Railroading North America

08/ (to) Toronto

08-train-15_-roadsignal-near-montreal-useme-00482DAY 8
Halifax to Montreal
VIA Rain Train ‘The Ocean’
Monday, October 27, 2008

It’s time to move on. Halifax has turned gray and rainy. The hotel is only ten minutes from the station, but what rain could do to my computer and iPhone is too cataclysmic to consider. The hotel summons a cab.

This will be a two-day, one night trip. I will retrace my route back to Montreal over night. Then I will board a coach car along the busiest train corridor in Canada for a five-hour trip to Toronto.

Passengers scramble aboard the train in a driving rain. My compartment is the third from the end of the train. Walter, a businesslike attendant unlike the jovial Samuel, stops by and sizes me up.

He decides I should help in case of an emergency and soon we are at the back of the train where I am being shown all sorts of train secrets including override buttons and switches.

Briefing done, Walter affixes an orange tag to my door, which, he says, signifies I am briefed and ready for action. I’m tempted to suggest we open a door or two and practice, but Walter doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would be amused at this, or much else.

VIA Rail Canada has two different kinds of passenger cars, I am told. The cars used west of Toronto to Vancouver, Prince Rupert, and in the east on the Matapedia to Gaspe run, were built in the 1950s. They have dome cars. Passengers in the west prefer them, I am told, because of the scenery. But in comparison to the cars used in the east, on the Halifax run for example, the 1950s cars on the western runs are more Spartan. the-ocean-0140155

The eastern Canada passenger cars used from Montreal to Halifax are about ten years old and even the beds are comfortable. There are several versions about the history of these cars, but everyone agrees they were built to run from London to Paris on the Chunnel (the tunnel under the English channel).

Now, I’ve been on the Chunnel train and it only took about 3 hours from Paris to London. Why would anyone want a sleeper compartment with a shower? Moreover, I never saw or heard of sleeper class when I took the Chunnel train.

Just so! I was told. The Chunnel train company had the cars built and then realized no one would ever book them. So (now versions begin to diverge) the cars were/were not placed in service. They were/were not shipped from Canada to English.

Whatever. In the end the cars were declared unneeded and VIA Rail Canada pounced and now owns them all. They are great cars.

Walter is showing me around my cabin, which, it develops, has amenities my other room did not. There is less storage space, but I now have a private shower.

“No kidding,” I am incredulous.

“I do not kid, Monsieur.” And, yes, there it is — a shower. But where is the shower stall?

“The entire bathroom compartment is the shower stall, sink, toilet and all four walls,” Walter says. He turns special attention to the toilet:

“Put the lid down when you shower,” he says, ” — if the toilet fills with water the results will be dire, I assure you”.

“Define ‘dire’.”

“Dire is dire, monsieur. You under stand the word, yes?” Hmmmm. I let it go.

Early the next morning, I decide to try the shower. The entire trip is an adventure and taking a shower in a room with a sink and toilet on a swaying train qualifies as adventure — especially since, if I do this wrong, the consequences will be ‘dire’.

Surprisingly the whole thing works great. Halfway through my shower, the train stops for a freight and the train stops swaying. Since I carefully left the lid of the toilet down as instructed, I declare this quite a success!

But then a check of the toilet to congratulate myself reveals it is nearly full of shower water (wait! how could that happen?).

I could call Walter and show him the toilet (“but, monsieur, I WARNED you!” I could ignore it and light out — I only have another two hours on the train anyway. Or … I could flush it and discover the definition of “Dire, dire, monsieur”.

I pondered this. To the toilet flushing “flush” does not mean, “flush immediately”. I can put distance between a toilet disaster and myself and any kid worth his salt knows distance also equals deniability (“gee, I was just sitting here in my bedroom when — ohmygod…”

I push Flush. I retreat to compartment and sit. I wait. And wait. FLUSH!

I am ready for water to start gurgling from beneath the bathroom door. Time passes. Nothing. I envisage water flowing through the floor into the next compartment and the seafaring man, a man comfortable in water with great amounts of it, knee deep. I finally ease the door open.

Dry floor.

I peek into the toilet. Normal toilet. How could this be?

I suppose I should feel good about it.

(Photograph, Country road taken from back of Train 15 in Nova Scotia. My room, #3, was third from the end in this car at the end of a 19-car train. My neighbor in room #2, a seafaring man, said riding at the end of this train battered him worse than his 38 years at sea. I didn’t notice.)



  1. There are people who live a whole life showering in the bathroom — they are called yachtsmen, and they usually learn to hide the toilet paper before turning on the shower. . . we had a bathroom like that in a house, too — but it violated about six or seven different building code provisions.

    Comment by Bruce — November 23, 2008 @ 4:25 pm

  2. Dad will have comments….I can just see you and will have Paul read this days blog, when he is completely frustrated in the near future at his office ( that will probably be tomorrow). In need of a good laugh, this will certainly do 🙂

    Comment by liz turner — November 24, 2008 @ 1:45 am

  3. I got a shower once in Italy by flushing the toilet and the – water closet;…part of the toilet… showered me!! Just to let you know that I’m paying attention and feel the need to throw a comment in to prove it.

    Comment by Jeanie...your older sister — November 30, 2008 @ 8:25 pm

  4. this sounds “fun” , I was thinking about travelling to Toronto next year maybe overnight, was wondering if travelling by car, staying in a hotel would be better than a sleeping compartment?

    Comment by Eloise — September 17, 2010 @ 11:21 pm

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