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A RAILWAY JOURNEY ACROSS CANADA BY TRAIN

SUNDAY 20th JULY 1997

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.

MONDAY 21st  JULY 1997

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. 

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.

Back 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.  

Back at the station I phoned home to mark the start of THE JOURNEY from coast to coast. My berth was in the sleeping car next to the “Park” dome and bar car at the end of the train - most convenient. The train was made up of 11 rebuilt Budd cars built originally by the Canadian Pacific in the 1950s and now totally rebuilt for the 1990s. I ensconced myself in the dome before departure, which was on time at 13.30.  

The 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.

The 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.

Near 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.

The train stopped at Moncton for half an hour to refuel the locomotives from a road tanker and to cut in two more sleeping cars. Most passengers got off the train and wandered around. I met a retired railway man who’d been a conductor and he filled me in on many Canadian railway practices, which would otherwise have been a mystery to me.

  Travelling onwards through New Brunswick the train left the CTC signalled main line and headed north on an un-signalled line, through more forests, past beaver lakes (which destroy the trees by flooding their roots) and over several deep valleys. I had a 3-course dinner in the company of three Canadians and was told I could easily get a teaching job in Ontario such was the shortage of teachers! The meal was ridiculously cheap at $16, about £7. Then it was back to the dome car as the train made its way north very slowly, due to poor track conditions. North of Moncton the line operates under the modern equivalent of train orders- the crew have sometimes to set the switches at passing sidings when they meet a train. The sunset was spectacular - such wide-open skies. The line passed several large saw and paper mills.  

North 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 locomotives.  

TUESDAY 22nd JULY 1997 

  I awoke as the train ran along the St. Lawrence River. We were 45minutes late at Levis, the ferry station for Quebec City. The sun rose as the train was standing in the station and lit up all the buildings in the city opposite. The cantilever bridge across the St. Lawrence (rather like the Forth Bridge) was seen as we headed west towards Montreal. 

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.

MONDAY 22nd JULY

I bought tickets for Deux Montagne, attempting to speak in French but receiving an answer in English. The trains are made up of three two-car emus sets in unpainted metal. The line from Montreal Gare Centrale runs through the Mount Royale Tunnel, the reason for its electrification early this century. It is only in the last three years that the original locos and coaches have been replaced. It has been re­electrified and totally rebuilt at 25 KV AC. The line runs through the suburbs for about 10 miles and has a respectable off-peak service and appears well used.  

  Back in Montreal I walked across to the Windsor station, the old CP terminal, which is now used by the suburban diesel services to Dorion. The train was a three car double deck push-pull set built in the 1950s and propelled by an F unit in the silver and blue livery of the STCUM (Montreal passenger transit authority). I alighted at Dorval where the CP and CN main lines parallel each other. There is a VIA station on the CN and a suburban station on the CP.  

I spent about five hours there with 24 trains passing. A French Canadian enthusiast was there as well so I gleaned plenty of information from him. The traffic was a mixture of VIA, STCUM and heavy freights, these latter largely on the CP.  

I returned to Montreal and walked to the student hostel, about 10 minutes from the station. Montreal, as the first large American city I had seen was less intimidating than I expected because the eyes concentrate on the street level and not on the towers. The most obvious difference then is the width of the streets.

WEDNESDAY 23rd JULY 1997

I caught the 10.00 Montreal to Toronto. The coaches were refurbished 41xx series Budd cars purchased from Amtrak and refurbished. The cars came from a wide variety of US railroads. The run was pleasant and punctual taking 5 hours 40 minutes. 

West of Montreal the line passes through farming country. In places the line has a new alignment due to the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Some parts of the countryside become wider with bare limestone and forests. The whole line is double track and signalled for bi-directional running. In fact the train overtook several freights. There are also frequent 4 track sections with long loops and cross-overs. Once in Ontario the line parallels the CP single track main line for considerable distances. The line also runs along the shores of Lake Ontario for many miles. 

