10 Things VIA Rail Doesn’t Tell You About “The Canadian”

Last summer I took a train trip so incredibly Canadian they named the journey after it. VIA Rail’s The Canadian train is the train passenger service between Toronto and Vancouver. Not only is it the only way to see the country by rail, but in doing so you are covering the very tracks that united the country over 150 years ago. From a sea of endless green fields to the Canadian Rockies, the trip is as diverse as the country it crosses. It’s also something I have wanted to do for a very long time.

Although the trip itself did not disappoint, VIA Rail’s description and specifics about The Canadian train did. Prior to leaving, I found it difficult to find practical or clear information about The Canadian. This is surprising given the cost of the trip and its popularity. Fast-forward to being on the train and I picked up a few things that would’ve been good to know ahead of time.

With that in mind, here are 10 things VIA Rail doesn’t tell you about The Canadian train but should.

1) VIA Rail Doesn’t Own the Tracks

First up on this list of things VIA Rail doesn’t tell you about The Canadian train is a big one. VIA Rail does not own the tracks it rides on. This may not sound like a big deal however because CN Rail, Canada’s freight line, owns the tracks it means VIA has to give way and stop for freight trains…a lot.

This means frequent stops and delays giving no consistency to the schedule. On my departure, for example, we were delayed over three hours. This is not uncommon.

2) Don’t Expect to Stretch Your Legs

Again, due to the inconsistency in the schedule, stops are not reliable. On top of that, The Canadian train is very much about getting from A to B. The only stops of any significant duration are in Winnipeg where the crew changes, Edmonton where the dome car is added, and Jasper. Even these stops vary in duration depending on how late the train is running.

VIA Rail The Canadian Train
Stretching my legs with a stroll on the Provencher Bridge in Winnipeg

3) If You’re in a Sleeper Cabin you may be Sleeping on a Toilet

If you are travelling in a private cabin for one, you might want to know ahead of time that your bed folds down on top of your private toilet. Gross right?

VIA Rail The Canadian Train

During the day your bed converts to a bench seat…next to your toilet. If I booked this cabin I would be disappointed. Considering how much more they are than the upper and lower berths, this is nice to know if on the fence.

4) Berths are in the Hallway

That said, you may want to pump the brakes on the upper/lower berth options as well. It’s not super clear on the VIA Rail website but the berths are in the hallways. This means anyone can pass by, day or night. I did not realize this until flipping through a pamphlet on my train ride from Kingston to Toronto where I was catching The Canadian train.

VIA Rail The Canadian Train

On the positive, I am happy to report that with the curtains drawn, the berths are actually very private. They are also very cosy. I would not hesitate to book this class again if travelling alone. It’s better than sleeping on top of a toilet!

VIA Rail The Canadian Train

6) There is a Reason Upper Berths are Cheaper…

Before you decide on the cheaper upper berth versus the lower be warned, there is a sneaky reason why they cost less. The upper berths do not have a window. I’ve heard this can make for a claustrophobic and disorienting journey.

There is, again, no mention of this on VIA Rail’s webpage. The best you get is this vague picture where the guest on top is blocking the window. This makes it unclear and somewhat misleading.

I travelled in the lower berth and thoroughly enjoyed (as does the lady in the picture above!) pulling back the blinds each morning to see where in Canada I was. I would not hesitate to pay more for this feature.

6) Berths Don’t Have Outlets

This is an odd one. Economy seats have power outlets. Cabins have power outlets. Hallways have power outlets. Sleeper Plus berths do not.

VIA Rail The Canadian Train

Although annoying, this was not that big of a deal and I managed to find power when needed. This is how I came to know about the “toilet single sleepers.” I spent a few hours with my feet up on the can while charging my devices and batteries in an empty cabin. The bar cars also have outlets.

VIA Rail The Canadian Train

7) Shower When Stopped

This next one is more a tip and less something be VIA Rail doesn’t tell you about The Canadian. You should 100% shower when during stops. If this wasn’t self-explanatory, this is strictly for comfort and for a less comedic showering experience. Since the train stops frequently (see point number one) this is not a problem.

