SOS from Canada

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Monday, March 24, 2014

Had breakfast in the dining car this morning with Susan. She boarded VIA Rail's Canadian at Rivers, Man. Hmmm, I said, we were due there about 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon. Four-thirty, Susan replied. What time did we get there, because I must have been asleep? Midnight, Susan said. So you waited at home, I asked? No, she said, in the car; VIA didn't know where its train was. Eight hours in a car, waiting for a train . . . .

It's been an adventure. When last you heard from me, the Canadian was crossing eastern Saskatchewan . . . three? four? five? hours late? Doesn't matter. Seems so long ago. Ancient history.

I awoke this morning and saw we were in a big city station. Must be Winnipeg, Man. My watch said 5:30. We were due out at 10:30 last night. I went back to sleep. An hour later I woke up. Still in Winnipeg. I got up, showered and got ready for the day ahead. Now it's 8:55 and we are still in Winnipeg, but at least the train is in one piece again. I forgot to tell you that the first sleeping car on the train--empty since Jasper, Alta., thank goodness--developed a mechanical problem somewhere overnight and had to be set out. Setting out a passenger car in Winnipeg is such a novelty, I guess, that it took three hours to accomplish. But soon we'll be on our way.

I should describe our train. On the front are two EMD F40-type locomotives, both facing forward. Then a baggage car, a coach, Skyline dome lounge, sleeping car (formerly two sleeping cars), diner, four more sleeping cars, and the Park dome sleeper-lounge observation (so called because each of these cars is named for a Canadian national park). Each sleeping car is from the Manor series and contains three open sections, four roomettes and six bedrooms for two. Where the fourth open section once was is a shower.

But anyway, you're probably wondering how my train could become more almost 11 hours late. So am I. Mainly train congestion, as I reported yesterday. Edmonton, Alta., to Winnipeg is Canadian National Railway's aorta artery--everything on the railroad seems to flow through it. The Canadian seemed to be delayed poking along behind slow eastbound freights more than it did taking the siding for westbound train. The dispatchers were loathe to tuck those two-mile-long eastbound clunkers in a siding to let us by. I don't really blame them. Those trains represent a lot of money, and the Canadian very little, to Canadian National.

The trains are long and frequent. I spoke in the Park car yesterday to a CN signal maintainer returning to Hornepayne, Ont., from a holiday in Edmonton and points north. I asked if CN had begun running long freights again, now that the weather was a bit warmer. We never stopped, he replied; we just kept running those two-mile-long freights. In below-zero weather, didn't it take hours to do a brake test, I asked? Oh yes, the fellow replied. At crew changes in places like Hornepayne, he explained, the inbound crew would wait for the outbound crew to board, thereby making a brake test unnecessary. By the way, I asked, what's there for a young man to do in Hornepayne? Nothing, he said. He bid on a job there to build seniority.

Well, it's 9 a.m. and we're moving. Yea!! I forgot to tell you that this morning I cancelled all my hotel and train reservations beyond Toronto and will fly directly to Washington, D.C., from there two days hence. That way, nothing can go wrong. Do I really believe that? No.

But I'm having fun. Really, really serious fun. I keep telling myself that. I'll have even more fun now that we're no longer sitting still.--Fred W. Frailey

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