On the approach to Toronto new stations have been built for the GO Transit suburban line (Government of Ontario). Union Station in Toronto has a low overall roof and at platform level appears largely untouched since steam days. There are 13 tracks in this rather gloomy train shed. The access to the tracks is from two separate terminals. VIA's is from the magnificent early 20th century booking hall whilst GO Transit's is from a low level concourse linked to the subway system.

I took the subway, nicknamed “The Rocket", to the student hostel where I was staying. My room was on the 15th floor with an excellent view across the city. The subway has two interconnecting lines and appears clean and safe even late at night. The cars are unpainted Budd type vehicles.  

I returned to Union station to take the 17.19 GO Transit service to Hamilton, formed of eight green and cream double deck air-conditioned cars and an FS9PH diesel. In the large VIA depot west of the city was the 19 car rake of the next day's "Canadian" to Vancouver, as well as a large number of stored RDC single car units formerly used on branch services. Most are likely to be sold to US cities for new suburban services.

The line west of Union station is multiple track, with large number of double slip points, gradually reducing to 4, then 3 and eventually 2 tracks in the outer suburbs. I travelled as far as Burlington, a three platform station vvith bus station. After an hour watching trains there I returned to Toronto.

THURSDAY 24th JULY 1997

I caught the 07.50 Toronto to Chicago services which was made up of Amtrak Superliner double deck coaches and a VIA F4OPH-2. The lower level has seats, a baggage area and toilets. The corridor connection is on the upper seated area. 

The route to London was via Guelph through rolling farmland. At Guelph station there was a preserved CNR 4-8-4 steam loco. Arrival in London was at 10.55, after passing a Sarnia to Toronto VIA train in a loop west of Guelph. A connecting service to Windsor was in the platform just ahead of the Chicago service. I talked to the conductor who, on discovering I was a railfan, gave me a child's card press-out model of a VIA train! He told me that most freight on the line was at night, but that one had just been given the “highball” from the CN yard; sure enough it arrived a few minutes later heading west. 

I decided to walk across the town to the CP tracks. I arrived at a level crossing half a mile away to find a CP maintenance crew in their truck so I asked if anything was due. They said they were waiting for a freight to pass in the next ten minutes. It was a westbound behind a Norfolk Southern lease loco and a CP loco. Later I went into McDonalds and ended up chatting to a man about 70 years old about his time in the war at Fleet and Cromer in England.

  West from London to Windsor the line crosses flat farmland. At Chatham there is a flat crossing and an interchange with the CSX - a Chessie System GP40 was standing in the yard. Further towards Windsor the line runs along the shore of Lake St Clair, an area obviously popular for boating holidays.  

On arrival at Windsor, where the station is a modern one situated in an industrial areas - mainly distilleries, I walked down to the St. Clair River to look across the water and photograph the tower blocks of Detroit.

 The return to Toronto was at 18.00 and the only items of real note were three brand new BNSF locos at London. There was no sign yet of the Class 66s for EWS. The train arrived in Union at 22.00 on time. There had been a large amount of freight going west to the USA just as the conductor had said.

FRIDAY 25th July 1997  

I took the LRT tram along the waterfront from the stop under Union station to Spandia Avenue. A new tram route was being opened that weekend along this street, after ten year’s construction. Workmen were putting the finishing touches to the works. I went onto the bridge overlooking the west end of Union station and took photos of commuter trains with the CN Tower and Skydome basketball ground in the background. This is probably the only worthwhile place to take photos of trains at Toronto Union. A visit here in the morning rush-hour was definitely worthwhile with almost continuous action.  

At 10.05 I took the Amtrak train bound for New York. The stock was the strange looking North East Corridor curved-sided Metroliner coaches with very small windows. At Hamilton the line runs along a bay of Lake Ontario before heading through freight yards, and past the derilect old CN station at Hamilton and through steelworks, all at a maximum of 30mph. Just before reaching Niagara the line crosses over the ship-canal linking Lake Ontario with Lake Erie. A ship was in one of the two locks that lift the canal several hundred feet. The line crosses with two rolling bridge spans. 

At Niagara Falls the CN yard is in Canada just before the station.  After leaving Canada the train  pulled across the Whirlpool Bridge and stopped at the U.S. customs platform for over 40 minutes. There is a second rail bridge, on the CP/CSX freight line, which has warnings about being under surveillance by the US. I looked round the town, which appeared to be very run down, and then walked along the road towards the Falls. 