8) The Panorama Car gets Added/Removed in Edmonton

Something that is not evidently clear is the well-advertised Panorama Car is only available for the journey through the Rockies. It is for unobstructed views of the mountains and removed, I assume, to save on weight which I get. It just isn’t clear ahead of time so don’t expect to travel like this the whole way.

VIA Rail The Canadian Train

On the positive, I found the Skyline and Prestige Park Car (which are attached the whole way) offer a better viewing experience because they are higher up…and serve booze.

9) Sleeper Plus Class can Access the Prestige Park Car

This one is listed on the VIA Rail‘s website but again, not super clear. If you purchase a Sleeper Plus berth, which is essentially budget class plus a bed, you not only get meal service and access to the dome cars but you can enjoy the swanky Prestige Park Car. This bar car is far superior in service than the Skyline Cars and also has an upper-level dome car with comfortable seating.

VIA Rail The Canadian Train
VIA Rail The Canadian Train

I seem to recall that Sleeper Plus passengers can only access this car after 2:00 pm. I tried to verify this through the VIA Rail website on The Canadian but came up empty. Kinda hits home why I am writing this post!

10) The Canadian is the Only Way to See Canada by Rail

VIA Rail The Canadian Train

Last up on this list of things VIA Rail doesn’t tell you about The Canadian train is, simply, that it’s the only company to offer cross-Canada passenger service by rail. Why am I adding this to the list? Knowing this ahead of time may sway you on the high price. I know it did for me.

Bonus Tip – Be Flexible and Save!

Most of these points may come across as negative but I have to stress that although The Canadian train is not a perfect service, I had an incredible journey and will definitely be doing it again. I will be following up with a post on my unbiased review of The Canadian so be sure to check that out if you are on the fence about taking this uniquely Canadian trip!

Till then, if you are looking to book a trip on The Canadian train try and be flexible. VIA Rail comes out with new discounts every Tuesday and you can find Sleeper Class Plus fares deeply discounted on specific routes and, if lucky, between Toronto and Vancouver.


What say you?
Thoughts on what VIA Rail Doesn’t Tell You About The Canadian train?
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35 Comments

  1. Avatarsays: Care

    Thank you for this eye opening and unbiased review, albeit magnanimous endorsement of a Crown Corporation (a term which usually means that that same corporation belongs to Canadians) which has been granted license to charge far too much for far too little.
    Any actual bias seemingly lies solely with the non-agent Canadian Crown Corporation providing this taxpayer subsidized “service”.
    Granted this is written based on experience from thirty years ago this month. Nevertheless, nostalgia aside, we paid $1700 Round Trip for a couple, from Vancouver to Toronto to Vancouver, the price for a private double roomette (sans meals). One was also permitted to disembark at any point along the route, and to then take a later train by booking to continue one;s trip for any other day of one’s choosing.
    Apparently, the customer now subsidized and pays fourteen times what was charged in 1990, but without the same benefit of what was at that time unquestioningly the best possible warm and friendly service.
    Additionally, if the paying customer is a Canadian they are also the same taxpayer who has already heavily subsidized the cost of VIA upgrades, maintenance, staff salaries, and running costs.
    Seen in this light, how are tax subsidies and assured wages for those hostile to good service not tantamount to Crown corporate welfare which, in turn, is almost guaranteed to encourage and engender a marked downgrade in service attitude?
    Call me quaint, but doesn’t misplaced tolerance invariably invite abuse?
    Clearly your reviews about VIA train travel were written by someone remarkably generous of mind and forgiving of heart. It is a given that the amazing Canadian scenery is part and parcel of the experience. However where we may differ appears to be with regard to just how many of one’s hard earned dollars one is willing to part with in exchange for what at times sounded almost tantamount to contemptuous abuse and marked indifference. It seems relevant to mention that within the terms of
    Canadian contract law, the Supreme Court has determined that a contract is only legally valid if both parties are fully satisfied, if the business exchange is seen as a win/win.
    I found my only other trip wonderful. Reading this review while considering whether or not such a trip would be affordable a second time certainly helped me to reconsider my plans and adjust my hopes to pragmatically accept dramatically downgraded business standards, as well as to reconsider what should be customer expectations of value for dollar. This article tells me that, at least for the writer, any reasonable expectations which were once a given no longer seem to exist.

