Canadian Circle Trip: VIA and Amtrak

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I picked this up in Toronto, but they had a real bar on the Canadian, where they mixed real cocktails and such. View attachment 34618

I don't think this stuff is "top shelf," but I was able to drink it and I'm still alive.

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The inside of the Winnipeg strain station. Pretty fancy station, considering it only gets four trains a week.

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Old grain elevator in Saskatchewan.

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Ah, the great Canadian plains. I'll have to compare this with what I see going home through North Dakota.

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Our stopover in Saskatoon.

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Old CN poster trying to encourage British immigrants to come to Canada, and presumably br good customers of CN.

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More CN propaganda posters looking for sucke--I mean colonists to populate the great Canadian outback.
Having taken the train to and from Chappell Yards in S'toon many times, it's my dream that someday they will reroute it on CPR tracks thru the city so it can stop in town and provide a proper view to the passengers.
this former train station still stands in the middle of town on active tracks, rerouting might be a little tricky but I think it could be done.
I was on the late incoming 7. We were on-time into Leavenworth, but had to hold there for 3 hours, because a BNSF train had lost power in the Cascade Tunnel. We finally proceeded up the hill, but then had to wait again outside the eastern tunnel portal for another 2 hours, because another BNSF high-priority z-train was having communications problems, so they needed to clear that up and get them on their way before we could move. We eventually got into King St just about 5 hours late.
Ours was quite an empty train: in the 731 car, only 2 bedrooms and 2 or 3 roomettes were occupied, and the coach car was maybe 1/3 occupied, so that probably helped speed up the turn-around.
I think I would have been pretty happy to have had to wait outside of that tunnel!! I kind of had to talk my way through it, can't imagine getting stuck inside! I love the EB though!
Crossing the not so mighty Mississippi at Little Falls. MN
St Paul
Along the now mighty Mississippi (Lake Pepin) South of Red Wing.
We had some excitement after leaving St. Paul when we hit a deer that apparently also knocked off some brake hoses, causing us to stop very quickly. No damage to the train, however, and we were back on the move after a short delay. No word on whether they're going to serve us venison Amstew if our arrival into Chicago gets further delayed.
Actually, I think the flex meals taste better. You could tell it was from a can. But I'm not complaining, we got into Chicago at 8:15, and I appreciated not having to look around for a place to eat.
I agree with you. Most of the properly prepared Flex Meals taste better than the Amstew, at least to me, arguably with not that sophisticated a palate. 🙄
After a restful night in Chicago, I'm on the Capitol Limited for my next to last leg. we have 2 sleepers at the rear of the train, not sur how many coaches in front of the CCC. The LSA running the flex dining is a real hotshot, she took dinner orders before we left, and had my order laid out on a table in the CCC when she said it would be served. She and the SCAs were hustling to get the sleeper pax fed. Apparently they do that before they open the cafe car for coach. There were a lot of people eating in the CCC, though it looked like the SCAs were also delivering a lot of meals to rooms.

I had the "beef burgundy," which was definitely better than Amstew, but not quite as good as some of the flex meal beef products I've had in the past. But it filled me up, and the butter cake made up for any deficiencies. The red wine also helped put me in a mellow mood, not to mention the shot of Alberta Premium I had before I went to the CCC.

Anyway, we left on time, which is an improvement over my experience with the Empire Builder. Here's hoping we get in on time, and I don't need a late evening connection, like the Pametto, to get me onto Baltiomore.
Back in Maryland. The Cap is rolling onto Cumberland more or less on schedule. I did not get a good sleep last night. It was like riding a bucking bronco, the tracks were so rough. Quite unlike the Canadian or the Empire Builder. I guess I was spoiled by CN and BNSF.
Glad you have made it all the way back to Maryland safely! I am sorry to hear about your lack of sleep 😞That is really too bad! I'll be taking the Cap for the first time exactly a month from now (WAS-CHI) in a roomette and I am disappointed to hear about how bad the tracks are on that route. Though good to know in advance so I can at least be mentally prepared!🙃
We got into Washington on time, and I'm now sitting in NER 94. This is the first time in a long time that I'm actually on the booked connecting train. I think the holiday traffic is starting. This train is 10 cars long, and appears packed. I was lucky and was able to pre-board; the lounge attendant walked us around the cattle line to the gate.

