Traveling via VIA Rail

While Amtrak struggles to hold its place in America’s transportation industry, VIA Rail, Canada’s national railway system, has found a niche as a tourist excursion. Rather than racing from Point A to Point B, VIA Rail passengers can spend several days relaxing and enjoying the scenery as they travel. Regional and cross-country trains bring visitors to areas they would not be able to access by car, and puts the whole of Canada right outside their windows.


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The Canadian makes its way through the Rockies


“Train travel is classically romantic,” says Ali Macaraeg, the manager of VIA Rail’s U.S. sales. “There’s just something whimsical about riding the rails that provides a throwback experience somewhere between traveling to a destination and actually being in one. You can be ‘nowhere’ and somewhere special at the same time, gazing out the window at gorgeous, vast expanses of landscape. And there’s simply nothing more timeless than clinking wine glasses in a fashionable train dining car—you feel like you’re in a 1940s movie.”

Several different trains can take visitors to all of Canada’s most popular tourism destinations and major cities. “VIA Rail can also take travelers into remote regions of Canada that are difficult to get to by car and, usually, prohibitively expensive to fly to,” Macaraeg adds. “For example, the Hudson Bay service takes travelers from Winnipeg, the capital city of Manitoba, up to Churchill to be awed by that region’s famous polar bears. Further west, VIA Rail’s Skeena train departs from Jasper—which is itself a bit difficult to get to—and takes passengers on a two-day journey through the Great Pacific Northwest...straight through to Prince Rupert on the west coast just a few miles south of the Alaskan border.”


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The Canadian's Park Car, where guests can go upstairs to view the scenery from a glass dome


As for Macaraeg, his favorite aspect of VIA Rail is “the economy of time it affords. No travel time to airports in the suburbs. No hour-long airport security lines. And once onboard, no need to stop doing what you’re doing.” Unlike on airplanes, he says, “I can keep listening to my iPod, watching my portable DVD player or, if I’m traveling on business, working on my laptop computer (the trains between major cities in Ontario and Quebec even offer Wi-Fi Internet access). When you take downtown-to-downtown service [city to city] into consideration, you eliminate taxi rides to the outskirts of town and that just saves even more time.”

Beauty and Convenience
When pitching train travel through Canada to clients, Macaraeg recommends that agents focus on two points: “VIA Rail provides a picture-perfect prelude: Traveling to your destination aboard VIA Rail provides a refreshing introduction to that region’s natural beauty. Is there a better mood-setter for the majestic mountains of Jasper National Park than gazing out—and up—at them through a 360-degree domed viewing car aboard VIA Rail’s western Canadian train? And isn’t a preview of the Maritimes’ rolling hills and lush countryside from VIA Rail’s eastern Ocean train a fitting way to start a vacation in either New Brunswick or Nova Scotia?”

The second point, he continues, is convenience. “Along the heavily populated swath of Ontario and Quebec provinces known as Canada’s Corridor, VIA Rail’s downtown-to-downtown services make sense for leisure travelers and festival-hoppers. Stations are centrally located and easily accessible, and travel times are less than you might think: From Montreal to Ottawa [travel is] less than two hours, and [Montreal] to Quebec City is less than three. Travel between Toronto and Montreal is just over four hours. You can really see a lot of Canada in an easy, affordable way through VIA Rail Canada.”