    While the refurbished train is the same, everything else seems to have changed beyond recognition since my first and (now likely only) train trip from Vancouver to Toronto exactly three decades ago.
    Aside for general changes in the cost of living, the hard fact is that being expected to forfeit so much more in exchange for that much less speaks volumes about the seemingly endless limits of Canadian tolerance and possibly even financial complacency as well as lowered expectations for phenomenally higher prices. More than a few other customer review elsewhere described this cross Canada trek as a third world experience compared to almost any other train service in the world.
    Most would not be inclined to forget mistreatment in place of good service, let alone endorse the trip in spite of it.
    I took this trip hree decades ago. In fact it was to be the final trip ever again offered on that particular route and included a spectacular route around Lake Superior.
    You wrote: “it’s the only company to offer cross-Canada passenger service by rail. Why am I adding this to the list? Knowing this ahead of time may sway you on the high price. I know it did for me.”
    If it can be rationalised that it is acceptable to pay top dollar to a monopoly the highest price possible beyond what any reasonable market would tolerate, particularly for mediocre and even malcontent service from those whose own wages are assured, thanks to unionized, subsidized service, then with no real incentive to improve, nothing will change.
    ——————————————–
    May 8, 2019
    VIA RAIL REPORTS RIDERSHIP AND REVENUE INCREASE FOR A FOURTH CONSECUTIVE YEAR

    https://media.viarail.ca/en/press-releases/2019/8-may-2019-via-rail-reports-ridership-revenue-increase-fourth-consecutive-year

    “VIA Rail adjusted the schedule of its Canadian service between Toronto and Vancouver to address ongoing delays caused by the significant growth of freight rail traffic. These changes were made to ensure the safety of passengers while providing them with the best possible customer experience. By adding 9 hours to the schedule, the goal is to provide passengers daytime viewing of the majestic Rocky Mountains and daylight stops to most of the larger cities. Unfortunately, despite these schedule changes, the Canadian continues to experience significant delays resulting at times in trip cancellations.”

    1. Hey there, that is a hefty comment!

      Like I said in this post and my other unbiased review, yes the customer service could have been warmer but they are indeed the only option. Monopoly or not, I don’t see any other company stepping up to offer this service so perhaps the subsidies are required given the vast distances and the cost required. I don’t know. What I do know is the service was nowhere near a third-world experience. Whoever said that has not been on a train in a third world country.

    2. Avatarsays: William John Gibbons

      Well we can all thank the Federal Govt for the problems incurred by Via Rail. The railroads were given the land free back in the day, and now they monopolize what goes on their trackage. Go to Europe and compare Rail travel, and its absolutely laughable how far we are behind in rail travel. The “Canadian” should be running on the CP line, CP can damn well deal with track usage, as I said before they were given the land for free. As far as the high cost of train travel, you go on a train ride because you want to go on a train ride period. If you cant afford it, the take the cheap airlines and sit on the block of wood.

  2. Avatarsays: Bonnie Dalman

    Thanks for the article, great info. One has to do alot of searching and your review saved alot of time. Curious as to when you were on your trip??
    Unfortunately considerable amount of changes have been
    necessary due to the pandemic, which is really unfortunate!
    The start price is $6500 pp on dble occupancy (base price) ~The Canadian ~10 nights ~Winnipeg to Prince Rupert rtn.
    Ad in the WFP offer sounds great, but still so many queries.
    On the search now,,,,,, ??

    1. Avatarsays: Shaun

      Thanks for the comment! This trip was in 2017. I was planing to do it in the opposite direction in 2020 as I picked up an EV (myevtrips.com) and drove it home from Quebec but the pandemic put a wrench in that.

      There are undoubtedly changes to the service due to the pandemic but should return to normal(ish) eventually. Is Toronto to Vancouver not an option right now? Interesting if they are only doing Winnipeg to PR. Regardless, the Toronto to Vancouver leg will return and I would love to do it again!

