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 and it’s 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 which was 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 is my list of 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 10 things VIA Rail doesn’t tell you about The Canadian train is a big one – VIA Rail does not on 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, especially considering how much more they are then the upper and lower berths.

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 meaning 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 and 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, making it super unclear and somewhat misleading.

via VIA Rail website

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 – shower when the train is stopped. 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

Again, 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



Booking.com

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.


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

  • 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.”

    • 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.

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