13 Reasons to Ditch Airlines for VIA Rail

Henry Miller, the famous writer & painter once wrote – “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” In the last 60 years, travel has evolved for the impatient. We board a plane, melt into our in-flight entertainment consoles, look out the window a couple of times, and arrive at our final destination. Journeys that once would have taken days, weeks, or even months can be completed in a matter of hours. While I’m not one to complain about the advances of technology, I can’t help but feel that flights have removed some of the romanticism of travel. To experience the “real” Canada, the vast distances, the picturesque landscapes, the topography changes from one corner of this country to the next, nothing can beat travel by train. Having spent over 200 hours on VIA Rail in the last 60 days crossing eight provinces, I have found a new way of seeing things. I have discovered 13 reasons to stop flying and travel Canada by VIA Rail.

Via Rail Lower Berths - Sleepers

Lower Berths

Traveling for days on end can lead to exhaustion. While the economy seats on VIA Rail are massive, with enough leg room that would make a 6’8 basketball player smile, spending a little extra money on a 40+ hour train ride can make all the difference. Stretching out in a freshly made bed, and sprawling in your newfound privacy is something everyone can appreciate. Having your own bench seat during the day (or bed should you choose to leave it down), where you can properly lay back, read, and relax not only helps pass the time, but better lets you enjoy the sights from your window. Sleeping through the night in a comfy bed and waking up well rested and that much closer to your destination is easily worth the price bump.

Via Rail Train - The Showers

The showers

Showering while traveling is important. No more so than when you’re in a train with 28 cars traveling for 2 days straight. While Economy tickets don’t have access to shower, all Sleeping Cars come with them. To wake up refreshed from a full nights sleep and to have access to a clean and hot shower is one of the best ways to start a morning.

Pro Tip

Keep in mind, showers are reserved for anyone in the sleeper cars, so those of you taking economy I would recommend bringing along some soap or some resealable wet naps.

work-on-train-wifi

Time to Work

While Wifi is typically limited to the Corridor (between Windsor & Montreal), if you are able to continue to work disconnected from the rest of the world, you’ll have plenty of time to do so. During my countless hours on the train I was able to organize and edit all of my photos, consistently write new blog posts, and edited three videos.

Pro Tip

If you have to stay connected for business, or just for updating your Facebook status to “I’m on a train!“, a decent cell phone data plan along with the ability to tether can keep you online whenever you’re in 3G coverage.

Via Rail Dining Car Food - Breakfast

The Dining Car Food

VIA Rail’s incredible selection of fully cooked and prepared meals makes the thought of airline food sound like the gruesome meals that were likely prepared in the middle ages. You won’t hear a single moan coming from the dining car as VIA Rail’s helpful staff serve everything from smoked salmon to veal, with your choice of beer, wine, juice, or coffee.

VIA Rail Manitoba Winnipeg

The Lack of Anxiety

While I wouldn’t consider myself a very nervous flyer, there have been times where I couldn’t help but start thinking about the fact that 36,000 feet is a long way down. The closest thing to uncomfortable turbulence you’ll find on VIA Rail is the occasional bumpy line of track, which means nothing more than a gentle rock left to right. No sudden drops, no feeling your stomach in your throat, just a smooth & gentle ride.

The Canadian Train - Via Rail - Observation Car

The Space & Comfort

While I can’t stress how awesome an upgrade on VIA Rail is, even in Economy seats, the amount of room given is on average MUCH more than you’ll find on most airlines. Combined with the ease of getting out of your seat to wander to the Snack Car, the Lounge Car, the Obvservation Car, or just walking to get your blood circulating, having that ease of moving around simply can’t be beat.

VIA Rail Gate Montreal

Less Hassle

My biggest pet peeve with flying is being stuck behind a giant line at airport security, anxiously waiting to get through in fear that I might not make it to my gate on time. Security on airlines isn’t just strict, it’s border-line de-humanizing. While VIA Rail has it in their right to check your luggage, their security is far more realistic for the average traveler. You show up, check your luggage, grab your ticket, board, and go. Removing the scans, the pat downs, the 20 questions of “Where are you going?“, “What do you do?“, really speeds things up and makes for a much more enjoyable experience boarding the train. I traveled between Montreal & Toronto with Riley of Riles For Miles, and she couldn’t stop saying “That was so easy!” after boarding the train.

via-rail-scenic-view-1

The Sights

VIA Rail trains will never win a race with airlines, but that’s not what train travel is all about. The slower pace of train travel on VIA Rail allows you to truly take in the size and scenery of Canada. You’ll be hard pressed to see moose, bear, deer, and a variety of Canadian birds from 36,000 feet up. Traveling  by train, this becomes a daily occurrence! A seat atop the Observation car during the day (or night – with the lights off) offers an astounding view of the scenic landscapes Canada is so famous for.

