|Upgrading sleeper cars are among many of the refurbishments undertaken by VIA Rail Canada.|
If you look at all the luxury resorts and towns of Canada, you can see how the history of the country is intertwined with its railway system. For instance, the Fairmont Banff Springs was built between spring of 1887 and 1888 by the Canadian Pacific Railway—a precursor to today’s VIA Rail Canada.
Travel Agent recently met with VIA Rail’s Ali Macaraeg, senior manager for sales and marketing, Americas, and Pierre Santoni, senior director for domestic and international sales, who updated us on the latest from Canada’s major rail network and its $923 million fleet renewal program.
Among the changes likely to directly impact and appeal to American travelers are major refurbishments to VIA Rail’s stainless-steel sleeping, dining and dome cars; upgrades to the Renaissance fleet and the Light Rapid Comfortable (LRC) coaches on the Corridor route; and locomotive overhauls. Santoni noted that U.S. Internet sales and tour operator sales are up more than 35 percent and 50 percent, respectively.
VIA Rail’s renewal program calls for a $20 million refurbishment of 78 HEP1 stainless-steel rail cars, including 40 Manor Sleeping Cars and 13 dining cars, as well as an overhaul of 21 locomotives for the popular “Canadian” route between Vancouver and Toronto. In addition to the sleeping and dining cars, the project also includes VIA’s Skyline and Park dome-lounge cars. Elsewhere in the VIA fleet, $98 million is being spent to overhaul the LRC passenger coaches used on the Ontario-Quebec corridor routes, with reupholstered leather seats in 26 business-class cars, improved restrooms and other accessibility enhancements. An additional $5.8 million is being allocated to renovating 21 Renaissance coaches used on routes between Quebec and Toronto, and Montreal and Halifax, including improvements to economy class and sleeping cars on the overnight Ocean service.
Sleeper cars and dining cars are also being refurbished to a classic Art Deco style, and new luxury bedrooms are being designed for some upcoming sleepers. (Nice touch for gourmands: As the cross-country trains pass through each province, the cuisine served on board changes to match the local fare.)
Three new stations are in the works, with more along the way, and the company is spending several million dollars to refurbish other existing stations. One billion dollars has been earmarked for the Toronto Union Station alone.
Santoni said a high-speed network in Canada was theoretically possible, but investments in the project should have been made 20 years ago if it were going to get going now. Still, Santoni argued, these trains are not for people who are in a hurry. “We’re not competing with the airlines,” he says. “This is a land cruise.”