I’m at the Red Truck Brewery, 10 minutes away from the Pacific Station, to wait for my train and the 18 hours train ride. Yes, I like trains. My former company – the German railways – has nothing to do with me always preferring the train over cars. Coming from a car dealer and workshop family I’m not sure if this is already a “black sheep of the family” argument.
Trains. And it’s not about arriving somewhere fast or cheap – then I would have gotten myself a plane ticket across Canada. It’s about the journey. Looking out of the window, walking between the cars, hearing and feeling the rattling of the train. Train meditation. I’m curious how many people will be on the train in this off-season and how the night will be as I don’t have a bunk bed or cabin. Just an economy seat. I love trains but I’m not willing to spend so much money.
I’m passing by all the nice lighted sleeping compartments with people sitting in their seats that will turn into full beds at night. They have showers and a nice dining car. The cars have different names, all beginning with “Manor …” to give it the specialness. Mine just has a number and is separated from the two locomotives only by the luggage wagon. Traveling in economy. No showers, no privacy, no dining car. Too old for this? Never.
The train is not booked out so I have two seats for myself it seems. They are old but comfortable. Sylvie, our train attendant, gives a couple of first information bits where to find what. “Please keep your shoes on while walking between cars. Not only is it Canadian law but in case of emergency that’s how you will exit the train. And, well, I’d prefer to wait in ice and snow with shoes on.” As we are departing punctually and the train starts to move Sylvie adds via intercom “That’s the only time we’ll be on time. That’s a promise.” And yes, it is. In Canada freight trains have priority on the tracks. So a passenger train can easily be belated for a couple of hours I read before I booked the ticket. “Don’t plan any connection transfer or activity to your arrival time.” the website says. And it’s not just a saying.
After a surprisingly comfortable and undisturbed night I wake up around 8, stretch and prepare my cheap breakfast. “I seem to have missed the stop at Kamloops…” I wonder while mumbling on yoghurt. The train on the other side of the lake, winding its way along the small tracks in the mountainside, looks like a miniature train that we played with when we were young. I used to build a couple of these miniature worlds, carefully placing fake plants and using moss flakes to cover the wooden and styrofoam hills and plains in different shades of green and brown. It looked like Canada right now. The morning announcement brings me back to here and now: “Good morning, everyone. We’re right now 3 hours delayed to heavy freight traffic. But we hope you make yourself comfortable on board of our train and had a good night.”
The train attendants are relaxed and take a coffee and a cigarette on the first stop Kamloops outside in the cold sun where our two diesel engines get new fuel. All the passengers pop out of the cars and join for a short stroll after more than 12 hours on the train so far. No one seems stressed or annoyed. People laugh and talk. Train rides as something relaxing to slow down, the journey as part of the adventure.
There’s a folk musician on the train who plays unplugged with her guitar in the bistro to entertain the passengers in the afternoon. We’re sitting in the panorama car, talking and once in while being interrupted by the sheer beauty of the world outside or the train conductor’s travel guide qualities. “In 5 minutes we will pass the diamond falls on the right side.” He even slows the train down so everyone can have a look.
Even if you’re just doing the part from Vancouver to Edmonton – the cheapest ticket for the train will cost you around 150 CAD$ and bring your own food – you’ll get a really special experience. And I’m almost sad to leave the train in Jasper after 21 hours. But I will for sure take it for another part of my journey across Canada.
Where else can you get a bald eagle flying right next to your window?