The great race (Part II)

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Friday, February 10, 2017

 Are you like me? Let me retract that question; we all know you are much my better. But like me, do you usually wake up on a train not when it is moving and knocking you about, but when when it is stopped? That was the case again this morning. It was 7:15 and starting to get light and we were somewhere in Ontario. It seemed we'd been stopped quite a while, too. Wherever we were, I figured we were in the time slot of train 111, Canadian National's most important Do Not Disturb intermodal train. I had time to shower and dress and begin walking toward the observation car before the train whizzed past. Our engineer radioed best wishes to train 111 (I was right) and we continued on our way.

So yes, a miracle did occur. I'm still on VIA Rail's Canadian. I did not get off in Winnipeg as I feared I would. After Saskatoon, Sask., we flew along for a couple of hours, made up a little time and I reconsidered my options.

As I said in my earlier blog, the magic number is 8. We are due into Capreol, Ont., are 12:18 a.m. tomorrow. If we can reach Capreol no more than eight hours late, I can easily catch a 9:55 a.m. Air Canada flight to Toronto, board my plane to Washington that afternoon and arrive at Patrick Frailey's engagement party at about the time the Canadian limps into Toronto. That is Plan B, and I decided last night to go with it. Besides, I adore the lakes and forests of the Canadian Shield, and the forecast today was for snow. Who can resist all that?

I'm told we left Winnipeg at 4:05 a.m. this morning, six hours and five minutes late. As the day passed, we chipped away at the deficit, passing Allanwater Bridge at 1 o'clock this afternoon, now five hours and 29 minutes down. I began to relax. This might work.

Then the train dispatcher began sticking it to us. Just past Allanwater, we went in at Kawa to meet intermodal train 107. You need to understand that train 107 is a run-it-when-you-need-it train of no particular importance. But the Canadian is of even less rank, with the status of perhaps a work train that picks up old ties and scrap metal along the right of way. We waited 45 minutes for 107--long enough for me to walk to the dining car, have a bison burger, pay for my wine, and walk back to my room before it appeared. Three stations later, at Collins, we stopped 10 minutes to load two passengers waiting in a heated shed at the settlement. And at the next siding, Pascopee, back into the hole we went, this time for intermodal train 105. That was 50 minutes ago, and we're still waiting. In a couple of hours, it will be time to clear the decks again for another edition of 111, which is usually followed by train 101, another Do Not Disturb train bound for the docks at Vancouver, B.C.

Okay, 105 passed as I wrote the last sentence. Our next stop is Armstrong, 15 miles away. We'll get there, spend five minutes and leave about 5:05 p.m., by then roughly seven hours and 20 minutes late. My needle is about to enter the red zone.

I have two hopes. One is that a kinder, gentler train dispatcher is by now starting his or her shift in Toronto. The other is that the Canadian will be true to its reputation and, having gotten by 111 and 101 a few hours hence, will make up a slug of time. We'll know soon enough.--Fred W. Frailey

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