we were at one point, he said “on a train”). In contrast, the fresh crew appears to feel awkward. This is completely understandable – a train voyage like this is really just a series of multi day cliquess, which the fresh crew has not yet penetrated.

Riding the rails at night is really the central pleasure of this train. Everyone goes to bed, even the crew, because breakfast is at 6:30 (although served till 8:30 for late risers). I’ve developed a solution: stay up very late, wake up for breakfast, and then go back to bed. It’s quite false to say there is nothing to see at night – the moon lights up the files or trees, and it is even possible to see stars (although this would be improved if the floor lights in the dome could be dimmed or shut off). I work better at night, I think more clearly, or at least I would if I hadn’t smuggled all this booze onto the train.

We have just passed the edge of the prairie. The plains extend a little farther east now than they would have when first discovered, since the forests at the edges can be cleared and turned into more farmland. However, there is now no sign of any farmland around, only scrub forest as far as the eye can see (which, at night, is admittedly not that far). The train is making good speed. Looking at the schedule, I assumed the train ran quite slowly. In reality, it often runs faster than most Amtraks, right up to 95mph. However, the length of freight trains, and their consequent inability to pull onto most sidings, means we are often stopped to let other (and very long) trains go by. There is actually some talk of fixing this, but the results would be mixed to say the best. The idea being considered, says one of the Via staff, is a reciprocal running agreement between CPR and CN for their mainline cross Canada tracks. In other words, all trains in one direction would take the CP line through Calgary and Regina, and all trains in the other direction would go through Edmonton and Saskatoon. If CPR and CN decide to do this, Via will have little choice but change the service offered on the Canadian to fit with the direction of train travel. Vancouver, Kamloops, Winnipeg, Sudbury and Toronto could still be served in both directions, but all other existing stations would only be able to offer service in one direction, and the old Via stations at Banff, Calgary, Regina and all other points along the CPR line would need to be reclaimed and put into service, but only serving trains running in the other direction. The advantages of this would be faster travel – not having to stop for freight would allow for a much faster schedule, at least back to the 3 day schedule, and perhaps even the old 67 hour journey would not be impossible. Also, as a Tourist train it would be improved by offering two entirely different routes, and they really are significantly different both in the Rockies and along lake Superior. However, the disadvantage is the train would become less useful to Canadians who live near any stops other than the major cities served both by CN and CP – for instance, it would no longer be possible to take the train from Vancouver to Jasper and back again. From my Amtrak experience, it is evident that many people on the train take it from one small town to another small town two states over – but to do this seriously it must be possible to take the train again in the other direction a few days later.

Canadian Railway Adventure – Day 2 Night (ramblings)

Day 2 night

I’ve settled back into the rhythm of the rails. Meeting and interacting with new people on a train is a skill, a habit, which one can learn, forget, remember, lose, and ease back into. But being in tune with a train is more than relations with other passengers, there is an aspect of having a relationship to the built machine itself.

The Canadian is much harder to figure out than the Amtrak train I took in september. The Amtrak train was a workhorse, which kept a tight schedule, and transported people effectively to where they wanted to go. People who ride amtrak are largely not rail buffs, and those who are remember the good old days when railroads like Milwaukee Road and Santa Fee offered passenger service unmatched by Amtrak’s effective, efficient, but not particularly special brand of travel. The Canadian, on the other hand, is as luxurious as it ever was. It’s as if a tourist firm put the old California Zephyr back into operation as a tourist train. Like a tourist train it meanders along, keeping a slow and easy schedule. Sometimes it does travel fast (it actually has a higher top speed than most Amtrak trains, at 90mph), but for the most part it seems to rumble along at about 50. I have trouble taking it seriously. Perhaps that’s just part of its essence – it’s not a serious train. It’s a vintage relic which runs only three times a week, it’s more expensive than flying, and it moves mostly not Canadians but tourists who fly here to take the train. This destination character of the train comes into focus when I compare this trip with the one I made in september. Whereas travelling across America via four Amtrak trains felt like an adventure, this feels like a laid back vacation. There is one train, I have one berth, I move back and forth from berth to diner to lounge car. I make numerous friends, people do get off and on, but the trip is easy and predictable. I have more space than I know what to do with – at night I have an entire Park car to myself.

I’ve read that the Canadian is the longest passenger rail service anywhere in the world, excluding the trans-syberian express. From what I’ve read in Paul Theroux about that train, it is almost unbearable – Russians who ride the train spend the entire time either drunk or sleeping. In contrast, this train covers miles with an unbelievable ease – there is so much space, so little rush. Just a rumbling along, a drink, the moon above.