The northbound Crescent just pulled in across the platform, and the lights came back on, so our motor must be attached. The last leg of the journey begins soon.
Glad you enjoyed your trip (as did I).

The old B&O had sharp curves around the mountains and as a result there was super elevation on the curves (I believe 6 inches) to better handle passenger train speeds. Springs on passenger car trucks were adjusted to handle that. Of course the super elevation is long gone but the curves are still there.
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A few final words about my recent circle trip to Vancouver on the Candian and my return east to Washington on the Empire Builder and Capitol Limited.

In general, I was pleased that the trips went more or less according to schedule, with no misconnects or real delays, except for the Empire Builder departure from Seattle due to the late arrival of incoming equipment. Trains on both railroads were in good repair and clean. The service staff were on the job and I had no real complaints.

That said, I think that Amtrak would do well to take a look at how VIA handles on-board service.

All of my sleeping car attendants did a fine job. However, I had one issue when the new attendant who came on in Winnipeg made up my room with both the upper and lower bunks deployed. It's amazing how that spacious "cabin for two" became cramped once the upper bunk was set up. This glitch was, however, dealt with quickly and effectively, with no drama. I couldn't find the SCA, but I found the lounge attendant in the dome car, who I think was actually some sort of OBS service manager. He went with me to my room so I could show him what was done, and instead of looking for the SCA, he himself just shoved the offending upper bunk into its place, which took all of 30 seconds. If he went to the SCA and chewed her out for not looking at the manifest and seeing that only one person was occupying the room, I didn't see it. My SCA gave me fine service for the rest of the trip.

On VIA, the beds are completely made up, including blankets:


When I boarded the Empire builder, the SCA also properly made up the bed, and indeed he did so for both nights.


I thought maybe Amtrak has changed its procedures, but, on the Capitol Limited, only the sheets were made up, and I was given a blanket folded and wrapped in plastic that I had to take apart and put it on the bed. Somehow, I could never get the blanked fully deployed over my body and spend a good deal of the night kicking and pushing around to keep covered.

As far as the physical accommodations, the VIA "cabin for one" (roomette) which I had booked looked a bit cozy. The Amtrak roomette has a bit more room, including more storage space. However, it should be kept in mind that the Amtrak roomette can hold two passengers, the VIA roomette is strictly for one person. The "cabin for 2" for which I got an upgrade, appeared to be a bit smaller than and Amtrak bedroom; there was no seating once the bed was deployed, and the restroom only had a commode with no shower. The Amtrak bedroom has a seperate seat facing the beds, and the en-suite bathroom has both a shower and a commode.

VIA roomette -- my duffel bag is on the commode.


Via Bedroom. The chairs fold up and are stored under the bed at night.


The VIA sleepers have absolutely no storage space for luggage in the room or at the end of the car, and carry-on luggage is strictly limited. At night, both of my bags were put on the floor, as they couldn't be stored under the bed, because the folded-up seats were stored there. Amtrak Superliners have a shelf (actually the step to the upper berth) that holds the black backpack shown in the picture above, and extra luggage storage on the lower level for larger bags.

With regard to dining service, VIA was superior to Amtrak, even the "traditional dining" on the Empire Builder. However, even on VIA, the menus were limited, and the changed every day, so I missed a couple of things I might have wanted to try.

