North America

Live in Canada? Visiting Canada? Take the train!

VIA Rail's flagship train The Canadian making its way through the forested hills of the Rocky mountains. Photo credit: Matthew G. Wheeler

“I’ve done The Canadian four times, experiencing coach, upper berth and private roomette. VIA trains are pretty far superior to Amtrak (excluding the Cascades line) to start with and the staff is nicer and more relaxed.”  –  VIA Rail Passenger

If you are visiting Canada from abroad, or you happen to live in Canada and are planning a trip, why not consider travelling aboard a train.

It has been said that the most spectacular North American rail journeys are in Canada. And it’s true, the excitement and scenery are spectacular when traveling across Canada on board a train.

As Canada’s national rail passenger service, VIA Rail Canada has been providing inter-city train transportation for decades. VIA consistently ranks as one of the most trusted transportation companies in Canada. In Leger Marketing’s 2010 Top 100 Companies in Canada survey, VIA outranked every other transportation company.

VIA Rail’s flagship train, The Canadian, is a legendary and remarkable three-day, “land cruise” between Vancouver and Toronto across some of Canada’s most spectacular landscapes.

In fact, Robert Carroll of The National Travel newspaper, published in Abu Dhabi, ranked VIA Rail’s Canadian among the Top Ten train trips in the world.

“This epic journey from Toronto to Vancouver takes three days and passes through the gamut of Canada’s diverse and magnificent scenery. Up through the lakes of Ontario and over through the Rockies, the train’s stainless steel cars wind their way across the vastness of Canada. Sleeper touring class includes meals and use of the skyline car – its glass-domed roof offers excellent views. The cabins are fitted with beds and private washrooms. Shower rooms are available in each car. The accommodation is decent but the scenery is the real star of this journey: sweeping valleys, towering mountains, rolling forests and immense lakes.”

The Toronto-Vancouver train, which takes three days to travel between one of Canada’s largest cities and the Pacific Coast, lets you see the breadth of the country like never before. Passengers can choose between Economy class, or upgrade to the pleasures of a cosy bed, a gourmet table and exclusive access to stylish lounges in Sleeper Touring class. The park car is the most impressive: there is a dome area, a lounge and a rounded salon from which the view of the scenery is magnificent.

VIA Rail, since beginning in 2010, has invested some $22 million refurbishing and modernizing cars on The Canadian. Cars have been newly designed and provide passengers an elegant ambiance which contributes to this one-of-a-kind experience.  Beginning in the summer of 2012, passengers who want more comfort can enjoy a boutique-hotel experience in their cabin when VIA Rail will introduce a newDeluxe Sleeper class. Tickets for the Deluxe Sleeper class will go on sale in mid-October of 2011.

Travel in style with Via Rail | Photo credit: Via Rail Canada

Via calls this route The Canadian after a famous Canadian Pacific train that operated  between 1955 and 1978, but the name is misleading since the Via version follows the more northerly Canadian National line rather than the historic main line of Canada’s first transcontinental railway.

Or, another fascinating western Canada route to travel is between Prince Rupert and Jasper, which is a region rich in First Nations culture and history. The Jasper-Prince Rupert is a two-day trip from the rugged splendour of Jasper National Park and the Canadian Rockies to the wonderfully scenic beauty of the Pacific coast.

If you would like to travel in the opposite direction, between Montreal and Halifax, you will find yourself aboard the Ocean.
This train has operated over essentially the same route since 1903, making it one of the oldest named trains in the world. It travels over the former Intercolonial Railway line, built by the federal government as part of the terms on which New Brunswick and Nova Scotia agreed to join Canada. During both world wars the line to Halifax was vitally important to Canada’s war effort.

Year round, VIA Rail operates some 450 intercity, regional and transcontinental routes across Canada, transporting millions of passengers across the vast and scenic landscapes of the country.

VIA Rail Canada provides passengers a variety of classes of service, depending of the route. There are also numerous getaways and tour packages that cater to a variety of special-interest activities such as Adventure / Sports / City Touring / Cultural Events and Fishing and Wildlife and you can even plan Rail-Air / Rail-Cruise trips.

VIA Rails’ fleet is equipped with all the amenities and technology that one would come to expect from modern travel, including wireless Internet access. Most trains that operate on the “Corridor” (Windsor Ontario through to Quebec City Quebec) offer free Wi-Fi access, and have AC outlets for laptop use. Via Rail was the first North American transportation service to offer Wi-Fi to its passengers in early 2006, and was one of the first in the world to do so.

One logical advantage of travelling by train within Canada, or almost anywhere in North America, Europe or wherever, is that you are able to travel downtown-to-downtown and avoid the airport limo expenses and time it takes to travel by air. VIA Rail maintains a network of stations, many of which are located within walking distance a many city hotels. As well, many Canadian city train stations are quite grand and often historic.

In Toronto for example, the train station is named Union Station. The train station was opened  on August 6, 1927, by Edward, the Prince of Wales, and was accompanied by his brother and sister-in-law, the Duke and Duchess of York, British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. The Prince of Wales remarked during the ceremonies that “You build your stations like we build our cathedrals.” The Prince of Wales was issued the first ticket sold at Union Station, to Alberta for a cost of $71.20, which today would cost over $1,100.

Central Station (In French Gare Centrale) is the major inter-city rail station in Montreal, Quebec.

The Jasper-Prince Rupert run | Photo credit: Via Rail Canada

Central Station is the second-busiest Via Rail station in Canada, after Toronto’s Union Station, and sits above and next to the site of the now-demolished Canadian Northern Railway’s Tunnel Terminal.

At the end of the 1920s, the newly formed Canadian National Railways struggled with disparate Montreal terminals (Bonaventure Station, Tunnel Terminal, Moreau Street Station, and McGill Street) and sought to consolidate them. The solution chosen was to take advantage of the Mount Royal Tunnel to bring trains from the north and east through the tunnel to a large electrified central station. Trains from the south and west gained access by a new elevated viaduct.

Construction started at the end of the 1920s and the new station opened on July 14, 1943, as the first of a series of large-scale urban redevelopment projects undertaken by CNR and the federal government in Downtown Montreal.

Properly planned, the range of getaways and packages offered by VIA Rail and / or tour operators are as diverse as the seasonal landscapes of the country. In fact, many of these getaways and packages revolve around the seasons in Canada. And each season offers a beauty and array of activities …

Many experienced travellers are enthusiastic proponents of travelling by train as much as possible. The mode of transportation is ‘green’, you can view the landscapes up close (and after-all, you did want to ‘see’ the country) and the process of travelling by train is considerably less stressful than a busy airport.

No matter what the season, one can be assured of unforgettable images that accompany a memorable train journey. VIA Rail has become a popular means of transportation during the last several years. Given the assortment of packages, and renewed interest in train travel, VIA Rail continues to be alluring means of travel both for Canadians and out of the country visitors.

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