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.