Tue, Oct 15, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Rolling into Jasper

The three-day journey from Toronto to Jasper offers stunning views of Canada’s scenery

By Stephen A. Nelson  /  Contributing reporter in JASPER, ALBERTA

VIA Rail passenger train travels through the mountains of Alberta and British Columbia.

Photo: Stephen A. Nelson

Chiyoko Shimizu could barely contain her excitement. Sitting on the edge of her seat in the dome car, she gazed at the 3-D panorama outside with wonderment. Passengers rushed to capture the moment on cameras and smartphones.

We were on The Canadian — the VIA Rail passenger train that’s been called Canada’s answer to the Orient Express — heading west towards Jasper National Park.

With the town of Jasper about an hour away, we were at the gateway to the glory of the Canadian Rockies.

Our journey began at Toronto’s Union Station. With its Beaux Arts design — including neoclassical columns and high, vaulted ceilings — the station felt like being in a giant temple dedicated to Canada.

Once I arrived at the departure area, the VIA crew instantly made me feel welcome. It was much better than an airport.

Travelers will admire the sleek “silver bullet” design of The Canadian’s 1950s-vintage railway carriages.

And once on board, you really notice the difference between this and air travel. No rushing, no pushing, no shoving — no one desperately trying to stuff his oversized bags into the overhead compartment.

SLOW TRAIN COMING

We were late getting to Jasper because VIA Rail’s passenger trains must share the railway tracks with freight trains from other railway companies. And the VIA trains always get sidetracked — especially between Edmonton and Vancouver.

I’ve traveled on The Canadian a few times, including two cross-country trips. One time was eastbound from Jasper to Toronto — with a three-day layover in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The train from Jasper to Winnipeg left almost on time — but was about six hours late arriving in Winnipeg. My train from Winnipeg to Toronto left more than eight hours late — and arrived in Toronto about eight hours late.

These days, VIA Rail actually includes a caveat on its own Web site. It warns travelers about the possibility of “significant delays.” It also advises passengers to not make plans for connecting transportation.

ECONOMY, SLEEPER, PRESTIGE

The Economy compartments are not unlike the inter-city passenger trains in Taiwan, while those traveling in the upscale Prestige class were treated to a champagne reception in the Park car — the vintage lounge/observation car at the back of the train.

Passengers like me, in Sleeper Plus class, checked in to our accommodations and then checked out the observation cars. That’s when I met Chiyoko — an English teacher from Japan who was heading out to Alberta.

Chiyoko told me that she had come to Canada just to travel across the country by train and see the Rockies.

Those in Economy Class leaned back in their seats and tried to sleep, and those in Sleeper Plus Class found their way to their cabins or berths to their fold-down bunk beds.

Wealthy passengers in the Prestige Class retired to much larger rooms, with king-sized beds and soft mattresses.

Canada is a huge country — about 278 times the size of Taiwan. The trip from Toronto to Jasper takes about three days and covers 3,600km.

STUNNING LANDSCAPES

After a good night’s sleep, we awoke to find we were far away from the concrete jungles of Toronto and rolling our way through the cobalt lakes and lush forests of northern Ontario.

In the days to come, we would traverse the rocky Canadian Shield and cross the vast, open prairies.

In autumn the blue flax and yellow canola of summer give way to the golden bales of hay, bundled like shredded wheat cereal and sugar-frosted with snow. In winter, it’s like traveling through a Christmas card.

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