The flight from Manchester to Toronto was not as interminable as expected. The in-flight films were dire so I listened to the two one-hour long selections of classical music (three times each!) and read a book set during the construction of Ribblehead Viaduct and Blea Moor Tunnel. There were amazing views of Greenland as we passed to the south of it - mountains, cliffs and enormous glaciers, as well as icebergs.
From Toronto I flew on to Halifax in the company of a retired aero-engineer who gave me a running commentary on the journey and some of Canada’s problems. On the far side of Lake Ontario could be seen Buffalo in the USA and the entrance of the Niagara River into the lake. The plane flew over Maine and the Bay of Fundy to approach Nova Scotia from the South-East. I was able to see the long spit on the North coast of Nova Scotia. From Halifax airport I took the shuttle bus to the VIA station which was a five minute walk from my hotel. After a walk in the town the jet lag caught up with me and I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
CN switchers at Halifax container depot
The hotel was very close to the container depot so I walked to an over bridge over the yard entrance and watched a pair of Canadian National locomotives switching. There were no container ships at the berths but I heard that two had been loaded the day before. Then I went to confirm my reservations at the station. Halifax station has one train in and out six days a week to Montreal. Only one of its five platforms is in use, although there is also a VIA maintenance depot by the station. The main concourse has been tastefully restored and evokes the atmosphere of another age. Afterwards I walked along the waterfront- very interesting with a museum of naval history and several preserved ships.
The Halifax skyline from the ferry to Dartmouth
Then I took the ferry across the harbour to Dartmouth - this is the oldest ferry service in N.America. The weather was very pleasant and the 15 minute crossing enjoyable. There were plenty of naval ships in the dockyard (Halifax is the principal naval base of Canada). Opposite the ferry terminal was the CN Dartmouth freight yard with one of the two surviving Montreal Locomotive Works M636 CoCos stabled there.
in Halifax I walked through the town to the Citadel - ramparts, ditches and
barracks - a little like Berwick-upon-Tweed, but still in use as a military base. I
was just in time to see and hear the twelve o'clock gun being fired and the
guard being changed. It was almost as if I were in Edinburgh with soldiers
playing pipes and wearing kilts! Later in my trip I heard all about the Halifax
explosion of 1917, which killed thousands of people when an ammunition ship blew
up in the harbour.
The "Ocean" before departure from Halifax for Montreal
The centre domecar on the "Ocean"
The route of the "Ocean" from Halifax to Montreal
Route map courtesy of VIA
journey across Nova Scotia was initially along the shores of Halifax harbour and
then through forests, past lakes and across cattle ranches. The soil was a reddy
brown and coloured all the rivers.
first stop at Truro showed that the “Ocean” is a real train, not a tour
train, with numerous people boarding and alighting - a pattern which was
repeated for the rest of the journey and explained the length of the train.
During lunch in the restaurant car, the westbound “Ocean” passed us running
late due to have to switch in and out cars at Moncton.
Sackville, Fort Beaesejour was passed - built by the French but promptly
captured by the British. The line came down to the Bay of Fundy on the approach
to New Brunswick - an area of marsh and deep channels. The sea here has one of
the largest tidal ranges anywhere in the world.
train stopped at Moncton for half an hour to refuel the locomotives from
The locos of the "Ocean" are refuelled at Moncton
From the domecar somewhere in New Brunswick
of Bathurst it became dark. Along the Baie des Chaleurs it is quite densely
populated. The train was put in a siding to allow a freight to pass and then
reversed out before pulling forward, thus saving the conductor a long walk to
change the hand operated points. At
Campbelltown a running-gear check was done on the coaches during the stop. At
Matapiedia the section of the "Ocean" from the Gaspé peninsular line was added during a long and
complicated switching process. The train left 60 minutes late with 19 cars and 2
Sunrise at Quebec with the St Lawrence River in foreground
The countryside is mainly arable and to my surprise the line was still single track. Closer to Montreal there were several hills rising above the plain - volcanic plugs. The approach to Montreal was through the inevitable urban sprawl of houses, motorways and industry. The railway crosses over the St. Lawrence on a long single-track bridge before entering the awful underground platforms of Gare Centrale. In Canada platforms in large stations are not for lingering on! An Amtrak train to New York was ready to depart behind a F40PH. The station concourse was reached up escalators and was more like an airport, although without enough seating.
The "Ocean" approaches Gare Central in Montreal