VIA's Canadian resumes service on shortened route

Delays mar initial eastbound journey; some features not offered, others off-limits, but dining car serves sleeper passengers
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The eastbound Canadian pauses at Kamloops, British Columbia, in October 2018. Passengers are not allowed in the Park dome-lounge-observation car or any of the train’s domes in the shortened version operating during the pandemic.
Bob Johnston

VANCOUVER, B.C. — A slimmed-down, once-weekly VIA Rail Canada Canadian has resumed operation on the train’s route west of Winnipeg, Manitoba, operating with few of the features that defined the train prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Canada’s strict travel restrictions between provinces during the pandemic are a significant reason the Canadian and the Montreal-Halifax, Nova Scotia, Ocean stopped operating in mid-March. The truncated Canadian has returned despite a recent spike in coronavirus infections, but the Ocean is likely to be sidelined well into 2021.

The first train departed Vancouver Dec. 11 with two coaches and three sleeping cars (one for the onboard crew), a diner for Sleeper Plus travelers, a Skyline dome lounge, and a Park dome observation.

At least initially, no luxury Prestige class accomodations or upper and lower berths are being offered. Passengers are not allowed to sit in either dome, the Skyline’s table seating, or the Park car, except for those with disabilities who book that car’s Sleeper Plus accessible bedroom.

Breakfast and dinner by reservation is offered in the dining car, but lunch is served in sleeping car rooms; economy class travelers are served at-seat with a food cart from the Skyline car’s cafe. VIA is telling passengers, “the menu and bar service have been modified.” A full description of current on-board service is available here.

The Canadian pauses for servicing at Jasper, Alberta, in October 2018.
Bob Johnston

The maiden eastbound trip got off to a rocky start. Due out of Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station at 3 p.m. on Dec. 11, the Canadian waited for nearly 2½ hours while Canadian National dispatchers and yard crews made up and brake tested a miles-long intermodal freight on tracks the passenger train needed to access the main line.

Then the familiar, “late trains get later” adage kicked in, compounded by more congestion approaching Edmonton (it departed more than 8 hours late). Further delays were caused by “urgent track repairs brought on by very cold temperatures,” CN spokesman Mathieu Gaudreault tells Trains News Wire. The Canadian was supposed to arrive in Winnipeg at 10 p.m. on Sunday, December 13, but didn’t roll into Manitoba’s capital city until 11:04 the following morning.

VIA Rail Canada spokesman Phillippe Cannon declined to provide passenger counts for the first trip, but another Canadian source says there were 18 coach and eight sleeping-car travelers departing Vancouver. Cannon did say, “For the holiday period we are recording improving booking levels for both trains 1 and 2.”

Abundant recovery time in the schedule helped last week’s first westbound train arrive in Vancouver 20 minutes early. It left Winnipeg almost three hours late, Cannon tells Trains News Wire, after first being, “delayed in its access to fueling stations before departure.” The train operated with more than two full consists: Four locomotives and 21 passenger and baggage cars. Ensuing freight congestion made the train almost six hours late at some intermediate outposts, however.

The Canadian’s second eastbound trip, departing Vancouver Friday, Dec. 19, started out much better, leaving Jasper, Alta., 15 minutes late on Saturday. It had fallen to 5 hours late east of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, on Sunday afternoon, and reached Winnipeg at 3:38 a.m., more than 5½ hours after its scheduled 10 p.m. arrival.
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