Canadian arrival: Please be late

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Updated 9 a.m. Dec. 7

In the fading light of an overcast December afternoon, the Canadian twists and turns in harmony with the North Thompson River, 30 miles away still from Kamloops, B.C., where we should have arrived at 11 last night. An hour from now, at 4:45 p.m., it will be dark.

I prepared for my westward trip across Canada with certain assumptions. One was that VIA Rail No. 1, would take me past certain places during the eight-hour period of daylight and other locales at night. The other was that No. 1 would get caught in Canadian National’s freight train blender and see it’s timekeeping destroyed. Of course, neither thing happened quite the way I expected.

The very late arrival of the eastbound Canadian in Toronto last Sunday morning turned our schedule upside down. Four nights and three full days became four days and three full nights. What I figured we’d pass at night, we went by during daytime. And the same with what would occur by day. You know, I didn’t care.

Likewise, I expected our timekeeping to be a joke. It always is. But we did okay, at least to this point of our trip. Our worst delays were of VIA Rail’s own making—the engineers hours late to meet our train in Ontario and the criminal activity in the forward car not long thereafter. To me, losing four or five hours of running time, as it appears we will do, is really a least-bad outcome.

What I really wanted on this train—what I always appreciate—is an adventure. If you’ve followed me across Canada this week, you know I found it: Inspired dispatching in Ontario that keeps the railroad fluid running super-sized trains past regular-sized sidings. A railroad bursting at the seams with business. Ca-ching! I wish every railroad were as cursed by such a bonanza. New friendships forged in the dining car or under the domes.

Today we approached the source of Canadian National’s disarray of late. Three times in the past month, washouts and derailments blocked the river canyon west of Kamloops, where CN and Canadian Pacific share track, so that CN handles all trains west and CP east. These events threw schedules to the wind.

The last blockage reopened a few days ago. Still, the railroad is not back to normal. Vancouver cannot deal with the backlog of delayed westbound traffic all at once. As we approached Blue River, B.C., this morning, the rail traffic controller told our engineer he was not sure how he was going to get us the next 139 miles to Kamloops. Our Clearwater Subdivision was being used as a staging area. Sidings at Vavenby, Birch Island, Blackpool, Chu Chua, Barriere, McLure and Vinsulla all held abandoned trains waiting a turn to run toward Vancouver. So of necessity we waited 80 minutes at Wabron for two eastbound trains (including VIA Rail No. 2) and 57 miles down the road, another 45 minutes for three other eastbounds.

In its wisdom, VIA Rail has decreed that if we get to Vancouver after 2 a.m. tomorrow, we can stay aboard the train the remainder of the night. Earlier than 2, we’re on our own. My best guess is 1:59 a.m. I may spend the night at the airport.

Despite the uncertainty of where I do spend the night, it’s been a fun trip. Thanks for coming with me. Let’s do it again.—Fred W. Frailey

Postscript:  At 3:45 this morning the service manager banged on the door of Room B. Because our expected arrival in Vancouver was getting later and later, VIA Rail had ordered a van to meet our train at Chilliwack, B.C., and take me and three others to the airport. I’m happy to report that my companions made their flights. I’ll get to Jacksonville about five hours later than planned.

On shared track with Canadian Pacific starting near Ashcroft, B.C., each route  ecomes a one-way railroad. But that gets you little if the destination terminal in Vancouver can’t absorb trains as fast as they show up. It was stop and go all night. We were fifth in a line of seven trains .

Irony of ironies: The train ahead of us, CP 101, left Toronto 10 hours after we did Sunday. In that line last night, it was the one ahead of ours.

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