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Through the Prairies


View North American Train Trip 2022 on Bob Brink's travel map.

October 26, 2022

I woke up from my best sleep of all my train rides. Maybe I was getting used to sleeping on trains, but it probably helped that the train was going straight, reducing the amount of squealing coming from the wheels. We had been crossing the prairies all night, and that is what we had to look forward to all this day. The conductor on the California Zephyr had told me that he enjoyed his trip on the Canadian as it rolled past the waving wheat fields of Saskatchewan. But he did his trip during the summer, and it was now late October. The wind might be blowing, but the wheat had been harvested.

I was still up early for breakfast. I vowed to eat healthier this morning but that only applied if there was no French toast. A quick look at the menu told me that it was going to be cereal. I was joined by a nice woman who told me she was originally from Lithuania. I told her the story of my missed Russian train trip. We discussed the present situation in the Ukraine and how it was impacting Lithuania.

We were allowed off the train in Saskatoon. Tyler said it was cold outside so I pulled my warmer coat from the bottom of my suitcase. I walked up and down and established that the train was 400 metres long. Tyler took my photo standing next to my car.
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After our brief stop, I went to the dome car. We had our now established regulars who came and went throughout the day. There were three ladies from San Francisco. They had come prepared with activities to keep them occupied during the long journey. On this day one was teaching the others some type of craft as we rolled along.

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It was a nice day at first. There were no more mountains. Instead, we saw farm fields, grain silos, tractor dealers and a potash mine. Potash is a big business in Saskatchewan.

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And we saw some deer.
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We came to Watrous, a town of about 2,000 people. It has a tourism business based on its hot mineral springs, including some restaurants. The town is a flag stop for the Canadian (the train only stops if there are passengers). You could plan a few days there as part of your big cross Canada trip.
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Just about the time that I thought that it was not so bad to be looking at the prairies, we rolled into the fog.

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I went to the front lounge to get a coffee. There was a notice board with the various activities of the day.
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I took my coffee back to my regular spot in the dome. It was cloudy. but at least the fog was gone.
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After this exciting morning it was time for lunch. I was seated with the San Francisco ladies. They often take trips together and will visit Quebec City after finishing our train ride in Toronto. But they were going to fly.

I had the kebabs with shrimp and scallops. It was as good as it sounds.
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We pulled into Melville during lunch. It is named after Charles Melville Hayes, once the president of the Grand Trunk Railway. He had plans to build a transcontinental train line from Moncton, New Brunswick to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. His struggles with that dream ended when he took a trip on the Titanic.

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With no great photography available, I decided to spend some time in my room. I chatted with Tyler, and he told me that many of the staff on the train would be laid off in the next days, a normal occurrence as demand dips during the late fall and winter. The Canadian and Ocean trains are like resort hotels that employ young people for part of the year. It is much different than Amtrak which had a much older work force. I do not know which is a better business model, and I do appreciate that the Amtrak staff were career employees, but from the passenger viewpoint I certainly preferred the young staff on Via.

I was comfortable in my room but could only sit still for awhile, so I returned to the dome car.
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I stayed until sunset.

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I texted with a Pouch Cove friend and found out that Po had just been at their house for supper. I then got a message from Po. While she was out Zoe had struck again, getting into the dirty clothes, but this time she had only pulled things out and had not done any damage. Maybe the girl only wants my underwear.

At dinner I was seated with our youngest passengers (not counting our one child, a little preschooler travelling with his mother). After the German tourist left us in Edmonton, they seemed to be the only under 30’s on the train. I think the average age of the rest of us was likely over 60. Two are roommates at Carleton University in Ottawa, both are doing their master’s in engineering. They were hanging out with a young woman on holiday from New Zealand. The three were travelling in berths and liked them.

The dining room was packed. The staff were working hard, both because of the number of diners but also because they were going to be leaving us soon, to be replaced by a new crew in Winnipeg that would take us to Toronto. We were running early, with an ETA of 8:15 compared to the 10:00 pm scheduled time. That meant that the staff had to have everything cleaned up and ready to be turned over before then. I was quite sad that we would be losing Amanda and Tyler.

