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Across the Rockies by Vista Dome

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Well, I’m now effectively semi-retired. I’m presently in Japan achieving a long-held ambition to ride a Shinkansen, I’ve ridden a section of the Trans Siberian ... which leaves crossing the Rockies in a viewing car as my last great railway ambition. 

 

I’ve heard mixed reports of this from people I know who have done it, including a recommendation that Via (the Canadian operator) still operates such a train in regular service. So, I’m open to comments and experiences from anyone who has done it?

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When I semi-retired my son suggested we do a big train trip. When he was little we used to travel around the UK on 48 hour jaunts using my free travel. 

In 2006 we decided to fly out to Vancouver and back from Halifax,  NS, travelling only by train in between. The first leg was on the Canadian.

I don't know what the service and stock is now but we travelled in the ordinary seat, eating in the dining saloon which was the bottom deck of the leading Dome Car back then. In three days on the train we had formed quite a good dining club.

Overall a good trip, but 24 hours on the Canadian Shield can be a bit boring. 

Whatever trip you decide on there the Rockies by train are awesome. You need to check the schedule to make sure the best bits are in daylight.  Will try to post some pics later when I am back to the desktop.

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I did the Canadian, east to west a couple of years ago and thought it was great, during the trip there are different people who give talks on the area and I had a wine tasting. If there's any wild life about the driver contacts the conductor who makes a PA announcement, with which side too look out, I missed the beavers, but saw a grizzly scratching his back as we left Jasper.

You can usually alight at stops for a bit of a leg stretch. At one stop we had about an hour, some that had done the trip headed left out of the station for several hundred yards to a sort of market, I followed and found that they had a bar so managed to get a pint in before rejoining the train. I cant remember where, but if you're interested I will go back through the photos and try and find it.

 

If I get the chance I would like to do west to east, I will then have coast to coast in both directions having already done the round trip from Toronto to Halifax.

 

 

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From a local, if you are really concerned about scenery, I'd suggest the Rocky Mountaineer to/from Banff instead of Via rail. The main reason being the CN line used by Via travels through the Yellowhead pass which is more like a broad valley in parts. Far less spectacular or interesting when compared to the CP route through the Kicking Horse, Roger's pass and spiral tunnels. On the south side of border there is the Amtrak Empire Builder through Glacier Park. 

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Keep in mind that being a regular train service, the Canadian might run during hours of darkness. The East bound train is only really in daylight hours from Blue River to Edmonton, and the West bound from Jasper to Kamloops. It's a fab trip, but if you are after scenery it might be an idea to look at the more touristy option, such as the Rocky Mountaineer...

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1 hour ago, Siberian Snooper said:

If there's any wild life about the driver contacts the conductor who makes a PA announcement, with which side too look out, I missed the beavers, but saw a grizzly scratching his back as we left Jasper.

We slowed down to a crawl and the driver kept sounding the horn so we went up to the dome and there was a large Grizzly sitting in the middle of the track When we got about 50 yards away he got up and lumbered back into the woods. 

 

We used the Canadian as we wanted to get from coast to coast but as said elsewhere if you want the better views it would be worth checking out the tourist operators. There are one-way and round trip tours available.

We were lucky in a way that we were delayed between Kamloops and Jasper for about three hours due to a failed freight tran. This put the whole of the Rockies section into daylight. Because of the delay our train was going to miss the connection towards Whistler, so we were held in one of the loops near Jasper whilst the other train came in and the passengers from our train were transferred to the other.

 

The Jasper route used to be good for big freights, I don't know the current situation but at that time there was a lot of container traffic through Vancouver. On one occasion we stopped at a loop and when the freight arrived it was 170 wagons and took four minutes to pass us.

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We did the Canadian from Vancouver to Jasper a couple of years ago as my 50th birthday present to myself - we considered the Rocky Mountaineer but as we had two boys in tow decided against that. We left Vancouver around half six in the evening and had views along the Fraser River as we climbed into the mountains. people in the dome car were very friendly. We woke up at Kamloops (or at least I did) and from then on the views were spectacular as we got to Jasper around half four in the afternoon, an hour down. We thoroughly enjoyed it and the boys enjoyed the whole sleeper car experience.