Via-rail-tracks-on-tracks-bombadils-travel-music

The Sounds

Many people don’t know this, but VIA Rail offers free train rides to musicians for performing two 45 minute sets per day on the train for passengers. While this is a great way for musicians to get around the country and tour for cheap, it also gives passengers a unique experience. There’s nothing like watching as the rugged Canadian landscape goes by outside the Lounge Car and some of Canada’s most talented artists serenade guests from all over the world.

I was fortunate enough to catch The Bombadils performing on VIA Rails “The Ocean”, between Halifax & Montreal. I also caught Morgan MacDonald perform on “The Canadian”, between Toronto & Winnipeg. Discovering new artists performing on VIA Rail might have been one of my favourite parts of the entire journey.

via-rail-social-1

The Social Side of Travel

When I fly I am a grumpy human being. I don’t want to talk to the person next to me. I typically want to scold parents for bringing children on the flight, and I am generally just not somebody anyone would ever want to talk to. Perhaps it’s the discomfort, the nerves, the terrible food, the state of fear the media has us all worked up in. But the last thing I want to do is talk to anybody I don’t know while I travel on a plane.

The opposite couldn’t be more true on train travel. There is nothing more common on trains than seeing people who didn’t know each other as they boarded the train disembark as newfound friends. Partaking in conversation with both young and old, about their jobs, their past travels, their future aspirations, and their general interest in how you ended up on this same train. During my journeys on board VIA Rail, I became a conversationalist. A suave, interesting guy who wanted to speak to anyone who would listen. I couldn’t have been more of the opposite to that grumpy human being I am when flying.

friendly-via-rail-staff-1

The Staff

Airline staff can often times feel a bit robotic. Any conversing with staff can lead you with somebody (passenger or staff) glaring at you as if you’re putting the entire world in jeopardy. Staff on VIA Rail behave differently. They are relaxed, happy, comfortable, rested, and it all shows. From the way they’re happy to assist you, to the fact that they’ll spare an extra five minutes from their busy schedule to converse with a passenger about anything from beer preferences, to destination tips. Did I mention they’re hilarious as well?

VIA Rail - Wildlife - Mountain Goat

The Wildlife

The beauty of traveling slow is that you have time to look. Time to take in what you’re seeing, where you are, and who you’re with. In my opinion, one of the best parts of traveling with VIA Rail is the amount of wildlife you’re sure to see. Between bears, moose, elk, and even mountain goats, it’s hard to spend a day on the train and not see something out of the window. What I love is that the staff aboard VIA Rail take time out of their day to announce if there’s wildlife coming up. I scored this great photo of a mother and young mountain goat, a couple dozen kilometers outside of Jasper.

via-rail-ticket

The Cost

Trains are usually on par with your average budget flight, and at times even less expensive. Train travel isn’t as pricey as many people make it out to be. One has to remember that most legs of train travel are over an entire day and night, saving you a night of accommodation and giving you a comfy ride and a whole new experience.

compare-price-air-canada-via-rail

Don’t believe me? I took a look at a one way Economy Fair on VIA Rail for September 8th from Toronto to Saskatoon. The adult pass came up at $273.46 ($242 fare + $41.46 tax). I took a same look at Air Canada for a flight on September 8th from Toronto to Saskatoon. The adult pass came up at $420 ($278 fare + $148 in tax). Making VIA Rail the cheaper choice by $146.54! Add on top of that the fact that you’re saving 2 nights of accommodation by sleeping on VIA Rail and you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

Via rail map of Canada stations

Photo Courtesy of VIARail.com

As you have probably figured out, I am a convert! Train travel is the bee’s knees, wearing cat’s pyjamas. It’s for those people who aren’t in a rush, who have learned that in life, it’s not only good, but essential to stop and smell the flowers. Canada was built by the railroads, and I think one of the greatest ways to honour this fact is for every Canadian, and every visitor, to see this magnificent country from coast to coast with VIA Rail.

Special thanks to the folks at VIA Rail for having me aboard their train and giving me access to shoot photos & video. 

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21 Responses to “13 Reasons to Ditch Airlines for VIA Rail”

  1. Raymond @ Man On The Lam
    August 27, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

    I’ve been on trains in plenty of countries but never in Canada because I always thought it was too pricey. I noticed they have seat sales from time-to-time as well. I’ll have to keep them in mind next time… :)

    • Corbin Fraser
      August 27, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

      Yea I met a lot of people while traveling who asked “Isn’t it expensive?!” – as soon as people see the seat sales they’re usually surprised at how affordable VIA Rail is. Can’t say enough good things about the VIA experience.

      Thanks for commenting Raymond!