I love this train, but I doubt it is the future. The emphasis on luxury, space, and lack of rush are wonderful for a bon vivant like myself, but are in conflict with the values of efficiency, speed, low-carbon. I can tell I love it though, for the same reason as I can say I love Vancouver but not Toronto – everything about it becomes a priori of concern to me, feels almost like an extension of my body. I want to ride this train again and again (when travel is necessary, at least).

These hours in the night are perhaps my most favourite. It is now two AM, and I have been alone in the Park car for two hours, mostly drunk on smuggled wine. The moon is mostly full and as I watch it overhead, through the ceiling of the Park’s dome, I think about time, and how we spend it. We spend time like money, we save it, divert it as a resource to those end which we think will bring the most benefit to us. But where is time out here, on the prairie, at night? Is it in the distance the train covers, in the clock on my computer screen? No, these are all only the counting of time. The counting of time is done by the measurers, the waiters, the planners. But at night, sometimes, it is possible to experience time without measuring it. This also occurs in night driving, especially if one is alone or one’s passengers are all asleep – driving takes on the peculiar quality of moving through space but not time (this never happens, however, if one is in any way concerned with the clock, with the time of arrival). It happens most often when one does not know where one is, specifically at least.

Aristotle said time is the measure of movement. What one can see at night, on the train or sometimes driving, is that time is not the measure of movement – it is rather the site in which movement can come to be measured. Time is not the train moving through time, it is the space within which the train can move. Time is essentially eternity not because it is limitless or unchanging, but because the limits drawn in a measure of time presuppose an unlimited breadth from which they can be cut. Time, in other words, is unconditioned condition. There has to be time in order to have concern for time, but one does not need to have concern for time in order to have time. It is in these spaces of a lack of concern for counting that the hidden essence of time can be directly sighted.

Earlier when moving through the Chateaux car on my way to the dome, I noticed that I was not connected to the walls of the car. The car jumps up and down, and side to side, and I remain still. My connection to the car is contingent on surfaces which I apply forces to. If at any moment the surfaces of the car ceased to resist me, I would fall down to the tracks and be killed. However, this does not mean the tracks or even gravity are connected to me. I am connected to the earth through gravity in exactly the same way as the car through its floor and chairs – gravity like them is a force which exerts a resistance against me. I can feel this directly when I try to move against it, as in jumping. This line of thinking raises a difficult problem, however: if the car does not have a hold on me other than through its surfaces, and gravity does not have a hold on me other than through a force, experientially similar to a surface in that I experience it as a resistance, then what does have a hold on me. Where am I if I am not sitting in this car, moving on the earth?

Canadian Railway Adventure – Day 2 Evening

Re-training after an hours poke about Jasper makes me realize that my berth has become my home. I suppose that shows that home is not where you spend your time, but where you have a big pile of your stuff and sometimes sleep. So far I’ve spent almost all of my time in the Park and Diner cars. The Park car has two seating areas: a dome, and a “bullet” lounge which draws the car to a stylish close. Each have their own purpose and character – while the dome is excellent for seeing the sights, the bullet lounge (as I write this the attendant hands me a complimentary champagne) is for reading and socializing, and in the past, smoking. Unlike Amtrak’s Super-liner lounge cars in which seats are arranged in exclusionary clusters and face the windows, these seats face each other – making it easy to sit down and join in on a conversation. There is, almost as a rule, only one conversation at once is possible in the Bullet lounge – and from my first day’s experience it seems likely to revolve around trains. Earlier, in fact, one of the train’s engineers was nerding out with the train buffs about old diesel locomotives which are still in service, and about how engineers felt about the switch from steam to diesel in the 1950s. Also, one of the service attendants seemed very happy to discuss the crew circulation patterns, and what Via does and has done when the main line is shut due to accident. Apparently the Canadian has be re-routed onto the CP line on occasion, although it is more common to turn the trains around and fly passengers around the blockage. Re-routing trains is actually quite difficult because engineers are only qualified to travel the bits of track they travel, so emergency CPR re-routing requires taking on CPR freight crews to drive the engines in conjunction with the Via crew. In general, I am surprised by the interest of Via employees in the workings of the railway – the same things that interest train buffs. I wonder whether that is because people interested in trains are more likely to pursue careers on the rails, or whether working for a railroad actually engenders this kind of interest in shop-talk. This wouldn’t be surprising – no one finds it odd when lawyers are interested in the peculiarities of law, or if musicians become over-interested in instruments.

