My new life in Young, Sask.

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Sunday, February 03, 2019

Last updated 945 a.m. Monday February 3, 2019

I’m coming to you from Young, Sask., population 240 since I became its newest resident an hour ago. I emigrated to Young from the United States aboard VIA Rail #2, the Canadian. I don’t know how long my tent will be pitched here but I know it’s damn cold, roughly minus 15 Fahrenheit. I do not much like Young, Sask., but I hope to soon qualify for permanent residency due to the length of stay.

This trip, which began in Vancouver more than 48 hours ago, illustrates a phenomenon that certainly applies to this train and maybe to passenger trains in general, and it goes like this: You can lengthen the schedule as a solution to late arrivals only to find that delays expand to fill the added time available and then some. To solve the problem of late arrivals in Toronto and Vancouver, the Canadian’s schedule was expanded last year by 12 hours. Based on my experience this trip, all it accomplished was to provide a window for 12 additional hours of delay.

You probably know that Canadian National Railway is awash in business, particularly between Winnipeg, Man., and Edmonton, Alta.—ocean containers, wheat, potash, crude oil, frac sand, forest products. This comes to more than 40 trains a day (some of them almost three miles long) over what remains largely a single-track railroad. CN is investing mightily to extend more sidings and even to connect them into stretches of double track, but it’s a slow process. Meanwhile, the government of Canada is investigating both CN and Canadian Pacific, alleging they are congesting the port of Vancouver, B.C., and threatening dire consequences. With problems like these, getting Via Rail’s train across the Dominion is not of overriding importance. Hence, my new home town of Young, Sask.

We were more or less on time Friday night when I went to sleep. During the night the temperature plunged and yesterday morning our train navigated around freights delayed by frozen, snow-clogged switches, leaving Jasper, Alta., two hours late—not a bad outcome, really, because there is now so much rubber in the schedule that we could make it up. We began to do just that, until entering Edmonton’s antigravitational field, which is to say, the closer you get to Edmonton, the harder it is to get closer still. Let me give you some numbers. At Gainford, Alta., 58 miles west of Edmonton, we came to a stop at 5:33 p.m., boxed in by freight traffic. We advanced upon the city by fits and starts, finally arriving after 8 o’clock but not getting out of town until almost 11, more than five hours late. We could still make up that lost time, thanks to the flabby schedule.

But we haven’t. You go like Zephyrus for a ways and then stop and wait. That’s been our story today, Super Bowl Sunday. You’re tuning in to the game in Atlanta soon, and we’re in Young, Sask. For what it’s worth, Canadian National’s freight schedules are in at least this much disarray and possibly more. In other words, we’re all in this together. I’m told that the railroad’s hottest westbound train from Toronto, 111, has been boxed up all day here on the Watrous Subdivision, just as jinxed as the Canadian. Aboard the train, it’s warm, the food is terrific, Martin in the Park car dispenses drinks with aplomb and we have each other’s cheerful company.

Breaking news! After a 90-minute stay, we are pulling up stakes in Young, Sask. The eastbound doublestack train in front of us has begun to move, and soon we will, too. We are now approximately six and a half hours late, but not to worry. We can make it up. Of course.—Fred W. Frailey

UPDATE February 3  9:00 pm

I awoke this morning in darkness at 7:15 am. We had entered the Watrous Subdivision half an hour earlier. The Watrous Sub is 247.3 miles long. We spent the entire day in that territory, leaving it at Melville, Sask., at 6:23 p.m., again in darkness. Our streamliner averaged  an amazing 21.23 miles per hour. Now we are on the Rivers Subdivision, having traveled during the past three hours all of 60 miles. We've been cruising behind a freight train most of this time. But this is life on the new, rescheduled Canadian, that will now operate on time because Canadian National said it would. We're having a jolly time and not complaining. I just wonder how many days will pass before my family misses its husband and father. . . .

I was going to give you a blow by blow description of our day on the Watrous. Instead, a picture is worth 1,000 words. Here are my notes. Read them and marvel at how one of the world's best passenger trains moves 500 miles a day.--FF

UPDATE February 4 9:45 a.m.

[The following note was discovered inside a bottle in a pasture near CN mile post 18 of the Rivers Subdivision, west of Winnipeg]

We are lost! Please send the R.C.M.P.! Pipes are freezing. Toilets don't flush, water doesn't flow. We are brushing our teeth with lager beer. For sustenance we exist on muffins and Canadian Rye. Rebellion reported in coach class, where the smell of marijuana is pungent and pillows are being set afire for warmth. God save the queen, but save us too!

The Survivors Aboard Via Rail #2


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