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Train Travel Across Canada – A First-Timer’s Experience

January 15, 2016 | Chris Lischynski

Recently I had the experience of traveling to the east coast of Canada.  It was literally a planes, trains and automobile style trip. We flew to the cost, rented a car, and ended our trip with train rides from Halifax to Montreal and from Montreal to Toronto, and from Toronto to Winnipeg.

I knew this was going to be a great train travel adventure when we boarded the train.  One hour after we left the station in the evening there was a cocktail hour in the lounge car. Cocktails, champagne and appetizers were served while an attendant excitedly told us about the history of the train and what we could expect on our trip.   Later on in the evenings the lounge car was wonderful places to play board games, read, and visit with new friends.

I was really surprised at how comfortable a long ride might be. I had heard the VIA Rail trains were comfortable, but this was very cozy.  We had a cabin, which had an upper and lower bunk and a private bathroom with a locking door.  During the day your bunk is folded up so there is upright seating, with a nice console between the seats where you can relax and look out the window. In the evening the porter comes in and turns down the bunks and makes up your bed.

Dining on the rails was nothing short of spectacular.  Each table had a lovely table cloth and cutlery. You may be thinking that eating on a train means your plate is moving and glasses are tipping but this is not even remotely true.  The ride is smooth and there is a gentle sound of clickitty-clack as you eat your meals.  We enjoyed breakfast and dinner on our trip.  One evening as we travelled from Toronto to Winnipeg I had pickerel. It was so good I almost wanted to ask for a second helping! For lunch I had a terrific burger on a very fresh bun. One of the best experiences was the dinner conversation each night.  Each dining table sat four people. As there were only two of us traveling, every time we came in to dine we were seated with someone new so we could get to know new people and share stories of travel.  There were rich, wonderful coffees, good wine, and dessert was always a treat.

At any time during the train journey you could go up to the dome car and look at the scenery going by. It’s absolutely spectacular.

My top three recommendations when traveling by train across Canada are:

  • Get the cabin if you’re going on a long trip. There are economy seats ideal for shorter three or four hour trips and they’re certainly more economical.  The leg room is terrific and there is even WIFI on the train. It’s far more comfortable than you would imagine. But for a long trip I would recommend a cabin where you can rest overnight comfortably.
  • Take advantage of the dome car.  Go upstairs and see the scenery, especially if you take a train through the Rocky Mountains.  What a view.
  • Talk to us about how exciting – and easy – it is to travel by train!  I noticed there were a lot of older people taking the train, and many of the passengers swear by train travel.  Train travelers are very friendly and love to talk about their trips!

While travel is often about the destination, the magnificent experience of the train is part of the adventure.