Initially this is past the great gorge with whirlpools in it and then after the main highway bridge comes the American Falls and then the Horseshoe Fall itself.  The area was less tacky than I had expected with parkland almost reminiscent of a place like Harrogate. I read an account of how until recent years the falls have been cutting back by 1 metre every year, although following water extraction for hydro electricity this is now reduced to about 30cm a year.

Standing at the wall by the crest of the falls the power of the water is awesome. Upstream of the falls are rapids and the extraction inlets for the HEP plant. I decided to go onto the highway bridge to the USA and stand on US soil but did not actually enter the country due to shortage of time and having to pay 6 US dollars! .The view from the bridge is definitely not one for anybody with vertigo. The journey back to Toronto was uneventful behind another Amtrak loco, but do Canadian customs really need 45 minutes to check a 4 car train?

SATURDAY 26th JULY 1997  

I went down to the waterfront by LRT again and looked at the ships and pleasure steamers. After that I had a walk around part of the central business district. It’s strange to walk by grills in the pavement and feel a blast of hot air from the air-conditioning. I boarded the the "Canadian” at 10.30, first in line due to my being on the ball when they called us. Luckily my berth was in the second from last car and not one of the intermediate dome-cars . 

The train departed late at 11.07 with 19 cars, including a baggage, 4 coach class cars, 4 dome cars and 10 sleepers. The route was out via CN to Snider. As the route from here is now closed we backed up on a spur onto the main CN east-west freight route before heading off to Doncaster and then onto the Bala sub-division towards Washago. At 13.00 running along the shores of Lake Simcoe. The train stopped at Washago at 13.30 and then crossed over the swing bridge over the Severn River- this flows up to Hudson Bay. 

The train entered the Canadian Shield a vast area of bare rock, low drumlins and trees. At 15.25 we passed the holiday resort of Parry Sound with the CP line running parallel to us on viaduct over the water. At 17.15 hors d’oeuvre were served in the dome! It had been pouring down for one and a half hours. Four freight trains passed in the last 80 miles. The whole of the CN mainline is CTC signalled with the usual aspect being green over red for clear and yellow over reading indicating entry to the siding line. 

At 17.30 crossed two vvide rivers., the Pickerel and French River one after the other. At 18.10 the train entered a very rocky area which is believed to have been caused by either a meteorite or volcanic activity. The area around Sudbury is notorious for its nickel mining and slag heaps . The train stood at Sudbury Junction for a few minutes, a really appallingly god-forsaken spot.  

At Capreol, where there was a 20 minute stop, I was having dinner so couldn’t get out. There was a preserved CNR 4-8-2 on the platform. The station is a division point with loco depot and yards and several freights were waiting to follow or cross us. The countryside continued to be rocky with bogs and beaver lakes in the forests. Back to the dome car until it became dark watching the lights in the other dome cars twist and turn as we headed west at a steady 40 to 50 mph. with the signal lights glinting on the coaches- quite hypnotic really.

SUNDAY 27th JULY 1997

I woke at 6.00 with the train still running through the Canadian Shield but now two hours late. Apparently an old lady had died during the night and the train had been delayed waiting an ambulance. At Longlac we passed the eastbound “Canadian” running two and a half hours late. The town is apparently multi-lingual and there is a long lake . A freight only branch line diverges here to run to Lake Superior. 

The train was travelling faster and the sun was out. At Armstrong there is a railway division point and the train was watered here. To do this the train vas moved forward no less than eight times so we left 2 hours 17 minutes late. The train stopped at Collins Indian village to let people off ,then at Allanwater Bridge for campers.

  At Sioux Lookout there was a scheduled 20 minute stop for loco refuelling but this was considerable extended due to waiting an eastbound freight. The town here is a real one-horse affair, dust roads, lots of Indians and no phone at the station so no chance to phone home as planned. West of Sioux country changes to lake country with a floatplane seen landing on one. The line then climbs into a more rocky and wooded area through several tunnels. Then its more rocks, more lakes, more islands and more lakes- really very beautiful in the afternoon sun. 

