A Canadian diary, in a nutshell

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Monday, October 24, 2016

In my blog describing VIA Rail Canada’s new Prestige service on its Canadian between Toronto and Montreal, I told you everything about Prestige-class service and nothing about the trip itself. So here it is, fast and dirty.

We got the usual handling on VIA #2, the eastbound Canadian. That is, we took the siding for 95 percent of the opposing freight trains we met. This has always been standard practice. So the variable becomes this: Is Canadian National having a relatively good day, its freights somewhat close to schedule and running without incident? If so, we’ll get a break and the opposing train will be waiting for us when we get to a siding, or will pass as we drift through the siding. Or is CN royally screwed up? This can be the case over much of the winter season, as storms disrupt operations and bone-chilling temperatures inhibit airbrakes from releasing on the two- and three-mile long freights. If CN is in trouble, the Canadian is in double trouble. Freights won’t be waiting for us when we get to the meeting point, and delays to our train multiply. On such occasions the Canadian gets to the other end 14 or so hours late.

Canadian National was in fine fettle for my trip two weeks ago. By day three, we were a mere two and a half hours late leaving Armstrong, Ont., on the CN Caramat Subdivision, 244 miles. The Canadian’s schedule allots almost eight hours for this distance, so you’d think we’d make up a good chunk of time. Here is what really happened:

We make flag stops at Auden (mile 192), Nakina (mile 132) Caramat (mile 78) and Hillsport (mile 42). Figure a delay of ten minutes each stop, including arriving and leaving. That’s 40 lost minutes. Then comes the gauntlet of westbounds: intermodal train 105 at Green (mile 226), a long manifest train at Ferland (mile 214), intermodal train 115 at Cavell (mile 147), our westbound counterpart, VIA train 1, at Otterdale (mile 51) and, finally, intermodal 111 at Lennon (mile 6).

Train 111 is a special situation. It leaves Toronto about 1 a.m. every morning for Vancouver, mostly with domestic containers, and answers only to the voice of God. It is not to be stopped or even slowed. So figure a 30-minute delay each time we encounter the train, which is roughly every 12 hours. Today, the terminal at Hornpayne, Ont. (mile 0), which has only three usable tracks, is jammed, so we are held at Lennon, the closest siding, for 111 to arrive in Hornpayne, recrew, and depart. For us, this lasts an hour.

So instead of making up time across the Caramet Sub, we lose 65 minutes. And that’s a good outcome, considering all that went on.

For the record, we reach Toronto Union Station the next day at noon, two and a half hours late, which is the same as ahead of time. A VIA train 2 a couple of trips ahead of us was 14 hours late, and one a trip or two later was reported running seven hours late.

And my thoughts? Just recounting our trudge across the Caramat makes me want to ride the train again.—Fred W. Frailey

P.S.: For you consist freaks (count me as one), here is my train's mouth-watering lineup, behind F40PH locomotives 6451 and 6407: baggage, 2 coaches, Skyline dome A, 3 Manor sleepers, Skyline dome B, diner A, Panorama glass coach lounge (off at Edmonton), 5 Manor sleepers, Skyline dome C, diner B, 2 Chateau Prestige-class sleepers and dome sleeper-observation (Kootenay Park).

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