North America

VIA Rail – The Pride of Canada

Photo credit: Via Rail Canada

VIA provides passenger services that include rapid intercity services, cross-Canada journeys, and services to many of Canada’s remote communities.

In the Ontario – Quebec Corridor, where the majority of Canadians reside, VIA provides intercity passengers – and visitors to Canada – with fast, convenient and affordable service, downtown-to-downtown between Canada’s largest cities. More than 429 Corridor trains run per week, carrying 80 percent of VIA’s total ridership.

In Western Canada, VIA provides year-round, all-weather services, including the legendary Canadian train operating between Toronto and Vancouver three times per week. VIA also operates regional services in the West, between Jasper, Alberta and Prince Rupert, British Columbia; between Winnipeg and Churchill, Manitoba; and between Victoria and Courtenay on Vancouver Island – many regions that are the most visited and popular tourism destinations in the country.

In Eastern Canada VIA provides train service three times per week between Montreal and Gaspé, and six times per week between Montreal and Halifax on board the historic Ocean.

But it is the lengthy and interesting history of the railroad that intrigues train buffs, Canadians and visitors alike.

In the century that followed the launch of Canada’s first public railway, thousands of kilometres of track were laid across the new country, acting as a binding force and playing a steadily expanding social and economic role.

One outstanding example of the history and memorabilia of the period are murals by prominent Canadian artists. In 1955, hoping to promote passenger travel by emphasizing Canada’s natural beauty, the Canadian Pacific Railway (Now VIA Rail) launched a new transcontinental service, The Canadian. Each train included a dome observatory car featuring murals inspired by many of the country’s famous parks. These works of art were created by Canadian artists. The Canada Science and Technology Museum acquired this marvellous collection of paintings from VIA Rail in 1987. These murals, evidence of the railway’s role in promoting Canada’s majestic geography, are a highlight of the Museum’s rail collection.

Canadians still delight – and take great pride in – the many hotels that were built during “the period” when train travel and luxury accommodations went hand-in-hand. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when train travel was the way to go, dozens of Canadian cities on the Canadian Railway route erected luxury hotels to accommodate train passengers. The historic grandeur of these hotels is unsurpassed in Canada and some, such as the Fairmont Banff Springs, are first-class by worldwide standards. Many of these hotels have been maintained to much of their former glory and are still flourishing as Fairmont Hotels.

VIA rail, on board certain trains, has developed a multitude of souvenirs and Collectible that are available for sale on board and online. Interestingly to note: one of the most popular items is a book entitled Famous Name Trains.

Today, VIA’s fleet includes 396 passenger cars and 78 active locomotives. VIA is aggressively refurbishing the equipment across the network, from Halifax to Vancouver. Locomotives and passenger cars – most of them in service now for more than 20 years – are being renovated or stripped down and rebuilt from the ground up. The result is better-than-new equipment that delivers more accessible, efficient, and reliable service, and of course, a more comfortable ride.

The “green” travel option

Jasper to Prince Rupert on board Via Rail | Photo credit: Via Rail Canada

And of course, VIA is “greening” its equipment. As it is acknowledged that passenger rail is already and currently the most environmentally friendly public transportation available, new technologies used in rebuilding locomotives will ensure that they meet current environmental standards for emissions, and improve fuel efficiency. Completed equipment already in service has shown exceptional results – reducing fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions even more than expected.

VIA Rail’s flagship train, The Canadian is a legendary and remarkable three-day, four-night “land cruise” between Vancouver and Toronto across some of Canada’s most spectacular landscape. No matter what the season, travellers can be assured of unforgettable images that accompany a memorable journey. There are several classes of service to accommodate the discerning or the budget-minded passenger. But the scenery and awe-inspiring views are the same!

This is what TIME Magazine had to say about travelling onboard VIA through Western Canada …

“In 1886, a year after the last spike was laid on the railway that joined the Dominion of Canada from coast to coast, the Prime Minister’s wife, Lady Macdonald, traveled across the new country. For 600 miles of the trip she sat in a candle box attached to the cowcatcher on the front end of the train. There she was thrilled by “the novelty, the excitement and the fun of this mad ride…with magnificent mountains before and around me, their lofty peaks smiling down on us, and never a frown on their grand faces.” More than a century later, the Rockies still smile down on passengers traveling across Canada aboard VIA Rail’s Canadian, which now takes a more northerly route through British Columbia and Alberta. Train buffs consider this 2,750-mile, three-day, five-province journey one of the best in the world because of the train’s refurbished Art Deco-style cars and first-rate service and the stunning scenery. Owen Hardy, president of the Society of International Railway Travelers, praises the Canadian as “a classic example of the elegant modern trains rolled out by the private railroads in their last-ditch battle against the automobile and interstate highways.”

And you crave a learning experience, and want to “go in a different direction”, here’s a suggestion: For the past four years VIA’s Sleeper Touring Class seasonal Maritime Learning Experience has been immersing travellers in the romance and charm of Canada’s Maritime Provinces. From the mouth-watering regional cuisine like fish chowder, a lobster-trapping vignette complete with Larry the Lobster and his lobster crate to an on-train newsletter that keeps passengers informed along the way, VIA’s Maritime Learning Experience makes the grade. Throughout the journey VIA’s Learning Coordinators eagerly provide travellers with a unique learning experience on rails.

And for the adventurous, or for folks that have “been there, done that”, consider a trip to Canada’s north country. Not quite so far north that you’ll see igloos, but VIA’s northern services bring you “up-close and personal” with polar bears, beluga whales, birds, wildlife and of course the Aurora Borealis. If it’s polar bears and belugas and the Northern Lights you want to see then VIA’s Winnipeg to Churchill service is the ticket. VIA’s Jasper to Prince Rupert service is your best pick for black bears, moose, elk, eagles and other wildlife.

Train travel across Canada has been popular for decades and generations of passengers. Isn’t about time you considered riding these historic rails?

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