It had been years since I had taken the train in Canada.  I don’t even think that Dave and I have ever taken the train together.

You see as Canadians, we love to drive.  Canadians have no problem taking a road trip for 5 or 6 hours to get somewhere.  Driving to Montreal from Toronto is a quick 5 hour drive along the 401 with a couple of Tim Horton stops in between.  People go to the cottage every weekend and face 2 to 3 hour traffic every Friday evening just to get away from the city.  And yes, everyone has a Timmie’s coffee in their hand.

Driving is a way of life in Canada

Driving is a way of life in Canada

We drive to Florida, it takes 21 hours.  We drive to the east coast. It takes 21 hours.  Canadians get behind the wheel of their cars and trucks and cruise down our well maintained highways, stop at fast food restaurants and follow our well organized roads.

We love our cars in this country. At 16 years of age we all take our driving test and head out on the roads.  You just can’t get around this country without a car.

That is why it is so strange to find ourselves on Via Rail en route to Montreal.  Montreal is a road trip that we take frequently.  But this time, we didn’t have our car.  Our car is sitting in storage as we travel the world searching for the next great adventure.

How would we manage to get ourselves to Montreal for our flight to France?

Lucky for us, Via Rail was having a Spring seat sale and we got our round trip tickets from Woodstock (1 1/2 hours west of Toronto) to Montreal for the low price of $90.   We had to give it a try.

via rail station woodstock ontario

The little Woodstock train station!

My parents dropped us off at the little Woodstock train station and all we noticed was how things haven’t changed for years. It looks like the same as it has for 100 years.  A little one horse town stop. As we sat there waiting for a train which arrived only 10 minutes late, we thought about how people waited for trains a century ago standing on a platform exactly like this.

free wifi on via rail trips

The trains themselves are another story though.  Our little Canadian Railway, Via Rail has become fast, modern and efficient.  Complimentary wifi service is provided and almost everyone in the car has their laptops out armed and ready for some healthy twittering, facebook chatting or watching a movie to pass the time.

inside via rail car to montreal

You can really travel in comfort!

The reclining seats are spacious and comfortable.  We must admit that we are easily impressed after traveling on the India Rail system for 3 months, but Via Rail is a luxury.  There is an abundant of leg room, the seats and windows are spotless and temperature on board is perfect.  They provide power outlets and trays to either work on your laptop or to put your food and drinks on.  Meals aren’t included in the price of the ticket but a friendly vendor comes around regularly selling snacks, coffee and soft drinks.

The toilets are clean and smell free.  It is wonderful to go into a bathroom where people actually care about the person going in next.  There are signs asking everyone to clean up after themselves and low and behold, they do! The smell wasn’t even that bad in there either.

Two Legs to the trip

Union Station in Toronto.

Union Station in Toronto.

We had to transfer in Toronto at Union Station. With our hour layover we decided to go to Harveys for a veggie burger and fries.  Harveys is located right in the train station and a great way to fill up before facing the 5 hour journey.

Union Station is a Grand Old Station dating back to the 1920′s. The main entrance is a great hall with vaulted ceilings and marble floors. Unfortunately train travel is not popular in Canada and whenever we go into the train station it is nearly empty.  Today was no exception.

Boarding the Trains

One thing we were surprised about was that there are no security checks.  We personally don’t care because security checks seem to be more for show than anything else.   But we were surprised to see that they didn’t bother to check bags.  I thought everyone was checking bags these days.


Luggage restrictions??

We were worried that we were going to be charged an over baggage fee.  This train didn’t have a luggage check and we were only allowed 2 carry on bags 26 inches in length.  We were over by a couple of inches all around.  We are packing a lot for Europe since we are camping our way through France. We have rented a car for the time we are there, so we decided to pack big.  A luxury we rarely allow ourselves.

Nobody gave us a second glance as they checked our ticket.  When we got on the train, we saw that everyone over packed. I am not sure why they bother making these rules. But it worked out well for us.

Ah Canada, it is good to be home to this clean country with few crowds, little corruption, no backsheesh and no machine guns or security checks at every corner.

High Price

The Cost!

The Cost!

The problem with the trains in Canada is you pay for the comfort.  Train travel is not cheap in Canada. The prices are high car travel is the more affordable alternative for most Canadians.   If Via Rail really wants to attract more customers to their train system, they have to drop the prices.  When a flight to Montreal from Toronto is comparable and shorter, why would anyone travel by rail?  If driving to Montreal is cheaper and just as fast, why would I take the train? If it were the same price as the Spring sale all year round, I am sure that more Canadians would look to train travel as an option to travel through this vast and fabulous country.

But on that note, next year you really have to take advantage of the Spring Sale if Via Rail has it again.  The $90 round trip price is a bargain and it is fabulous to go from downtown Toronto to the heart of Montreal.  This spring sale is good for all of Canada as well, not just the Toronto-Montreal route.

I know that we will make our summer travel plans and Via Rail will be a big part of it if they have their spring sale again.

