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.