  2. Alicia Taggio
    August 27, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    Have always loved my experiences riding the VIA. Great service, and spectacular views of our country (not to mention FREE WIFI!). It’s been my dream to travel across Canada on it and your photos just solidified that for me. Thanks for sharing!

    • Corbin Fraser
      August 27, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

      Thanks Alicia! Glad to hear you’re a fan as well. The VIA Cross Canada trip needs to be on everyones bucket list. It’s absolutely incredible!

  3. Mariellen Ward
    August 27, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    I love train travel, whether it’s in Canada or India, where I also travel. I often think of a famous quote, “If train travel survives the 20th century, it will own the 21st century.” I hope that day is at hand. Great post Corbin

  4. Seattle Dredge
    August 28, 2012 at 5:30 am #

    lol wet naps.. I did the Toronto>Vancovuer>Toronto a couple of years ago in economy.. could have used those wet naps :p

  5. William Self
    August 28, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    I traveled from Vancouver to Toronto last year on the VIA Rail Canadian. It was an incredible journey and the trip of a lifetime. If you do not have to reach your destination in a hurry, this is THE way to get there.

    The dining car served fantastic meals. You’ll meet lots of interesting people. You’ll see so much more of Canada than you would by air. The staff at VIA are very hospitable and have endless energy. You will arrive at your destination feeling well rested.

    • Corbin Fraser
      August 28, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

      Glad to hear you had a similar experience. I can’t say enough good things about the dining car and the hospitable staff. VIA Rail knows how to treat travellers!

  6. Dalene
    August 28, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    I’m the same was Raymond – always just thought it was too pricey, but will look a little harder next time! Done lots of railing in Europe and LOVED every minute of it compared to flying. Great article Corbin.

    • Corbin Fraser
      August 28, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

      Thanks Dalene, definitely keep an eye out on those sales, you can sometimes scoop a seat for a mega discounted rate. :)

  7. Ayngelina
    August 28, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    I always chose the train over the plane from Toronto to Montreal. The stations are in the city center, I don’t need to go through security an hour earlier and usually I can get a trip through a promotion. And even though I don’t need the leg room I really do appreciate it.

    • Corbin Fraser
      August 28, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

      I’m with you Ayngelina, I’ll be taking the Toronto to Montreal leg again here in September. Love the free wifi and how much work I can get done.

  8. Phil Séguin
    August 28, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    the title just spoke to me! lol I ditched my job at an airline to work for VIA Rail! everything said on this blog is just the absolute truth :)

  9. gottaGETghetto
    August 28, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    taking Via Rail from Dorval (Montreal) to Brampton (Toronto) is virtually the same total time , door to door , I tried the air travel from Trudeau to Pearson , an hour , but the pre-board line-up and security check can be more than an hour , and the local transit home from Pearson to Brampton is still longer than the flight time itself , especially in the evening or during the weekend … Try getting out of Pearson to catch the GO bus or the Mississauga MiWay or the Brampton Transit from the “other” Terminal where I usually land , 3 , I believe , not easy to exit the airport , the internal signage to find the proper exit , is brutal , and I am very good with direction and navigation …

  10. Daniel Lam
    August 28, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    The cost for train travel is still ridiculously expensive unless you can get those Express Deals. I mean if I were to travel from Vancouver to Toronto on an Express Deal, it would be 197 with economy but about 400 with a bed. Compared to the regular price of over 4000 dollars..damn.

    • Murissa Shalapata
      September 19, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

      I agree, one of the reasons I have yet to take a train trip but I will one day despite the price. Canadian travel is pricy in general which is unfortunate. If I wanted to go to Montreal from Vancouver the price is usually comparable to say going to London or Paris.

  11. Lisa
    August 28, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    We just travelled from Montreal to Vancouver last week and loved every minute of it. I’ve shared your post with several people who had asked me about our trip.

  12. Leigh McAdam
    August 31, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    I enjoy the change of pace that the train offers. I haven’t slept on one in years but the thought o being in a sleeper berth with a good book and no WiFI sounds very appealing. I’m thinking about a journey to Churchill this fall and need to make the time to look more closely at pricing. Great post Corbin.

  13. Beth
    September 11, 2012 at 5:15 am #

    I did the trip from Kamloops to Edmonton on VIA New Years Eve this last year. The staff was amazing and went out of their way to spread cheer, handing out sweets and hats. You could see how much it ment to the kids too. It is a trip I definitely plan to do again.

  14. Alouise
    September 26, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

    I’ve never done VIA rail, but a cross country train journey would be amazing. Last year I saw a sale $65 for a ticket from Edmonton to Winnipeg, which is a lot cheaper than a flight or the cost to drive. If I wasn’t traveling somewhere else I would have totally gone for it.

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