Dimensions of a great train

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Monday, August 15, 2011

The VIA Rail Canada Canadian of legend stretched to 40-plus cars on occasion. At least, that’s what I used to hear. But I now think those megatrains were just that, legends rather than realities. Three years ago, when I asked the people who should know, the 1,227 members of the Canadian Passenger Rail newsgroup on Yahoo, they set matters straight. Nobody could substantiate a train longer than 30 cars. The belief was that reliability of the DC electrical supply from alternators aboard the locomotives was a deterrent to trains longer than 30 cars.

That said, the eastbound Canadian that left Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station last night was, at 22 cars, monster enough for me. If you are unfamiliar with this train in its present incarnation, you might enjoy the lineup of equipment for this voyage:

6409 F40PH-2 locomotive (new green motif)
6440 F40PH-2 locomotive (old maple leaf motif)
8604 baggage
8133 coach
8125 coach
8107 coach
8516 Skyline dome buffet-lounge
Frontenac dining car
8503 Skyline dome buffet-lounge
Jarvis Manor sleeping car (Line 210)
Blair Manor sleeping car (Line 211)
Dunsmuir Manor sleeping car (Line 212)
1720 glass-roofed lounge
Brock Manor sleeping car (Line 213)
Bell Manor sleeping car (Line 214)
Sherwood Manor sleeping car (Line 215)
Chateau Levis sleeping car (Line 216)
Chateau Rouville sleeping car (Line 217)
8501 Skyline dome buffet-lounge
Acadian dining car
Amherst Manor sleeping car (Line 220)
Bayfield Manor sleeping car (Line 221)
Hearne Manor sleeping car (Line 222)
Kokanee Park dome sleeping car-buffet-lounge-observation (Line 239)

This is a fairly normal-sized Canadian for late summer. The Manor sleepers contain three open sections (lower and upper berths), four roomettes and six bedrooms; they are the sleeping cars VIA Rail prefers to assign. The Chateau sleepers, employed in peak season, feature three open sections, eight roomettes, three bedrooms and one drawing room; they are distinctive on the outside by the offset windows of those roomettes. All sleepers except the Park observation cars contain a shower in place of the fourth open section. The glass-roof lounge (in reality, unsold coach seats available for sleeping car passengers) is an alumnus of BC Rail and shuttles between Vancouver and Edmonton, Alta.; see the third photograph below.

You’re likely to see a 29-or 30-car Canadian in May, before peak-season fares take effect. To the train shown above, VIA would add four or five more sleeping cars, a third diner and yet another Skyline dome.

But 22 cars, more than one-third of a mile long, bending back and forth alongside the North Thompson River, is still a sight to see from the Park car dome on the rear of the train. The term that sticks to my mind is serpentine. During the stop at Blue River, B.C., this morning, it took me 12 minutes to walk its length outside, and another 18 to get back where I started through the interior.

For all of that, the 12-car, bilevel Coast Starlight that brought me from Los Angeles to Seattle last week probably carried more passengers. I know, that begs a comparison between Amtrak’s best long-distance trains and the Canadian. I’ll get back to you with that tomorrow. Maybe a few of my conclusions will surprise you. — Fred W. Frailey

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