 

I also did the whole Vancouver - Toronto journey as a child (on the old CP route) and remember seeing a bear come out of the woods and follow us along the track on the first morning, and being bored by hour after hour after day of wheat field, punctuated by grain silos.

 

 

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I have to say that I found the whole journey to be interesting, probably because it was different to the scenery in this country and large swathes of France.

 

I have also done  New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and back to New York and both of the cross Rockies routes were different to the Canadian trip.

 

Still on the bucket list is New York to Chicago on the Lake Shore and then onto LA via the Grand Canyon, then New Orleans and back to New York, but it needs an upturn in the exchange rate, before that happens.

 

 

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A few shots from our trip in May 2006, mainly between Kamloops and Edmonton IIRC

Photos by MJ Steele

 

In the Dome CarP1060247.JPG.c69737a126871329604419fdc1503575.JPG 

The driver stopped each dome car by the waterfall for photosP1060250.JPG.2d2196a43db2a120a36eaad8eb7554b5.JPG

 

Mpuntain views from the Dome CarP1060267.JPG.c713d03b458a3ba0db3060d286da4f4d.JPGP1060327.JPG.b304a1b756e0fbe86f145cf3db35333b.JPG

 

Lineside wildlifeP1060416.JPG.a33585aae933e158f3f3be316d5dc6da.JPG

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A few more from me

 

Dome Car Sunset

 

1550953851_canada076a.jpg.5d835aecc7d07bb3758f5b030b553694.jpg

 

More mountains and lakes

697323486_canada101.jpg.6f6eceb8c777df0c161ebe17b38e196c.jpg

 

Refuel and restock at Jasper

137299757_canada105.jpg.4f89e0dd40632691f28361bf5cefd07e.jpg

 

Train stretched out behind us heading for the wheat country. Rather nice Trestle Viaduct back there.

921860776_canada134.jpg.899d00e18ffac6d7f68b8815170a5a6d.jpg

 

 

Evening in the Diner

160429584_canada145.jpg.233fd3862a08cd87f6fdb1dfbe7fcf79.jpg

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I travelled out of season (end of Oct) and my train was considerably shorter. This was from the observation at the back of the train...

 

9204564198_b8890396b3_c.jpg by Bimble, on Flickr

Edited by bimble
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I notice that some Japanese trains have observation cars at the rear. I hadn’t known that and I would have certainly included it in my current trip. 

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I did Toronto to Vancouver in 2 steps in August with a 9 year old...and had a blast.  That's traveling coach, not sleeper, and it cost me the sum of $450 Canadian, plus food.  If you are older, I would recommend sleeper- it is a bunch more comfortable, and gives access to the dining car, rather than the cafe in the Skyline for us plebe's...

 

There is no wi-fi on the Canadian.  Cell coverage is sporadic, at least all the way across Ontario and BC.  Some of the stations where stops happen could do with a corner store opening in them- I'm looking at Winnipeg, Edmonton and Kamloops, which are in desolate areas.  Jasper is _very_ convenient to the train though...

 

(we got pizza delivered in Sudbury, but that was through a friend of my sister, who happens to live basically backing onto the station...)

 

I've done all the route now- been Sudbury Jt to Toronto enough times for it to be routine (back when it was Silver & Blue ), and Vancouver-LongLac eastbound in 97, back when the remote stations still had...gasp...stations.  (hint- LongLac doesn't any more...), and Vancouver-Jasper 3 years ago with my then 11 year old.  

 

The coach seats are not super comfortable to sleep in for me- I'm 6'.  If you are shorter than about 5'8", they'd be fine.  It also probably depends on your traveling companion- the 9 year old is like an octopi when asleep !

 

The schedule is very padded out due to freight trains.  CN is/has spent a boatload of money to deal with the results of E. Hunter Harrison's Precision Railroading, a lot of which looked to have taken effect this year, with more looking to be done next year.  (Double tracking...)

 

James

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The train runs 3 days a week in the high season and 2 in the winter.

 

Delays measured in days have been reported -- allow for this in your bookings.

 

I haven't been on it for decades, and not on the current route.

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4 hours ago, BR60103 said:

The train runs 3 days a week in the high season and 2 in the winter.

 

Delays measured in days have been reported -- allow for this in your bookings.

 

I haven't been on it for decades, and not on the current route.

