Set off in Toronto at 10pm on a Saturday and after four ‘sleeps’ in a rocking train you arrive in Vancouver at 9.45 the next Wednesday morning. I got better at sleeping and think I might have mastered it if the journey had been 10 days longer!
Having done the train trip from San Francisco to Chicago it was interesting to compare the two. As a solo traveller the accommodation was better on The Canadian – I had my own toilet and hand basin. On the other hand, the ‘main seat’ (the armchair) in the roomette was not as comfortable as on The California Zephyr. But then you don’t spend much time there at all, you’re in the viewing car. The Zephyr had a panorama car for the whole trip. It was far superior to the dome and park cars, and to the panorama car added at Edmonton, on the Canadian. The shower on the Canadian was better but I don’t think anyone used it more than once, if at all! However you have to eat and the good Canadian food beat the very ordinary Zephyr food hands down. The style of panorama car on the Zephyr encouraged getting to know other travellers but there was nothing else. The Canadian did this by having welcome drinks, wine and beer tastings in the evenings, and farewell drinks, but the seating arrangement wasn’t suited to much discussion amongst passengers. The ‘community’ seating for meals whereby tables were filled as people arrived, not by choosing where you sat, was only moderately successful on both trains. Some people were chatty, others weren’t, and some really didn’t want to know anyone else at all.
The real reason for travelling such a long way on the train though is the scenery. The Sierra Nevadas, distant Rockies and Colorado River Canyon were No.1 for both spectacle and duration.
All that said, don’t choose between them. Do both as I did!
I should add, while the mountains are considered “the sights to see”, the ‘flat’ land seen while travelling both the Zephyr and the Canadian were pretty and interesting in their own ways.
And no, it doesn’t get boring. Nor did I feel trapped, as my claustrophobic self tends to do.
I got off the train three times. First at a Hornepayne, a small town about which there is nothing to say. We stretched our legs beside the track and that was it. It was cared about once upon a time though. There were interesting murals painted on the now dilapidated railway buildings.
Next get-off stop was Winnipeg. This was a scheduled four hour stop, that turned to five because of a problem with the train. A bus tour of the city was organised to cater specifically for the train passengers. I took advantage of that because I knew I’d see more than if I walked around for that short time. Plus, it was raining! And that’s where another misconception was dealt with. Part of my brain knew the bare facts but nevertheless due to seeing dry prairies in American films, that’s what I expected across a large swathe of central Canada. Not so. Winnipeg has a series of flood protection measures in place to counter the fairly regular, sometimes ‘really’ extensive, floods in the city and surrounds. The rivers that intersect at Winnipeg were very high at the time, flooding some riverside footpaths. Wouldn’t have wanted to get any higher!
Last stop was the resort town of Jasper where we had about 90 minutes to walk around the small township in a pretty setting, the mountains having appeared by now. But I’d hate to holiday there. Hiking, fishing, skiing … not me at all. I’d go mental in the isolation, even with a stack of books to hand. Fake canoeing – once is enough!
The passenger train has to give way to freight on single track sections of the route. Stopping while 100+ car trains went by – slowly! – happened quite often. (The Canadian was a mere 35 cars long!) For that and other reasons, at times the train was running up to two hours behind schedule. Yet in the end, when the train finally rolled into Vancouver, it was a mere 15 minutes late. Pretty damn good!