Railroading North America

12/ (to) Winnipeg

12-outside-tweedmuir-park-103008-0068-usemeDAY 12
Toronto, Ontario toward Winnipeg, Manitoba
Aboard VIA Rail Train #001, “The Canadian”
Friday, October 31, 2008

Minutes outside of Toronto heading west, the conductor announces on the intercom that we should watch for ‘the VIA Rail waver”. Moments later The Canadian glides past a man dressed in a suit standing on a low hill beside the track. He holds up a sign greeting the train.

“He has done this for years — even his auto has a VIA Rail car tag,” a cabin attendant tells me later when I ask who he is. “He is ‘The VIA Rail Waver’ — he is very famous.”

“Yes, but who is he?”

“It’s a mystery. Nobody knows,” the attendant says.

“Nobody’s ever thought to ask him?

“Not that I know of.”

Later, when I re-board the Canadian in Winnipeg heading west with a Toronto-based crew I again ask about the VIA Rail Waver. “Nobody knows who he is or why he does it,” I am again told.

“You’re a Toronto based crew?” the-canadian-0018


“Why doesn’t somebody ride out to his neighborhood and talk to him?”

“I don’t think anyone has ever thought of that.”

Ohmygod. Next time I’m in Toronto, I’ll do it myself.

AIR FARE FOR $600-$1000
I’m trying hard to go to the Town of Churchill on Hudson’s Bay, but work on the tracks is playing havoc with VIA Rail schedules among other problems. Churchill is two-and-a-half days by train each way — a total of five days. With track work, it could be longer.

After I talk with the VIA Rail guy yesterday in Toronto, I check to see if I could fly from Churchill back to Winnipeg after taking the train north. The answer is yes, but…

“Calm Air” (I am not making this name up) flies the route, but they want a $600-$1,000 — more than my entire 30 day pass cost. I check what it would cost from Prince Rupert to Vancouver: $600-$1,000 on Canada Air.
Do I see a pattern? Does every plane trip in the country cost $600-$1,000? These people need a Canadian version of Southwest Airlines.

It develops that they used to, according to Jim, my know-it-all buddy. Jim tells me (long before deciding I am a CIA operative in hiding) that Canada used to have a discount airline that was doing great. But the discounter cracked another airline’s computer system and used information to jigger fares and swindle customers. Now the discount airline is broke. To survive they are charging $600-$1,000 per flight.

That’s Jim story and he stuck to it.

12-tweedsmuir-park-plate-useme-1030080063True or not, fact is, air fares are $600-$1,000 on all flights I check — so I’ll continue to ride the rails and stay on terra firma.

It is clear that “Silver and Blue Class” on The Canadian is a gastronomical heaven — or nightmare.

Perched in the front of the dome car, the cabin attendant hands out glasses of wine (I pass), plates of finger food (I’ll have two — wait — three) and downstairs at the rear of the dome car lays out piles of bananas and apples and Danish and juice and coffee.

Unlike in the Silver and Blue lounge in the Toronto station, I do not have to fight all the geriatric people wolfing everything down. In fact, the geezers are nowhere to be seen. I figure they’re afraid to leave their rooms because the train sways so much. This means clear tracks for me on the mounds of food.

Just as I realize I could gain weight on this train, first class service for lunch is called.

This time I am seated with a couple from Sydney, Australia. He is a doctor “near the end of his career”, as he puts it. His wife is an attorney.

I tell them I am coming to their country for a month in March and ask them where I should go. They tell me that I must go to Hobart, Tasmania and to Adelaide in addition to Sydney and several other places.

We lapse into talking about the native Australians and it is clear that this is an issue of tension. The natives, in the doctor’s view, do little and have little interest in being educated. Moreover, being nomads, they claim virtually all of the country. There are clashes and he sees little chance for resolution.

His wife disagrees arguing that there are several the places of most tension and progress. One of the places she mentions is a place I have been: Moree, New South Wales. I stayed for several days on a Station in Gunnadah, New South Wales with a wealthy sheepherder and his family. The man owned the radio station in Moree and we had flown up to visit it.

I make the mistake of mentioning I have been to Moree and they say little more, fearing they have said too much, I suppose.

int-back-dome-car-bw-useme-103008-0059TWEEDSMUIR PARK
My sleeping room is in a car named “Hearne Manor”. It is the second to last car on a nineteen-car train. The rear car, the dome car, is named “Tweedsmuir Park”. Apparently all of the observation end cars of VIA Rail trains are called “Park Cars” because they are named for Canadian parks.

I discover small plates in “Hearne Manor”, and another in Tweedsmuir Park, the observation car, explaining the names of the car and giving history.

The Tweedsmuir Park car is named for Tweedsmuir Park, which was established in 1938. The plate says the Park is reachable by taking the Canadian Pacific Railway’s “Princess Liner” from Vancouver through Prince Rupert.

Maybe one day that was true, but today there is no Canadian Pacific Railway or the “Princess” liner train.

Like many other railroad lines and railroads in Canada and elsewhere, that line exists no more.

(Photo, Tweedsmuir Park observation car at Sioux Lookout, Ontario; the historical plate in the Tweedsmuir Park dome car, the final car on the train; interior, Tweedsmuir Park observation car)


VIA Rail Canada Train #001, “The Canadian”
Distance Toronto to Winnipeg: 1943 km
Distance Total: 1524 mi + 5174 km


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