This was my lunch while riding across the Canadian prairies, ginger beef, a Chinese-Canadian dish that is apparently the national food of Alberta. I was amused that the pattern of the stainless steel flatware was almost exactly the same as the pattern we have at home. The VIA serving crew consisted of a steward and 2-3 waiters. They gave efficient, friendly service, and had a knack of being able to do the necessary bossing around of the diners without actually barking orders at them, like Amtrak dining staff sometimes do. The food on the Canadian was definitely better than even the "traditional dining" on the Empire Builder, but the Amtrak food was still pretty good. Now, of only they could serve it on real plates. Of course, the flex meals on the Capitol Limited were inferior (but edible) to the food served on the other trains, but the attendants on the really earned their pay, having to handle both the flex meals for the sleeper passengers, and cafe service for the coach. Our attendant took our order in our room when we boarded, and also dinner reservations for those of us who wanted to eat in the diner. When I went up there at the appointed time, there was my meal with my room number on the table. Good thing I came at the appointed reservation time, as the meal was still hot. At breakfast, they had us order at the cafe window, and it came pretty quickly.

There were two lounge facilities in the first class section of the train. There was also a cafe car in the coach section, but we didn't have access it it, so I can't report on what the service was like. At our end of the train, there was the Skyline car, a dome car with a lounge on one side and table seating on the other. This is where you'd go to play cards or attempt to solve jigsaw puzzles, etc. Also, they would have wine and beer tastings and other organized activities during the day. The service manager, who also seemed to double as a bar attendant, was in charge here, and would bring cold drinks on request. They also had a coffee/hot water station where one could get tea, coffee or cocoa, plus there were packaged pastries in stock most of the time. At the rear of the train was the Park car, with some Prestige class rooms in the front, a dome, a small bar/lounge under the dome, and the Bullet Lounge at the rear. As I traveled during the off-season, riff-raff Sleeper Plus passengers like me had unlimited access to the Park Car. However, in the summer, it's reserved for Prestige Class until 4 PM. The Bullet Lounge had nice comfortable seats and was very good for socializing and reading. The bar was a real bar with a bartender who would make actual mixed drinks. I had a nice double Manhattan that relaxed me and put me in a good mood. :)

Amtrak makes do with one Sightseer Lounge car that serves both Coach and sleeper passengers. At this time, the Capitol Limited doesn't even have that, and only has a cafe/dining car. I'm still not sure whether I prefer the sightseer lounge over a dome car. The dome car has cool views over the rest of the train, and you can see signals dropping as the train passes them, but the Sightseer lounge seems more open and lest cramped. Getting in and out of the dome car seats took a little bit of effort, being that I'm not as flexible as I used to be. The sightseer lounge has a cafe in the lower level. I didn't buy anything there on this trip, but the cafe attendant was on the PA quite a bit with "demands" for the customers. While the requests seemed reasonable in terms of keeping things moving along, it seemed a little unprofessional and overly dramatic to have them barked out over the PA system. Perhaps posted signs could perform this function. It might be nice if Amtrak had a lounge car dedicated to sleeper passengers with a bit more plus and higher=level service, like a real bartender, but I imagine that's not possible with the equipment they have.

As for the rest of my trip, it was all Amtrak corridor service trains (NE Regional, Ethan Allen Express, Maple Leaf, and Cascades), and I didn't take any VIA corridor trains to compare the service. Hopefully I'll be able to go to the Gathering next fall in Toronto and get to ride them.
It might be nice if Amtrak had a lounge car dedicated to sleeper passengers with a bit more plus and higher=level service, like a real bartender, but I imagine that's not possible with the equipment they have.
Of course Amtrak tries to do this on AutoTrain. But since they don’t seem overworked it would be nice if drinks could be delivered to your seat. But I shouldn’t whine- at least the attendant is there.
Nice summary of your trip and comparison with Amtrak.
I had a little excitement. Apparently, they gave me a free upgrade to a bedroom and didn't bother to tell me until somebody else showed up at my roomette with a ticket fo my room. They took my stuff to the new room, and everything is good. I'm glad for the upgrade, the roommate seemed a bit cozy.
This was a suberb trip report. Do you have any idea how you scored an upgrade?