A tale of last-minute Moonlighting - Part Two

Posted by Malcolm Kenton
on Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Passengers load their gear into the baggage car as VIA train 1
waits on time to depart Foleyet, ON on Mar. 4. All photos by
Malcolm Kenton.

Sunday, the first full day of the trip, went just about perfectly. The Canadian has become notorious for consistently being delayed in the double digits of hours, but the recent trend of more-favorable-than-usual dispatching by host Canadian National when the Moonlighters are on board continued, as it did for the entirety of the preceding eastbound trek. Nearly every eastbound freight, and a couple of westbounds, took sidings for us on the single-track line across the Canadian Shield. Our only slight slowdowns came when we met freights that were too long to fit in a siding, so they had to weave around us as we held the main. The pleasant ride with clear skies and over a foot of snow on the ground was accentuated by an excellent Winnipeg-based on-board service crew led by young Service Manager Dan Forbes, who made humorous and informative P.A. announcements.

VIA train 1 during the extended service stop at Hornepayne,
ON on Mar. 4.

When I arose Monday, we were stopped on a long siding in Anola, Manitoba, just 22 miles shy of chilly Winnipeg, where we were to have a five-hour layover while the crew switched over and the train was serviced and restocked. We wound up spending nine hours in that siding, waiting while our 12-hour-late eastbound counterpart made its way into Winnipeg Union Station because it was carrying the Vancouver-based on-board service crew that was to take us west. 

We waited further while that train brought a relief engine crew to our train, whose cab staff had exceeded their legal maximum hours of service. Dan Forbes kept passengers well-informed of all that was taking place during our standstill, and the Winnipeg ground crews did their best to expedite the servicing process once we finally pulled in around 1:30 PM Central time.

The westbound Canadian finally inches into Winnipeg Union 
Station on Mar. 5.

While we sat in the station, a constant parade of east and westbound CN freights passed by. Once servicing was done, we waited a while to get a slot on the main line, finally leaving the prairie metropolis around 5:00 PM, five hours late.

As we continued north and west across the undulating snow-covered prairies of Saskatchewan and Alberta on Tuesday, our over-the-road performance for the next 24 hours was the polar opposite of the first 24. We slowly threaded our way through a never-ending parade of eastbound container, grain, tanker and mixed trains, holding at a number of sidings, often for 30 to 45 minutes at a time. By the end of the day, we were running 12 hours behind. 

The depot at Viking, AB, reached just before sunset on Mar. 6.

To add to the displeasure, what I believe was a stomach bug that I had contracted from previous passengers kept me largely confined to my section, feeling queasy and unable to eat. Late in the day, I vomited, as had a few other passengers. After reporting this to my sleeping car attendant, he consulted with the Service Manager, who made the decision to quarantine me and the other ill passengers by requiring us to remain in our rooms (I was upgraded to a Roomette). We were initially told this would last all the way to Vancouver.

After my episode, I felt much better, though still not 100 percent, and took a light room-service dinner. It got dark just after we left Viking, Alberta. I slept solidly and awoke Wednesday as we were just entering Jasper National Park before sunrise. After I was able to eat most of a continental breakfast from the diner, the Service Manager deemed me recovered enough to move about the train. We left Jasper at 8:30 AM Mountain time, 18 hours late, and enjoyed a full daylight (though cloud-shrouded) across the Continental Divide and in the shadow of Mount Robson. The sky steadily cleared as the day went on, and we reached Kamloops at 4:00 PM Pacific time.

The 18-hour-late VIA train 1 somewhere near the Continental 
Divide on Mar. 7.

The most memorable part of the trip came after leaving Kamloops, where until Ashcroft, rare daylight views of Kamloops Lake and the Thompson River were enjoyed from the dome of sleeper-bar-observation car Prince Albert Park. To compliment the craggy desert landscape reflected in the serene lake, dozens of bald eagles were seen perched on snags and gliding on thermals above. Elk and deer were also glimpsed. After dinner, I went to bed as we were leaving Boston Bar on the stretch through the Fraser River Gorge where CN and Canadian Pacific practice directional running.

During the night, I only awoke briefly to find us rocketing through Chilliwack, B.C. at full track speed around 1:30 AM. We backed into Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station sometime around 3:00 AM (I slept right through it) and, as we were promised at dinner, we were allowed to remain in our rooms until 6:45 AM.

The westbound Canadian hugging the north shore of Kamloops 
Lake in British Columbia late on Mar. 7.

I had changed my previous plan, which was to take Wednesday’s Amtrak Cascades train 517 to catch a Thursday flight from Seattle, and instead had booked an 11:30 AM Thursday flight out of Vancouver. The sleeping car attendants had already clocked out, but the Service Manager came through the train with a wake-up call at 6:00. I packed up and detrained at 6:30, enjoying complimentary tea and muffins in the Business Lounge before leisurely making my way to the airport on SkyTrain. The flights were uneventful and I was back home in DC by 10:30 Eastern that evening.

The Canadian meets an eastbound CN container train on the
double-track section just west of Kamloops, BC on Mar. 7.
VIA train 1 enters a tunnel along Kamloops Lake on Mar. 7.
To leave a comment you must be a member of our community.
Login to your account now, or register for an account to start participating.
No one has commented yet.

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Search the Community

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy