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by Habeeb Salloum,  Canadian author and freelance writer

British Columbia Via Rail

            Travelling from Montreal to Quebec City, first class by VIA Rail, I was amazed at the smoothness of the ride.  It was as if I was riding in one of the top trains in Europe.  Reminiscing about the days of my youth when the trains swayed and jerked through much of the journey, I awoke to the voice of the train steward, "Anything to drink?"  To my surprise, I found that I had a wide variety from which to choose, followed by a fine gourmet meal.  I thought to myself, "One is pampered travelling by VIA Rail in the 21st century."

            After this fine service, I reflected, "It is as it should be!  The country has had a long love affair with train travel and now it's going back to its roots."

            Canada may be the only country in the world with a constitution linking its formation to the building of a railway.  British Columbia threatened to join the United States if it was not given its own line.  The Canadian government heard the message and 6,644 km (4,000 mi) of railroad were built from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  Since that time, trains have played a crucial part in Canada's history.  Today, VIA Rail continues the passenger rail service role of the former CN and CPR Railways of bringing Canadians closer together and delivering the spectacular beauty of the country to their coaches.

            Established in 1978 as a crown corporation independent of the other railway companies, VIA Rail Canada has gradually assumed full responsibility for managing all the country's rail-passenger services except commuter lines and some small local lines.  It operates intercity and transcontinental trains with more than 480 trains per week travelling over 12,200 km (7, 578 mi) of track.  The company provides service to more than 450 Canadian communities and annually carries some 4 million passengers.  

            Today, throughout the country, there is a faint glimmer of a return to the former glorious era when passenger trains ruled the landscape - and VIA is making this possible.  From among its numerous offerings, which in many cases include both Economy (Comfort) Class and First Class, are: in eastern Canada, the Corridor Trains cover VIA's busiest routes, between Quebec City and Windsor by way of Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, providing affordable downtown to downtown service.  Additionally pay-per-use wireless internet (wi-fi) service is now available on all trains within the Windsor to Quebec City corridor. 

The Ocean and Chaleur trains, which travel through Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Gaspe peninsula to Montreal, are always in demand; and VIA's seasonal mid-morning Toronto to Niagara Falls service as well as the new VIA Niagara Region Experience featuring VIA's elegant Glenfraser lounge car, running from Toronto to Niagara Falls through Ontario's wine region from June to September.

           In western Canada, the Hudson Bay, which goes north from Winnipeg, crosses a desert of ice and snow to Churchill; VIA's seasonal train - the Snow Train Express, running from Edmonton to Jasper from January to April, it gives travellers a view of some of the most spectacular scenery on earth; and the Skeena, travels through northern British Columbia's mountains and snow-filled valleys, traversing some of the most breathtaking scenery in Canada.     

However, standing above all is the VIA Rail's flagship, the romantically refurbished train, the Canadian - today one of the great train experiences in the world.  Originating in Toronto and Vancouver three times a week and taking some three days and nights to complete the trip, this unforgettable train-ride, a journey of 4,452 km (2,765 mi), takes in almost all the scenic panorama of Canada. 

            Thundering across the ever-changing landscape, this transcontinental train, after leaving the glass towers and concrete skyscrapers of Toronto makes its way through the glittering lakes and the endless forests of northern Ontario, across Canada's awesome expanse of rolling prairies, then through the majestic snow-capped Rocky Mountains with their breath-taking gorges, mighty rivers, tumbling waterfalls, jagged peaks and spectacular glaciers, each echoing one another's beauty, then continuing on until Vancouver.  It is one of the most scenic journeys in the world - one of the most memorable trips one can make in a lifetime.

            For those enamoured with the wilds should they watch from the windows of the train, there is always some glimpse of wildlife.  Crossing the mile after mile of flat prairie land, it is not rare to see a gopher scurry to his hole or a coyote or an antelope stand for a few moments and watch the train speed by.  Crossing the majestic Rockies, it's even more thrilling.  Herds of elk and deer, at times, can be seen scrambling across the landscape, or few moose will stare at the train and its passengers in a haughty fashion.  It is a picture postcard of the wild that can be enjoyed from the comfort of Canada's number one train. 

            More than this, in the tradition of the Orient Express and other historic trains, the Canadian offers a Silver & Blue class service, which pampers passengers, featuring private compartments with roomy showers, scenic dome cars, lounges and activity centers, as well as access to the panoramic Park car with its 360 degree view.  As an icing to the trip, complimentary coffee, tea and fresh fruit are available the whole day for passengers who take the Silver & Blue.

Via Rail Lounge
A fine Via Gourmet Meal

          Ontario-Via%20Rail-%20Kitchen%20Picture%20%23%205.jpgTo enhance these luxury attributes, fine wines are served with excellent meals prepared in the sumptuous Dining Room by renowned onboard chefs who have been featured in the national media. Passengers can also order room service, with classy meals served in the intimacy of their sleeping quarters.  Even though somewhat pricey, the Silver & Blue class service is one of the most sought-after train journeys in North America.  To many who have travelled across Canada in the Canadian, it is a never-to-be-forgotten journey.

            Travelling by VIA Rail in luxury is bringing about a yearning for the days of yore.  In their era of glory, the railroads were the prime mode of transportation for the masses.  Unlike the autos of our day where usually only a few people or a family travel together, the train of yore allowed travellers to interact with each other.  It was the public's social entity bringing the nation together.

            To some extent, this way of travel in the past is once again fashionable.  VIA Rail is acquainting million of travellers with the diverse landscape of Canada, especially when they take the Canadian. One cruises and enjoys the countryside without even touching a steering wheel.  At the same time, rather than stressful highway driving and airport line-ups or taxes, passengers ride VIA Rail relaxed and in comfort.  And best of all, extended families can make memorable trips together.

Via Train

Ontario Via Rail Train

            The Canadian has earned itself a place alongside such famous names as the American Empire Builder, the Orient Express and the Russian Trans-Siberian.  National Geographic has named it one of the top five 'Great Journeys of the World.' and International Railway Traveller called it one of the 'Best Rail Experiences in the World'.   Very few who have travelled in the Canadian will disagree with the saying that 'VIA Rail's Canadian has brought back the enjoyment of rail travel'.

Toronto Train Station

For Further Information About VIA Rail, Contact:

Call VIA Rail Canada, Tel: 1-888-via-rail (1-888-842-7245),
TTY 1800 268-9503 (hearing impaired), or visit


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