    2. Avatarsays: David Bailey

      Just to be clear, the Canadian does not go to Prince Rupert but to Vancouver.

      You would have been changing trains in Jasper and then taking the Prince Rupert train (once known as The Skeena), train 5 there and train 6 back.

      You would also have been overnighting in Prince George on both legs of that segmentation. You would be on the hook for your own accommodations.

      Ya, it’s pricey. That’s the 2 person cabin? I did Toronto to Vancouver in economy. That was quite the experience. Showering was replaced by the liberal use of Wet Naps!

  3. Avatarsays: Peter

    Currently the trip West is only from Winnipeg., a private single room with meals & access to the park car and dome car., one way for a single senior is approx. $1100. The Schedule may start up again in May 2021, from Toronto again the price is pretty much the same for a private room with bathroom including meals and access to all cars. A unique & beautiful train tour so why all the whining?? If you want to save money fly?

  4. Hi Shaun, via rail just released news that Toronto-Vancouver service will return May 17, 2021. Your tips are still valuable regarding what to expect and when to shower. Well done.

    1. Avatarsays: Shaun

      That’s great to hear! I would caution that is either subject to change or for essential travel only. BC just implemented strict travel restrictions until the week after May long. Hotels are to turn down guests, road checks are being implemented, and ferry’s are denying customers if non-essential. I would assume this will apply to train travel as well. Fun times!

  5. Avatarsays: Penny

    This was incredibly helpful Shaun. Thank you very much for sharing all these details. You helped to answer a lot of my questions that no amount of research in VIA’s brochures or website could answer. Much appreciated!

  6. Avatarsays: Joseph Mathews

    Shaun,

    Just found this site and thank you. I traveled from Vancouver to Winnipeg on the “Canadian” 44 years ago when Canadian Pacific ran it. I still am in awe all these decades later. I can’t consider taking Via’s edition of it for several reasons. First, it is way to slow with the freight train issue. Second, the most scenic line is the CP mainline from Calgary to Vancouver. Third, the pricing for any sleeping accommodation is ridiculous. Ok, I am a train buff, so here’s my recommendation again not cheap.

    Fly to Calgary and take the Banff to Vancouver “Rocky Mountaineer” which stops overnight in Kamloops. Not cheap either, but you will see all of the route in daylight. The operation gets raves. I would love to see the “Canadian” restored to the original route with decent timekeeping. Ok, Mr. Trudeau and the House of Commons, get going on regulations and gines to give the train priority. Thanks again.

  7. Avatarsays: DP

    Enjoyed the article. Does the upper berth of the single sleeper only lack a window at night when the bed is up, or is there no window view during the day as well?

    1. Thanks! Unfortunately, there is no window in the upper berth at all. During the day the beds are folded up so there technically isn’t an upper berth during the day.

      Hope that helps!

  8. Avatarsays: Kathleen A Forster

    Thanks for explaining the “concealed toilet” mystery. It certainly wasn’t clear in the brochure what that meant. Do these single toilet-under-bed rooms have lockable doors or just curtains? That is not clear either.

      1. Avatarsays: Grant Wilson

        No, there isn’t a curtain – you are by yourself. Do you have a curtain in your bathroom?
        If you need to use the toilet in the middle of the night all the cars have public washrooms at the end of the car.

  9. Avatarsays: Fred Schenkel

    In 1989 I went from Revelstoke BC to Montreal. I think I had an upper berth. Had to change trains in Sudbury for Ottawa and Montreal. The VIA engine broke down between North Bay and Ottawa and it took several hours for CP to supply a Freight locomotive to schlepp the whole train including Via engine all the way to Montreal, arriving there about 5 to six hours late. Luckily the disabled VIA loco was still able to provide power to the dining car so I didn’t miss out on dinner! Towards the end of April we will travel from Vancouver to Halifax, which includes either 2 nights in Toronto or 1 night in Toronto and another night in Montreal. Such is the lack of connectivity between trains in Canada. And never mind the price difference between then and now!