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  2. Vivian, VIA’s virtual tour guide

    Love your photos! Glad you enjoyed your trip to Montreal onboard and I’m completely jealous about your summer plans in France!

    Very much agree with your take on TO’s Union Station – it’s such a beautiful building, and yet so many of the city’s commuters are shuttled through underground passages BELOW it! It’s undergoing a big reno now, so we’ll see if the Grand Hall will get more traffic… I really enjoyed this article last week in Toronto Life about the future of the station: http://www.torontolife.com/daily/informer/from-print-edition-informer/2010/04/28/the-lost-station/

    Vivian is Virtual
    VIA Rail’s tour guide
    .-= Vivian, VIA’s virtual tour guide´s last blog ..Montreal’s Olympics Parade.. and me! =-.

  3. Alison

    The only time I have ever taken the train in Canada was in university. When going home to Saint John, NB from Halifax I would take the train to Moncton and from there the bus. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant journey. It was long and it was expensive. Once I had a car, I always drove. 4 hours and I was home. I have always wanted to do a cross-Canada train trip though but the high price has kept me from it.

    You’re right about Canadians and driving. Andrew and I drive everywhere. Our European friends think we are nuts to drive to the south of France for a long weekend, but hey, We drove from Halifax to Toronto for a concert and back the next day. We like to drive :)

    I do love trains here though compared to flying. You don’t have to be 2 hours early for a train journey, you aren’t treated like a criminal and wonder of wonders, you can even take a bottle of water on board with you :)
    .-= Alison´s last blog ..Our Ten Year Anniversary =-.

  4. Melanie

    Wow. I get what you mean about being in love with our cars in Canada. My mom used to take the Via Rail route from Toronto to Montreal with her girlfriends for a girls weekend when I was a kid. Since then I never hear about anyone taking the train!.

    We are off to NYC and then to Foxwoods CT for our anniversary. Warren has business in NYC, then we are off to celebrate. We are flying to New York, but then how do we get to New London CT (the closest town to Foxwoods CT). We looked at a few options and decided on the train. I am looking forward to the 2 1/2 hour journey.

    One advantage to taking the train to Montreal over driving is that you can sleep or do work to pass the time. Driving it can be a little difficult especially for the driver.

    Enjoy France!
    .-= Melanie´s last blog ..May 4, World Travel Guide – Links to other great travel sites. =-.

  5. Gray

    Good information to know about trains in Canada! I hear what you’re saying. Trains in the US can be pricey too. If you’re only saving $40 over the cost of airfare, but the trip is 7 hours long vs 2 hours long, it’s really better to fly. Our time is worth something. If they want us to travel by train, they’ve got to make it not just a lot cheaper, but more convenient, not less.
    .-= Gray´s last blog ..Review: The Mohegan Sun =-.

  6. jp

    Glad you had a good time! I found this post a little strange though. You make it sound like no one travels on the train these days; like it’s some kind of anachronistic thing. But lots of Canadians use the train regularly – particularly business people in the Quebec-Windsor corridor wanting to work while they travel, and university students. In fact, some of us use the train so much that we’d really appreciate it if more rail lines could be put in. Many parts of the corridor only have a single track, meaning a blockage at one spot can stall the whole system. And tracks in other parts of the country were progressively removed in the later 20th century by misguided bureaucrats who thought no one would take the train in the future. Now we found ourselves behind the times!

    I agree with you that train travel is too expensive in this country. But that has a lot to do with level of service and reliability. If there were more destinations, there would be more passengers, and that could lower fares.

    1. davendeb

      Hi JP, You are right. I guess just nobody in our circle of friends travels by train. But while we road it, train travel was definitely alive and well. You are so right when you say we are behind the times. The rest of the world has excellent train systems and if only large companies would learn that if you make things more affordable, more people would take it and then they would make more money. Where has the concept of volume gone? So true, Via Rail needs to make more destinations and more areas of service creating more affordability and them maybe more people would take the trains. It goes for public transit in our cities too. Thanks for the great insight!

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  9. Jools Stone

    Great reviews guys. Really interesting to read about Canadians propensity to drive long diatances too. I met quite a number of Canadians on my trip to Edmonton taking the train for the first time. It’s a good point about the lack of security checks, but of course this is one of the reasons why the train is less hassle. Just hope it stays that way

    1. debndave Post author

      So true, trains are less of a hassel and way more fun. They just need to bring the prices down a bit in Canada and maybe more people will start taking them. Enjoy your travel!

  10. Pingback: Strangers on a Canadian Train - Trains on the Brain

  11. Billy

    Via vs Amrak…. booking a month ahead to get max. discounts.
    Price comparison Via vs Amtrak…..
    Via… from Stratford, On. to Toronto return = $60 (200 miles return)
    Amtrak… from Ann Arbor Mi. to Chicago return = $66 ( 480 miles return)
    I rest my case.
    Just another example of overpriced transportation in our country.

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