 

The train I travelled on was 3 hours late leaving Toronto and we arrived around 6 hours late in Vancouver.We had several incidents along the way, which didn't help. Several extended stops were curtailed to help with the time keeping.

 

 

Edited by Siberian Snooper

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We left Vancouver on time but a freight train failure put us three hours down by Jasper. Beyond there we lost time waiting to pass freights but gained time on various sections by shortening stops in the middle of the night and made up a bit on the last leg and were just under three hours late into Toronto.

The first delay led to so interesting operations with getting locos to the failed train and into a loop, then an improvised connection for some passengers at a loop in the middle of nowhere. Later we had a a stop to pick up a party with kayaks to get them round some difficult bits of river and a whistle stop to deliver supplies to a trapper at a cabin in the woods.

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I thought I would share a couple of photos from our trip.

 

1. VancouverIMG_0525.JPG.304eb52658c8702419762cc7600a48da.JPG

 

2.Looking back from the dome after departure from Vancouver

IMG_0555.JPG.066aecb45d1e459d902096656e838598.JPG

 

3. Kamloops from the sleeper car window

IMG_0559.JPG.4cb46bd0d2c403fa4b5baeb5bd17f855.JPG

 

4. I think this is Mount Robson. That's what I tell everyone. IMG_0612.JPG.31b2cea88a295b3404a461533ec8aa0d.JPG

 

5. After arrival in Jasper

IMG_0615.JPG.3bfac06bcfcf9a98a00ae6e5c9ab3b06.JPG

 

6. Preserved loco JasperIMG_0689.JPG.863c9f958f647d183ff61406e8c24306.JPG

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I've done it both ways, a couple of times since 2011, when I went right across from Halifax NS to Vancouver (3 different trains). 'The Canadian' is certainly something to experience and the first couple of times (both westbound) I really enjoyed it. However, my eastbound trip in 2013 had me saying 'never again'. We were only four and a half hours and one makeshift lunch late in to Toronto, but we'd had a really bad night of noise and shunting about just a few hours out of Vancouver, because a freight in front of us had broken down. We then went like the proverbial bat out of hell during the next night, trying to make up time. The speed and rough riding of the sleeping car that I was in (wheel flats, loose and banging equipment, antiquated bogies) made sleep impossible. The steward said he'd been on it all summer and it was getting worse all the time. I wrote him some notes to pass on......

More recently the schedule has been extended by 24 hours to improve time-keeping but but reports seem to suggest it has had little benefit. Difficult to see how it might help, as it simply means you meet more freights coming the other way. (The freights are generally too long for the passing loops, which means that the shorter 'Canadian' is always the train that gets held. The freight may be still up to an hour away and when it arrives may take 20 minutes to go by.)

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That’s always a risk when travelling by sleeper. I’ll add in, stops in stations using public address systems (a problem in the U.K., South of Crewe and again at Glasgow).

 

We travelled by sleeper from Cairo to Luxor in 1986 and my wife complained about the noise, and has never been prepared to travel by sleeper since. I must admit that many years of sleeping on various vessels and rigs, combined with a nightcap or three are a sovereign remedy for this sort of thing. 

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Travel across the USA / Canada by rail is on my list - probably, hopefully one day.

 

I've never travelled by sleeper in the UK, (Caledonian sleepers pass my house every night !!) though I have travelled by sleeper from Hat Yai to Bangkok and Bangkok to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Both trips were comfortable (couchettes) and the adjoining restaurant car was excellent. A nice meal with cool beer or three whilst rocking and rolling (metre gauge) through the jungle covered mountains (well, big hills !!) at night - window open, with a diesel hydraulic up front !! - They have new, sealed window air conditioned trains now.

 

Brit15

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On the sleepers in both Canada and the States, if people are disembarking the steward goes and taps on the door, no PA announcements at night.

 

 

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2 hours ago, Siberian Snooper said:

On the sleepers in both Canada and the States, if people are disembarking the steward goes and taps on the door, no PA announcements at night.

 

 

 

Same in UK. The problem is that trains sometimes stop in Stations, particularly Crewe and Glasgow, where station tannoys are in full operation. 

