Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Late Train

We left Montreal on time . . . the last on-time moment of our train journey home to Saskatoon. But as with all travel, especially train travel, you have to go into it with an adventurous spirit and relaxed attitude. It helps that VIA Rail treats you pretty well! 

Computer problems - Just outside of Dorval (20 km from Montreal) the train stopped for an hour due to a main computer system being down. 

Bad weather - Stormy, windy, snowy weather meant that train schedules in and out of the Toronto area were totally messed up. Local commuters were late getting home, missing connections and those coming in for an opening play were quite likely going to be late or miss it altogether. VIA automatically offered up to 50% discounts on next train bookings. 

Train cancelled - When we finally arrived in Toronto two hours late, we went to check our bags for the Toronto/Vancouver train which was to leave at 10 pm. It was cancelled and not leaving until 7 am the next day. We wondered where on earth we were going to find to stay, thinking that hotels might already be packed with stranded travellers and, if we did find a hotel, how were we going to get there with taxis likely very busy as well.

We were shuffled around to about three different people but within an hour, with much anxiety and confusion on the part of the VIA staff, we had a voucher to stay at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel located just across the street. Very nice!

Out of Sync - The next morning, still amongst a bit of confusion, we finally got away from the station by 9 am. Although it was very slow going and lots of stops and starts for a good part of the day, likely due to this not being the normal time that the passenger train would travel and therefore having to make way for more freight trains than usual. 
A northern Ontario sunrise - photo taken from moving train.
We seemed to make up some time overnight but then at breakfast the train stopped and stayed stopped just a few miles east of Armstrong, Ontario. Pretty much in the middle of nowhere!

Broken down freight train - We soon learned that a freight train ahead of us had broken down. We had to back up so they could push it off to the side.  

Backlog of freight trains - Due to the breakdown there was then a backlog of other freight trains that took first priority. After all, that's where the big bucks and monetary incentives are. 

Out of time - By the time we could have got going again the engineering staff’s work time had run out and they had to bring in another crew -- as per legislation for safety reasons. Remember, we're pretty much in the middle of nowhere! Apparently the replacement staff were brought in by helicopter to Armstrong and then by vehicle to the train. 
Lots of snow!
The view (for 9 hours) from the back of the train.
The view (for 9 hours) from the dome car, looking forward along the top of the train.
Out of food - Nine hours later we finally were en route again but food supplies on the train were getting low. (We certainly didn't go hungry!) The VIA train heading east stopped and gave our train some food supplies and, during the nine-hour wait, the chef from our train went into Armstrong and bought more food.

The "artist on board" the train was Shelley O'Brien who has an absolutely amazing voice and played a custom-made ukulele. Her website describes her music as "quirky pop songs" and many of her own songs that she sang were about nature and animals. She was very, very good! When she played "Tennessee Waltz" I could just imagine Dad & Elaine getting up and dancing to it. 
Shelley O'Brien
Jam session! We convinced Tanner (from Saskatoon) to bring out his guitar.
Make way for the freight trains - We arrived in Winnipeg about 6:30 am which was a few hours later than the train staff had been anticipating before we went to bed the night before so I'm guessing we stopped a few more times for freight trains. We left Winnipeg at 9 am and pretty much flew through the prairies! Twelve hours later (and 20 hours late) we were finally home! 

The great thing about this trip was the people on the train. Everyone was pretty laid back and no one seemed overly stressed about being late. The VIA staff were excellent. There was nothing we could do about the problems and none were VIA's fault. We met some really fun, interesting people and had lots of laughs. I highly, highly recommend train travel!
A full moon -- looking out the back of the train (note the train tracks).

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