    1. Avatarsays: Carolyn

      Thanks so much for your review on Canada’s only passenger train travel options! Their website was very vague and frustrating to navigate around. I am a senior in a wheelchair and I would require a cabin for two (my caregiver escort),with private toilet. Do they have connections all the way from Calgary to New Brunswick????? Do you know the best place to get an authorized, yet unbiased, travel agent to help me plan this huge journey??????

      1. Avatarsays: Grant Wilson

        You will need to book 3 trains: the “Canadian” from Edmonton to Toronto, a day train from Toronto to Montreal and the “Ocean” from Montreal to New Brunswick (along the north coast). Other than that you’ll need to find your own way to Edmonton. Phone Via Rail, I have found that their agents are very helpful. All the Cabins for 2 have their own private toilets. You WILL need cabin F if you have a wheel chair. It is significantly larger than rooms A-E. There is one handicap room in the Prestige car that you don’t have to pay Prestige prices for – you will just not have all the extras that the Prestige customers have paid for and the room is very spacious and comfortable. We just completed a Prestige trip last week (April 2022).

  10. Avatarsays: Grant Wilson

    All I can say to this article is you didn’t do your homework (I’m a retired teacher)! We read lots of blogs about the trip before we left and knew all that you didn’t know before you left. We have traveled all over the world, but only after doing our homework.

    1. lol well, I see you aren’t retired from scolding 😉 I certainly did read up before departing and, at the time of publishing this several years ago, there was not a lot out there. It’s also about what VIA Rail lacks or doesn’t make clear, not other sites like this. As you can see by the comments in this post, VIA’s website lacks some information so I am certainly not alone here. Hope you had an enjoyable trip, it really is a fantastic way to see Canada!

  11. Avatarsays: Anne

    I took the train from Vancouver-Toronto and back about a half dozen times.. – The last time was around 2005.. – I have been on it during all four seasons.. – I enjoyed Winter the most, with the beautiful snowy vistas.. – I just LOVE taking the train,, it is very nostalgic for me, as I used to go see my parents who lived in Toronto.. – They are gone now; I’d love to take the train across and back one more time.. – One way now, costs the same price as a return ticket the last time I took it.. (roomette). – Anyway,, I have always encouraged people to go for it, as there’s nothing like it in the whole wide world.. – It’s the only way to go !

  12. Avatarsays: Claire

    Many thanks for the review. You are right, it is very difficult to get information from the website or anywhere else really. Especially up to date due to pandemic. We are Brits travelling from Halifax to Vancouver by train at end of May 2022 (fingers crossed). We are breaking the trip in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Jasper but are still on the trains for 5 nights all told so have booked sleeper cabins on the Ocean and the Canadian. My query is what food and drink is included, if any? Can’t seem to find the info anywhere. Website says about Business and Economy but not sleeper.

    1. Thanks, Claire and I am jealous of your trip! Meal service is included with sleeper car passengers on the Canadian (Toronto-Vancouver) and the Ocean (Halifax-Montreal). Alcohol is not included but believe juices, coffee, tea etc are. Meals and alcohol are included in business class tickets between Montreal and Toronto.

      More info here: https://www.thislifeintrips.com/is-via-rail-business-class-worth-the-upgrade/

      Let me know how your trip goes! The Ocean is still on my list and I hope to get to it this fall!

  13. Avatarsays: Joe Mumford

    Thanks for the tips although I think I was aware of most of your points from searching the web. I am scheduled to do the journey westbound on June 1. My only question is luggage allowances. The VIA website gives specific dimensions for on-board luggage. However I will have a bedroom for two entirely for myself and hoping I can bring my roller suitcase which is about 10 inches taller than what their specs say is allowed. As there should be plenty of room in the bedroom do you think I will have any problem with this? I really don’t want to check the bag and have no access to it for the while trip.

    1. Avatarsays: Shaun Robertson

      Thanks Joe. I would think it is ok although size might be limited to avoid blocking hallways. Best to contact VIA directly and confirm.

      1 (888) 842-7245

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