Concerns were now being expressed about how dinner was going to be served as thecrew changes in Winnipeg and we were three hours late. They decide to do one sitting before Winnipeg and the other two after with the new crew. A young couple and there baby were dropped off at Farlane Lake to stay in a holiday cottage. They just climb out onto the trackside and the train pulls away! At Minaki the line crosses the Winnipeg River, the location of the Minaki Lodge established to increase railway tourism before WW2. Beavers can be seen swimming in the lake. Once over the Manitoba border little changes at first. It is a holiday area for Winnipeg and there are frequent stops to pick up and set down passengers.  

After Elna comes the changes to the prairies. The line runs straight and the countryside opens up with the occasional farm and road, although it is still heavily wooded. On the approach to Winnipeg the line crosses over one of the flood channels for the Red River. 

The buildings of Winnipeg are visible although it is still 15 miles away. Arrival in Winnipeg was still 2hours 40 minutes down. 

All the passengers were required to leave the train for the crew change and cleaning of the train. I went to see the locos being refuelled and to see the first of many long grain trains I would see in the next few days. The station has four platforms with the main concourse being in the subway. 

There are two services from Winnipeg each running three times a week -  the The "Canadian” and the “Hudson Bay” to Churchill. The empty stock of the "Hudson Bay" passes through on the avoiding lines behind the station. I went out into the street to look at Winnipeg close up. Unfortunately time didn't allow me to wander very far. Despite large buildings it has more of a frontier feel to it than the eastern cities.  

SUNDAY 27th JULY

On departure I went straight to the restaurant car for dinner. We’d change the two very pretty waitresses for two very attentive young men, both students working for VIA in the vacation. Nothing seemed too much trouble for them. At Portage la Prairie there is a complex rail interchange with the CP and CN lines to Edmonton and Churchill. The main line is well laid, fairly straight and there are frequent loops and grain elevators. The train’s speed was now noticeably higher probably about 70mph.  

MONDAY 28th JULY 

I woke up as the train pulled out of Saskatoon still 2 hours late. Despite what everybody thinks it is clear the prairies are not always completely fiat. There are snow fences along the line in places. It was rather misty to start but this was soon burnt off by the sun. 

The prairies soon gave way to rolling countryside and lakes. There were numerous cattle ranches in this area. The train crossed from Saskatchewan into Alberta and by Wainwright was only an hour and 15 minutes late. Around Cockerel is evidence of the oil industry with nodding donkey oil pumps. The Winnipeg crew obviously had a sense of humour because at 8.00 there was the sound of a cockerel crow over the loudspeakers!  

The line crossed over the 2911 foot long trestle bridge over the mile wide Baffle River valley as it climbed to the summit at the head of this valley. The entry into Edmonton was through yards, industrial areas. 

The line to the VIA station is a single track that leads into the semi derelict platforms of the former CN station . Once again the station had a well laid out and pleasant concourse for just six trains a week. The Edmonton area LRT electric line parallels the VIA tracks before going underground in the city centre. It uses 2 car light-weight emus and has some rather futuristic looking stations. I phoned home from Edmonton, the first time the time zones permitted it. The train backed out of Edmonton to rejoin the CN main line past the enormous freight yards. VIA has apparently decided to build a new station here to replace the existing city centre terminal.  

West of Edmonton the line begins to climb slowly towards the Rockies through forests and over trestle bridges spanning creeks. Gradually the view opens out and the mountains can be seen in the distance. Most of the line is double track. Vast forests stretch as far as the eye can see. I saw at least one forest fire in the distance.

As the train entered the Jasper National Park the dome car filled up. The steward tried to organize a competition to spot the bears/goats/moose/elk etc. It all became a little too American for me. And yes, we did see mountain goats, elk and moose but no bears. The moose even come down into the rail yard at Jasper and cause problems for the drivers when they get in the way of trains. Our train was just 30 minutes late arriving in Jasper. As I left the station the maintenance and cleaning crew were giving the train their attention including washing the dome car windows which should have been cleaned at Winnipeg, but weren’t..  