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Just got back from a Eastbound Jasper to Totornto Canadian run. A superb experience and highly reccomended. Yes, go sleeper class; those couchette things at the end of the cars look both uncomfortable and prone to disturbance from other passengers. The cabins creaked a bit but nothing serious, the private loo is also useful.

Unlike a 'steam specia'l round trip this train really is a journey, we met a host of folks from different parts of the world, including some locals including a farmer from Manitoba with a wealth of information about life on the prairies and a couple from Bristol who had just received Canadian citizenship who were using a government 'welcome to Canada free pass' one time only ticket. Three good meals a day and a bar. What more could you ask?

 

The schedule, despite being five hours behind the night before we got to Toronto was magically regained and we arrived at 12:30 , 30min ahead of schedule. I'm gusessing the schedule allows a disproportionately  long time for the last bit so as to avoid disappointment at a late arrival.  Operationally, reverisng a 27car train with passengers around a 'Hornby #1 radius' curve into Edmonton station was a bit different from the usual British passenger train operation to say the least.

As for timing of a trip, this was the only one we have taken but I am gusessing it is about as late as would be reccomended as winter was setting in in the Rockies with a fair bit of snow on the mountains, trees were yellow becoming red as we got closer toToronto so plenty of colour, but there was more colour  to come.

 

can1.JPG.d80247ba9709f7a4b53b6ea724e13265.JPG

Near Jasper

 

 

 

can2.JPG.8649525d9e97ae87984fa250ba7bfa70.JPG

And one of the many freights

 

They got boring after a while, 150 cars were normal and 198 were the most we counted, but seriously, that wasn't the purpose of the trip -  we didn't count them all!

Steve W

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I have just been through my photo album and picked a few photo's out from my trip on the Canadian.

 

I start out on the prairies and just after dawn on a cold and frosty morning.

 

Canadian_RM_1.JPG.21713d42a5771bbfb34069cda9be87c8.JPG

 

The next few are heading west through the Rockies, any snow is recent as the crew were saying that the peaks were clear on their out bound trip.1597473938_CanadianRM2.JPG.f2bf3433d5b80dfb9903e1810d0a0f5f.JPG

 

179501390_CanadianRM3.JPG.4da701c1026c07866ce13d049cd8afb8.JPG

 

249420664_CanadianRM4.JPG.57a4ade87fea01700923954f14852bbc.JPG

 

and the last one is the lower reaches of the Fraser River, there was plenty of evidence of the timber trade with rafts of logs moored to the banks as we progressed down stream.

 

 

Canadian RM 5.JPG

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Just looking back at this thread a couple of things probably worth repeating.

The Prairies. I made sure I had a good book for this section on the Canadian - never even got it out of my bag. A fascinating journey. Perhaps  we misssed any dull bits in the night (we were going East, the Westbound may give different views).

It has been noted that the route of the Canadian in the Rockies is not as spectacular as the Rocky Mountaineer route, spiral tunnels etc.   The Rocky Mountaineer is not a cheap option, but is a tremendous five star experience and scheduled to give two days of daylight travel. We blew the kids inheritance and went 'Gold leaf' service, didn't regret a penny of it and the route is spectacular. The cars are large and comfortable with good clean glazing for taking pictures, although there is a bit of glare from the internals of the car. The real bonus is the open air balcony on the lower deck at the end of the car giving clear photo opportunities. Add the superb catering and free bar, plus overnight stop hotel at Kamloops and it makes for a good deal.

Our overall journey was West to East, Vancouver to Banff, then across to Jasper via the Columbia Icefield to pick up the Canadian for Toronto. This leaves Jasper around lunchtime and you therefore get a nice scenic section leaving the Rockies in daylight as well.

As an aside, and only as a happy customer, our complete tour was put togther by Ffestiniog Travel and adapted to our requirements. An idea of this trip is on their website

 

1305940901_RMount1.JPG.ef7ec0ff9b53d9cd682f64ae78807c23.JPG

Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf dome car.  Plenty of space and legroom

 

 

RMount2.JPG.1a667cae1436be465b41dc30df0ae184.JPG

The open balcony at the end of the car. 

ban1.jpg.9f0cb39d9cf5cc50ec91b310e0b2af99.jpg

The town and environs of Banff. From the top of the 'Banff Gondola' (cable car) ride. no trains on view , just to whet your appetite!

 

Steve W

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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