Speaking of lawyers, I had lunch with two British barristers today. One of them had been involved in debate, and had even been to Winter Carnival at McGill. They were in Canada for a vacation, taking the train from Vancouver to Jasper then finding their way down the icefields parkway to Banff, staying in both the Jasper Park Lodge and the Banff Springs Hotel. They made for quite interesting conversation – apparently in England barristers do not work, or at least not until very recently, only as prosecutors or defines. Instead they are all self employed, and take work both from the crown and from the private market. This seems preferable to our system, in which either side’s self-closure from the other is likely to produce a caricaturist view of police or alleged criminals. However, England is in the process of adopting a more north-american style system, where the crown will keep lawyers on retainer. The advantage of this is apparently crown prosecutors can be of help to police, giving them direction which leeds to follow up on for useful evidence, and which kinds of witnesses are most likely to be respected and useful in court.

Canadian Railway Adventure – Day 2

Day two on the Canadian is all about the rockies. Breakfast starts in Kamloops at 6:30 am, but my desire to see the Canyon last night meant I was up late and I slept in – till 8am. It’s a bit embarrassing to sleep in on the train since the attendant would like to put your bed away. I don’t have a lot of time to write right now, so I’ll let these photos do the talking. We’re about to pull into Jasper, where according to the announcement we will be remaining “An hour and… we will be rebounding at five o’clock” ! If we disembark the train, there is free wifi but one cannot re-board the train until it is ready to leave. I will take the opportunity to upload posts to northernsong, and to walk around Jasper a little.

Canadian Railway Adventure – Day 1 Night

The train is cold and there is snow on the ground. I’m not sure where we are, somewhere around Hope presumably because there are no signs of the Canyon, still farms even. Snow covers fields and antique tractors. What feels like air conditioning blows on my legs.

The train at night is a quiet place. I have the entire Park Car to myself – truly a luxury, an indescribable excess This car, the centrefold of the train, has a dome, a bar, and a curved seating lounge which draws the train to a close – giving the Canadian’s consist a “complete” look, a aesthetic sense ensue that it fits together. But it is deserted by eleven p.m. – a product of its being open only to first class passengers who are old and have no love of night life. Tomorrow night I will venture to the other bar, the one open to economy passengers, in hopes to find it livelier. But for now I will simply enjoy having a Park Car all to myself, it is as if it is affixed to the train entirely for my benefit.

When I embarked on the Canadian four hours ago in Vancouver, the train was a sight to behold. Actually, the train was two sights to behold – as the consists for both today’s  and Sunday’s departure sat pre-assembled in the station. That meant that not one but two Park cars faced the Platform at Pacific Central. The sight of two Park cars amidst the station’s Christmas regelia was as best a departing scene I could have asked for. As for checking in, however, I could have asked for a bit more. There was a problem with my carry on bag – it was too large. Not too large for the measurements – I went to the trouble of measuring it in advance with a tape measure, checking Via’s website to ensure compliance. But the website is wrong, so I emptied the contents of my neatly packed carry on into two complimentary shopping bags. Apparently it’s very difficult to change the website, and that it can only be done from Montreal, or perhaps from some of the smaller moons of Jupiter. But on balance, the staff were very helpful, even carrying my awkward shopping bags to my seat for me.

At my berth I’m sat across from a family. One of the young boys has a train made from punched out cardboard. It’s a model of Via’s new “Renaissance” train, the modern european equipment bought cheep from Europe when overnight Chunnel service was cancelled. When I was his age I had a similar cardboard train. Mine was of Bombardier’s LRC (light, rapid, comfortable) train, which was equivalently modern in the 1980s. Both seem strangely out of place on the Canadian – a train whose modernity has nothing to do with being contemporary or up-to-date. The Canadian is modern in the same way that a 50′s fighter jet is still modern. It’s old without being dated, it’s new without being in style. I don’t know if via makes a punch-out cardboard model of the Canadian, but maybe they should.

We are now thoroughly in the Canyon. The staff member I spoke with laments the fact we pass through the Canyon at night, and that its dramatic vistas can only be seen by the light of a full moon. I’m not sure how strong the moon is tonight, but the snow and fog have conspired to making the mountains visible. I’ve been in the canyon many times before but it is completely different by rail. On a road it is a dangerous and busy place- constant hazards in the way of sharp turns, speeding trucks, potential rock slides or black ice. And, rather than cruising along at a constant speed, one must constantly adjust one’s speed for the different corners. But on a train it is a joy. Not faster (as I say this, a speeding car has just roared past the train), but relaxed. Also, the view is better. In the dome car I sit high up, and when the track is right at the precipice I see straight down into the churning water.  When it is very far down it can be frightening to look.

As we pass Boston Bar, nearing two in the morning, I know it’s time to get to bed. Although part of me would rather stay up all night to see the Canyon scenery, the bunks will be unmade at a specific time in the morning whether I am ready to get up or not.