My hotel was just across the street from the station so, after having a shower, I headed back for a few hours train watching and spent the rest of the evening discussing American and British railroads with various rail fans on the platform.  

TUESDAY 29th JULY

I spent most of the day in and around the station. There was plenty of traffic although it tends to come in batches, three or four trains in an hour and then nothing for an hour or so. I felt so hot and tired by mid afternoon that I went back to the hotel for a sleep! I went out again in the evening and had a pleasant time watching trains.

WEDNESDAY 30th JULY 1997  

I spent the morning watching trains again and then went for the “Skeena” to Prince George and Prince Rupert. It should have left at 13.00 but the air-conditioning in the first class was faulty so another car was attached meaning we left 45 minutes late. The normal formation was a 2nd, first and bar/dome car. 

The train was relatively quiet due to a large number of cancellations by tour firms. There was a fishing dispute between British Columbia and Alaska which had caused the blockading of ferries from Prince Rupert and this had scared off a lot of tourists. We followed a coal train uphill and, unfortunately, there was single line working. We were, therefore, held for two eastbound freights before eventually overtaking the coal train. The weather was poor with rain and low cloud. There are wire fences on the climb to Yellowhead Pass (3700 feet ) to warn of rock falls. There were several recent landslides visible. Yellowhead Lake was passed and after Redpass Junction most of Mount Robson, the highest mountain in Canada, could be seen. At Redpass there is a very large triangular junction with the Vancouver line. The legs of the triangular extend over many miles.  

At Raush Valley the train drew into a siding behind a westbound grain train. After crossing an eastbound freight both the grain and the “Skeena” set off together a few hundred yards apart at about 30mph in the same single line section!  Was this against regulations I wonder, or just a desperate measure to prevent another 30 minutes delay? We eventually overtook the freight at McBride. The area along the line was unbelievably empty with no sign of habitation for miles. The few roads were gravel or dirt. Along the Fraser River was evidence of several recent washouts with speed restrictions. On the approach to Prince George the CN line passes under the British Columbia Railway from the north, before crossing the Fraser into the yard and station area. I took a taxi straight to the hotel as I was two hours behind schedule. Prince George is very much a frontier town with low buildings and very spread out. However, I was told there is now a university and the population is 90,000.

THURSDAY 31ST JULY 1997  

The “Cariboo Prospector”, made up of two British Columbia Railway Budd RDC railcars, left Prince George BCR terminal at 07.00, but was then held in the yard for a northbound freight so eventual departure was nearly 45 minutes late. Initially the line is through farming country with numerous timber mills. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were all included in the fare and came on airline style trays, although of slightly better quality. 

The landscape through to Quesnel remained a mixture of forest and farmland with two more large pulp mills being located there. An engineer riding to Williams Lake said there are 3 freights a day on the line in each direction. They load up to 10,000 tons and generally have two lead locos plus one or two mid-train radio controlled helper locos.

In places on this northern section the train travelled at up to 60mph. The Fraser River at this stage was to the west in a broad valley. At Alexandria the train was put in a dead end siding to allow a northbound freight to pass us, and then reversed out of the siding! A viaduct at Deep Creek was 312 feet above the creek- the train stopped briefly to allow passengers to enjoy the view - despite being late.

Williams Lake, (pop 28000) is a major centre with yet more sawmills. Here a large numbers of passengers joined, many of whom clearly had not had a bath for some days! After another delay for freight traffic the train set off and started its climb into the Cariboo. The line climbs from 1765 feet to the summit at Horme Lake of 3788 feet. The steep part comes after 100 Mile House/Exeter where the grade lasts for 16 miles. 

The Cariboo is a vast silty deposit scarred with canyons and streams. At Kelly Lake there is a turning Y for the daily excursion trains from Lilloet. The lake itself is in a deep ravine. Between Arden and Polley the line descends in to the Fraser Canyon and is the longest and most gruelling climb in North America with an average 2.2% grade. This section is patrolled by a pick up truck mounted on wheels which could be seen preceeding our train. 

