May 22-23 2010 – I have no idea where this train is, other than somewhere in northern Ontario and about 12 hours from Toronto. That could mean an number of locations considering this train has stopped, slowed down and even ran in reverse over those 12 hours. I don’t think it has run over 100 km/h for any extended period of time. Still, I don’t need to worry about as many time-zones as with the Trans-Siberian.
I like to believe that train travel is a higher form of travel in contrast to the sardine can nature of economy-class flying. In some cases, it isn’t as I can think of a few Chinese train adventures in hard-seat class that left me questioning humanity. Those trips were before China’s ambitious high speed rail days.
Traveling on The Canadian (as VIA’s flagship line is known) is in the former class. It is a sleepy, relatively comfortable way (even in economy) to move across the country…providing one has the time. In my case, from Toronto to Jasper, and then from Jasper to Prince George. I think the comfortable aspect is helped considerably by high popularity of the sardine class Toronto-Vancouver economy flights. No sane person would consider a 4.5 day journey in favor of a 4 hour flight. Suckers. Thanks to those folks, passengers on The Canadian enjoy probably a 60% vacancy rate in the economy coaches. This translates to everyone getting their own seat +1. $400 one-way to my destination…the sleeper equivalent would have set my back almost $1600 (meals included). I had a first class ticket on the Trans-Siberian from Vladivostok to Moscow…$900. Strangely, both my ticket to Jasper (from Toronto) and my ticket to Prince George (from Jasper) were exactly the same price…but the Toronto to Jasper leg is probably three times the length.
The seats are giant and rival the foot&body room on the Japanese, Chinese and European trains I’ve taken. There is also access to the dome car, which seems to be a uniquely Canadian rail service (maybe Amtrak has these?). Even with these features, it still remains a challenge for one to discover their optimal sleeping position. Two seats are perfect for a child, but present some challenges for adults. Most people seem to prefer the ‘curled ball’ position which spans the two empty seats. There are several variations with the head either being angled against the aisle arm rest or the window wall. One may also rest on their side, facing either the back of their seats, or the rear of the seats in front of them. The odd maverick passenger might be bold enough to stick their feet right out into the aisle, threatening the wrath of the coach attendants. I’ve been told that smaller folks have climbed into the over-head baggage shelves, slept under the seats or commandeered the dome car. I always thought that sleeping under the seats (with newspapers) was strictly a Chinese characteristic in their hard-seat class…but we do it in Canada too.
It takes awhile to find your position. I think I’ve decided on a combination of curled ball (head on aisle arm rest) and side sleeper (head facing my seat). Kind of reminds me of pass-the-pigs positions. The razorback is when one just lies down on their back in the middle of the aisle.
Northern Ontario is a lot like northern BC…mountains absent. The forests are of similar species and size and in some cases I feel like I could be driving highway 97 from Prince George to Mackenzie. There was some sections…I really don’t know where, that also had Siberian characteristics…low scrubby trees, open fields and run down rail line buildings and communities.
VIA trains are at the mercy of freight movement and play second fiddle to the 150-car behemoths that race down the track. Freight train size may also be a North American characteristic. I don’t think I ever saw a freight train in China and Russia that was larger than 50 or 60 cars. There were a lot more of them though. Canadian trains are exclusively diesel (although I believe there is some electric business going on in BC), in contrast to the heavy electrification of their Russian, Chinese and European counterparts. I was always under the impression that electric train motors offered more power than diesel engines. If the Russians can electrify their entire Trans-Siberian and associated spur lines…I’m not sure what our deal is…wait…we can’t even put in a high-speed rail line between Montreal and Toronto. That is probably why.
Boarding The Canadian was my first time in Toronto’s Union Station (my urban planning buddies will probably laugh at that). I was quite impressed with the size, architecture and relative efficiency of the boarding process. I was annoyed that I had to pay an extra $21 for my bag that was 7lbs over the 50lbs weight limit. I understand weight and aircraft…but weight and trains? Stop squeezing me for cash.
The silver HEP1 Coach Car is in good condition, but the style (blue pastel interior…carpet, walls, roof) is beginning to look dated (especially in comparison to the uber-modern and sleek Asian trains). It has been retrofitted with electrical sockets which is a welcome addition (but no wireless yet).
The train is stopping to dump of some fishermen at the town of Alsace…that is where I am…but I don’t know where that is.
I think I’ll dig out my camera. My old Pentax K100D died in India. Circuit board problem that would take weeks to repair (I brought it in in early May) and cost upwards of $300. The camera store had a second had Pentax ist’D…which is the step down from the K100D. I picked up the body for $200. Resolution is a bit less and it doesn’t have an anti-vibration function…but it works fine and the shots come out great in RAW. They also had the latest Pentax X for $700…maybe next year.
Tasty coffee on this train.
* after checking with Wikipedia…most of the passenger cars on VIA are over 50 years old.