I was impressed by the way the staff handled the dining car. There were always polite but fast. They had to keep everything moving, so the dishes were removed as soon as we finished each course. I had the prime rib, and again it was restaurant quality, well above my airplane food scale. The chef was invited out and everyone applauded. There were no bows from the chef on Amtrak. There was no chef.
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We were told that we could get off in Winnipeg, but that we would then have to wait until the regular departure time to get back on board. I got out for a couple of minutes and decided that I was okay with skipping a short walking tour of Winnipeg after dark and would instead stay on the warm train, take my shower when the train was not moving, and get ready for bed before the passengers got back on. Tyler suggested that I wait for awhile since the staff would be filling the water system. I said hello to our new room attendant, a young woman, and goodbye to Tyler.

I was thinking about my choice of booking a cabin. My companions at my two on board dinners so far, three each night, were all staying in berths and found them comfortable, as did another of my dome car friends. I had sat in some unoccupied berths at the back of train and found the seats quite pleasant in the daytime.

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At night they were set up for sleeping with the seat folded out to a bed, and the upper unit came down for another bed. Curtains provided some privacy. The bottom berths looked okay for sleeping, but I think that I would find the upper berths quite claustrophobic.

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The berth passengers had toilets close by and shared the same shower as the “cabin for one” folks. An important limitation of the berths was a lack of power outlets. I often found a phone being charged in the communal washrooms. And anyone sharing an area would have no choice as to when the beds would be made up, so you could not choose your own bedtime like a big boy or girl, which I was so happy about on this train. One of my dome car friends told me that he just had his bed left down since he was never there in the daytime.

When I arranged my trip, I actually changed the direction of my travels and took the train from Vancouver so that I could stay in a cabin. I also had a cabin on the Ocean. For that post I referred to the “delicate topic of toilets”. Both cabins had an ensuite toilet (nice way to put it). It was a foot stool in the daytime and then a support for the folded down bed at night.
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I had mentioned the in-room toilet to people before the trip and they went “ew”. On the Ocean I agreed with my neighbour, it was “ew”, so I used the communal toilets down the hall. They were next to the berth area, which happened to be unoccupied. On this train the toilets were further away and sometimes occupied because the berths were full. My decision was made the first night when I woke up and really needed to go. My options were to get dressed and walk down the long corridor on a moving train or use the facility sitting just underneath the foot of my bed. I used my new skills to let my bed go up into the wall. No more thinking about “ew”, it was just more convenient.

I could also have chosen a larger cabin, officially a “cabin for two”. These rooms had their own toilets and a shower. I found an empty one and took a couple of photos.

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There is a significant difference in price between the sleeping options. The least expensive option, the upper berths, generally cost about $1,300, depending on various discounts such as for old people like me. It is a couple hundred dollars more for the lower berth and a $1,000 more for a cabin. A single in a two-person cabin would be $2,000 more. And that fancy room in the back is almost $10,000.

So, what will I do if I get a chance to take another trip on the Canadian? Will I consider travelling in a berth? I might, especially on a shorter trip, such as Vancouver to Jasper. (Maybe as part of a round trip taking the train to Prince Rupert and then BC ferries back down? Just an idea.) The cabins appeared to be all booked going west, but it was not the same going east. I was surprised that my area of the car was so quiet. I never saw anyone in the cabin across from me. In fact the only people that I ever met in my cabin area were the attendants.

The main thing that I liked about my cabin was the ability to shut my door at the end of each long day, or even sometimes during the day, and have my privacy, such as this night in Winnipeg. I had taken my shower and folded down my bed by the time I heard people getting back on board. I watched Winnipeg pass by my window as we left town, about 1,500 kilometres and 36 hours to go.

Posted by Bob Brink 21:08 Archived in Canada Tagged trains canada via_rail

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