The rock falls in the Fraser canyon are notorious. The Canyon is utterly awesome with bare rock or silt valley sides. almost sheer in places and with trees growing out of the bare silt. The track is 2000’ above the valley floor at the start of the grade. At Pavillion ,half vvay down the grade, is British Columbia‘s oldest general store established in 1862. Huge areas of the canyon floor were being used for growing the Chinese herb gin-seng . The crops were covered with black netting. There are two passing loops in the canyon and both are signalled from Lilloet, for safety reasons I presume, as there are sheer drops from the trackside. We passed or overtook freights in both loops. One Canadian woman asked if I was “trainspotting” when I took a particularly interest in one of them, something she'd heard British rail fans did! At the bottom of the canyon stands, for drying salmon, caught in the river by Indians, could be seen. In fact one of the flagstops hereabouts is called Indian Reservation. The railway crosses the lower part of the canyon on a girder bridge vvith sharp curves at either end.  

The train arrived in Lilloet 2 hours late. BC Rail had dispatched the other RDCs, that were scheduled to be added here, earlier, so our train was able to omit a lot of the stops onwards to Vancouver. The conductor came through the train to ask which stops were required. During the stop at Lilloet, which again wasn’t shortened from the scheduled 20 minutes, I asked the driver if he would be able to make up any time. His reply was no because of the heat kinks in the rails. Indeed it soon became obvious that we were only maintaining the schedule from Lilloet by virtue of omitting the stops. 

Downhill from Lilloet the line ran along the shores of lakes reminiscent of Norwegian fords, with several hydro electric plants . Approaching Whistler, mountains with considerable amounts of snow became visible. Mount Garibaldi was the highest seen at 8787 feet. The line then descends steeply through the narrow and spectacular Cheakamus gorge, a narrow rocky ravine with waterfalls and cataracts.

The crew were changed at Squamish for the last hour and a half to Vancouver. In the workshops here could be seen several more RDCs. Then suddenly around a corner we came in sight of Howe Sound, the first sea water since Halifax - I’d done it and crossed North America from coast to coast by train. Strange really to feel such a sense of achievement when all I’d had to do was sit back and watch the miles roll by. I wonder what people felt when they crossed Canada before the railway?  

FRIDAY 1st AUGUST 1997

I took the Skytrain to the Pacific Central Station. Skytrain is an automated subway and elevated railway using magnetic induction to control the trains. It’s very modern and well used. The city portion is in tunnel but the majority is on an elevated concrete structure. Some stations are island platforms, other stations have two or three platforms. The trains are 2 or 4 cars long and are white, blue and red in colour.  

The Pacific Central  Station is the former Canadian National station now used by VIA and Amtrak trains as well as the Rocky Mountaineer tour trains . There is also an adjacent Greyhound and local long distance bus station. The ticket offices are all in the same concourse. It’s a very pleasant terminal but a pity there are so few trains- just the "Canadian", the "Rocky Mountaineer" and the daily train to Seattle.  

I arrived just in time to see the "Canadian" arrive a little late. It should have come in tail car first after turning on a Y but due to a road accident on a level crossing it had to come in locos first. There’s a VIA maintenance depot adjacent to the station and a surprise was a derelict Budd railcar. There are five platforms with one of these being inside a fenced area for customs examination of the Seattle service. The other tracks were filled with VIA and "Rocky Mountaineer" coaches.

Then I went by Sky Train to Scott Road which is just over the enormous suspension bridge built for Skytrain across the Fraser River. Vancouver is an enormous suburban sprawl although quite pleasant. All the buildings are light- white, pastel shades and light grey. The street names are hung over the roads at intersections and the whole city is built on an enormous grid iron pattern with streets running straight for miles. The street signs have the house numbers on for that section of road.  

I returned over the river to Columbia station and walked around trying to find somewhere to watch trains in the New Westminster area. The single track bridge over the Fraser had an opening span in the single track trestle bridge. I saw a tanker train and a pair of Burlington Northern switchers. Unfortunately there was no where to see traffic pleasantly - too many trees and highways with no pavements to walk on. I went on to the road bridge over the river hoping this would give a view of the railway but the sidewalk was on the wrong side to see the railway.

