Railroading North America

18/ (to) Vancouver

18-jasperalberta-station-110608-0067-usemeDAY 18
Jasper, Alberta toward Vancouver, British Columbia
Aboard VIA Rail Train #001
Thursday, November 6, 2008

Jasper has been a quiet, cordial place, not somewhere to linger, but I more or less trapped myself here for three days. It has not been an unpleasant time:

Leisurely breakfasts in the hotel dining room where every menu item, including pancakes, seemed to be nine-dollars — and the amiable Other Paw, a local hangout, where the food was good and the eavesdropping even better — plus plenty of heat and hot water in my hotel room, a strong, free Internet wireless signal and a ton of cable channels. Without sacrificing any portion of the trip, I had even been able to watch the election night returns.

Only a handful of passengers got off the train in Jasper with me on Monday. I wrongly supposed that no one would be boarding the train to go west with me. Wrong, very wrong.

the-canadian-00110About an hour before the train was to leave, I walk across the street to retrieve, and then re-check, a bag. I need to find an Amtrak ticket counter, but that would have to wait until Vancouver in the morning. I plan to go to Seattle directly from Vancouver as early Friday as I could. I have booked a room in Seattle for Friday night, and want a ticket on the Amtrak train Saturday, Seattle to Los Angeles. But until I talk to Amtrak in Vancouver, I do not know if I can get on the train, much less get a private room.

I check again at the counter if a private room is available to Vancouver. It is not. A tourist group is boarding in Jasper that is so large, VIA Rail has added two more sleeping cars. I ask the conductor when I board about a room. Same story. They have one upper berth. I pass. I will spend the night riding and sleeping in a Coach seat.

It will be both the best, and the worse, night of the journey.

VIA Rail Canada does not own all of its track, so it must stand aside for freight trains, and frequently does. That should make the trains late, but so far my trains have arrived early, sometimes as much as an hour early. Even my Amtrak train from New York to Montreal was early. When I share this with fellow travelers they are invariably surprised. I’m apparently the only one catching trains that arrive early. Lucky me.

With Jasper behind us, snow begins to fall and the mountaintops vanish in the clouds. In the dome car, the front windows snow-covered. Within a half hour the train has climbed to the continental divide, the highest point on the western route and begins its long crawl to Vancouver and the west coast.

I inspect the passengers in “Comfort Class,” where I now live, and find they are different than First Class “Silver and Blue” where the sleeping compartments are. “Silver and Blue” class is the geriatric, foreign traveler class (hmmm, me?).

Locals are spending the night in the lounge sitting cars, known as “Comfort Class.”.

Electrical outlets are at a premium in Comfort Class.

This is the first time I have encountered a problem in finding electricity for my computer and cell phone. The Amtrak trains, the newer VIA Rail cars in the east and the sleeping compartments all have plenty of plugs. But the lounge cars I am riding on tonight were built in the 1950s and each car appears to have only one outlet.

I begin my search for electrical plugs immediately. I find one plug on my car, but it is buried between several seats and although it is not being used, those seats are taken. I cannot use the plug without putting my phone and computer on the floor. I do not do that.

I search the dome car and find a table and an unused plug. I settle in across from a 22-year-old college student on her way to check out graduate schools in Vancouver. She is using one plug for her cell phone and cheerfully makes room for me in her booth.

The plug is in an awkward location, but it works. I return her kindness by kicking her plug out of the wall and her phone across the floor. She seems unconcerned. “I’ve done that several times,” she says cheerfully.

She later demonstrates her prowess, kicking her phone across the car even further than I kicked it.

Across from the college student and me are two women from Kamloops. They are excited that Obama has been elected and hate President Bush. They learn the college woman is studying Anthropology. The four of us lapse into a discussion of corporate cultures and eventually the Walt Disney Company and its culture.

Later a young woman with a seven month old baby joins us and talk turns “date rape” drugs, binge drinking and how women defend themselves and their her girlfriends from being drugged in bars.

These were not discussion topics in Silver and Blue class.

(Photograph: Exterior, Jasper, Alberta, VIA Rail Canada railroad station built in 1925 by the newly formed Canadian National Railway company. A historical plaque in the station says the station is an example of a rare, large station built by the CN and “symbolizes the expansionist railway rivalry that helped to settle the Canadian west”)


VIA Rail Canada Train #001, “The Canadian”
Distance Jasper to Vancouver: 227 miles / 366 km
Distance Total: 5,995 mi / 7,533 km


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