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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.