I decided that it would be more profitable to go across to Vancouver Island a little earlier than planned. I returned to the station in time to see the arrival of the train from Seattle with an Amtrak diesel pulling a rake of Spanish built Talgo coaches. Unfortunately I couldn’t photo it because it was in the security compound.

I took the bus to Victoria ,which went via the airport and then on the Seattle motorway through the Fraser River Tunnel before heading west to the Ferry Terminal at Tswwassen. Across the bay could be seen the Roberts Bay coal, container and grain terminal, to which so much of CN’ s and CP’ s freight traffic now goes.

In the water in pens were logs waiting to be processed for the saw mills. On either side of the sound mountains towered, most still covered with snow and ice. The line hugs the shores of Howe Sound all the way to Vancouver. By now, however, it was nearly dark and I was tired so I didn’t take too much notice. I knew I’d see the line in daylight from the "Royal Hudson" special train a few days later. The views coming into Vancouver with the lights of the city and the floodlit Lions Gate Bridge were pretty spectacular.

We were put in a siding again to be passed by yet another freight before arriving in North Vancouver nearly 2 hours late. Even then BC Rail hadn’t finished with us, as the evening dining car special train was occupying the main platform so we had to pass it and then set back into the platform.

I took a taxi to the hotel. The taxi driver who having found out who I was and that I was travelling alone suggested that I ought to find a "nice" girl and that he could help me find one!. He didn ‘t seem to impressed when I said that it was too much trouble and went quiet. I felt for the first time a little overwhelmed by a North American city, wide roads, tall buildings, bright lights and roaring traffic etc. but experience of travelling alone has taught me that tomorrow is always a new day so I didn’t let it bother me too much. Sleep and a nice bed are good healers!  

FRIDAY 1st AUGUST 1997

From the car ferry could be seen Mount Baker in Washington state - an extinct volcano covered in snow and 10778 feet high. The sea was beautifully calm and I spent the whole of the time on deck. The journey through the islands must rank as one of the most beautiful I’ve ever made- narrow channels, mountains, blue seas etc. On docking near Victoria the bus headed straight downtown and dropped me off right outside the hotel door.

I went down to the VIA station of the Esquimalt and Nanaimo line and saw the two car Budd RDC train come in from Courtenay. The raiilway and road cross the harbour on a lifting bridge . Float planes were continually landing and taking off from the harbour, including a small airliner. In the evening I went for a walk around the town - the whole place, as the guidebooks say, is more English than an English town. The architecture is pure Victorian and if it were not for the roads it could be in the UK. I walked around the park and saw a display of country dancing, but decided not to join in despite the notice inviting people to do just that. Then I wandered round the harbour and listened to a Scottish piper- I even left him a dollar!

SATURDAY 2nd AUGUST 1997

I took the Victoria to Nanaimo train leaving at 08.15. On the outskirts of Victoria was a small roundhouse and some evidence of freight traffic. The line is owned by CP. The train passed the naval dockyard at Esquimalt before starting the climb from Langford to the summit at Malahat 650’ above sea level.The line crosses the Niagara Canyon (260 feet deep) which uses a bridge originally on the CP mainline to Vancouver at Cisco in the Fraser Canyon. Next comes the crossing of the Arbutus Canyon on a curved trestle 220 feet high. The line then descends 900 feet to Duncan. Here there were dozens of totem poles and Indian products on sale. At Chemainus the line reaches the coast and there is B.C.'s largest sawmill. The factory used to have extensive logging lines and a steam loco is preserved by the line. Several large ships were anchored in the bay. Just before Nanaimo the line runs through a former coal mining area with speed restrictions due to subsidence.

On the approach to Nanaimo a line to the ferry terminal branched off to the east. Another freight only line to the west went off into the forests. The conductor told us at Nanaimo that we had ten minutes to go to the cafe across the street for coffee! He told me that the freightcars carrying mainly timber products came over on the train barge from Vancouver and there is a six days a week freight service. There are apparently 3 GP9s for the heavy timber trains, one for the main line pick up freight and on used at the ferry terminal. The passenger service only operates because a treaty require it to be operated in perpetuity.

At Parksville tank cars are kept for fighting forest fires. The line crossed over the 1045 feet long French Creek trestle. I phoned home from a rail employee’s mobile phone at Courtenay, the Bell phone being out of order - now that is customer care. We left after a 30 minute turnround at 13.15. 1 left the train at Nanaimo and walked into the town to catch the coach back to Vancouver. On the coach I heard a considerable amount of "native" language being spoken by people of obvious Indian extraction.

Because of the holiday weekend (B.C.Day) the ferry was delayed because of heavy traffic so the bus had to wait about 40 minutes. The ship was "Queen of Oak Bay". The view across the Strait of Georgia to the B.C. mountains became progressively more stunning as the ship neared the mainland. Several cruise ships were seen - Vancouver is a major cruise port for sailings to Alaska.

SUNDAY 3rd AUGUST 1997

I walked from the hotel down to the harbour to board M.V. "Britannia" for the sailing to Squamish. In the harbour was the "Ryndam", a Holland America cruise liner. The boat sailed under the Lions Gate Bridge and up the Howe Sound. It was a beautiful day and too hot to be on deck for long so stayed at the very front of the observation deck. At Squamish the boat sailed up the river to tie up against a timber wharf. 

The "Royal Hudson" steam train was already stabled there and loaded straight off the roadside. The big 4-6-4 ex CPR No 2860 was being serviced as the boat arrived and loked magnificent in the sun. I went for a walk around Squamish, the impression being of low buildings and wide streets. After a phone call to home I joined the train travelling in coach “Porteau” an ex CNR vehicle built in 1954. The entire train looked most attractive in its maroon livery and gold lettering.  

The train backed up onto the main line before heading off down the Howe Sound to Vancouver. The Stewamau Chief rock outcrop above Squamish is apparently the largest piece of granite in the Commonwealth apart from the Rock of Gibraltar! It was pleasant to see the Howe Sound in the daylight as I hadn't really enjoyed it at the end of the long trip from Prince George. The line passes the largest copper mine in the world, now closed and set up as a museum. In North Vancouver the large yards of the B.C.R. came before we pulled into the station. On the other track the staff were preparing the coaches for that evening’s Dining Car Special, which goes up to a loop near Squamish and where the guests can eat and dance the evening away.

I took the bus to the Seabus terminal and then across the harbour on this strange craft. It’s a very fast double ended ferry with one enormous enclosed deck and automatic doors on either side which allow very fast loading from the undercover bus station.

On arrival at the Waterfront terminal in Vancouver the former CPR station, I had a surprise. The West Coast Express commuter line was operating a Sunday evening service to Mission at 18.00. 1 checked return service possibilities and decided to go to Port Coquitlam and return by bus. The CPR terminal building has been nicely restored as an interchange between Seabus, Skytrain, West Coast express and local buses.  

The West Coast Express trains are made up of new air-conditioned double deck coaches pulled by F59PH1 locos and are owned by BC Transit, the bus and ferry operator. The CP line closely follows the river called the Second Narrows past container, grain and sulphur terminals. CP, BN and CN locos were all seen in this area.

Further out the line becomes more suburban. There are bus terminals at every station. The station at Port Coquitlam was next to the CP yard but although I’d thought of staying there for a while I felt rather tired so decided to return to Vancouver straight away by bus. The yard was obviously vast and there appeared to be no place I could easily watch traffic. The bus route passed the sulphur loading dock at Port Moody. Conveyors could be seen loading a ship directly from the hopper wagons which were lettered “Sultrans” and come from Albertan mines. The run into the city centre was through one of those inner city areas   that one usually only sees in American films - I definitely wouldn’t want to get off there!

MONDAY 4th AUGUST

I took the airport bus out to the airport, far too early, but I couldn’t think of anything else worth doing in the time I had. I boarded the 12.00 flight to Toronto, a Jumbo Boeing 747 and watched the Rockies, and the plains and lakes pass by underneath. Finally I boarded the 21.15 flight to Manchester and slept fitfully through the night I was off the plane and onto the train within 15 minutes just catching the 09.28 to Middlesbrough and arrived on time.

 

 
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