This week marks the third and final installment of my favourite Via Rail memories from my lifetimes either riding the train or standing trackside. You can read the first post here and the second post here. I would love to hear some of your favourite Via Rail memories out there as well.
21. In the early 1990s, my sister went away to university in Waterloo. As is the case with many students, the train becomes the primary source of transportation when your hometown is more than a few hours away. One of the benefits to my sister being away from school was that she often would arrive home for visits in an Amtrak train, which was an exotic site, even in a border town like Sarnia. The reason why she would often come home in an Amtrak consist was that Via and Amtrak still operated their Toronto-Chicago service, which would involve Amtrak trains operating between Sarnia and Toronto with Via Rail crews aboard. I was lucky enough to capture one of those trains shortly before Amtrak ditched its F40s in favour of its ubiquitous and impossibly ugly fleet of P40s and P42s.
22. Staying with Amtrak, I once had the pleasure of boarding one of those Amtrak trains with Via crew in Sarnia when I boarded a train for Kitchener to visit my sister for the weekend when she was away at school. Cooler still, the train I was riding featured Amtrak Superliners. This was only possible shortly after the new St. Clair River railway tunnel was completed beneath Port Huron, Michigan and Sarnia. Up until that point, the old tunnel could not accommodate Superliners, autoracks or double stack container cars. Not many people can claim to have taken the Superliners from Sarnia. The international service between Chicago and Toronto was terminated in 2004.
23. Once in a while, you capture magic. I am by no means an expert at photography. And to be honest, I don’t often go trackside to capture Via Rail corridor trains these days, because I have so many shots of them already. But on this day after a snowfall, I captured this image near Cedarview Road that ranks among my favourite railway photos.
24. When I was young, my grandparents would sometimes travel to their hometowns in Eastern Quebec (Le Bic and Padoue) via the formerly branded Chaleur. One weekend they had a surprise for me. It was a full-size Via Rail Chaleur poster with a stunning image of a Via blue and yellow F unit pulling a string of silver Budd coaches across a bridge somewhere in Eastern Quebec. Sadly, that poster has been lost to time. Does anyone remember a time when you could buy Via Rail branded posters? Am I dating myself right now?
25. I remember passing endless hours playing with those LRC cardboard trains that you can still get on a Via Rail train. Whenever someone in my family rode the train, they would usually bring home a small cardboard train for me. I was happy to hear that Via Rail still gives those away on the train. A nice touch.
26. Perhaps my greatest Via Rail memory was when I had my one and only encounter with the legendary Canadian at Banff station. It was the summer of 1986 and the train had just staggered into the station, being led by a CP Rail SD40-2. Obviously, the F units pulling the train had run into trouble somewhere between Vancouver and Alberta. My family was visiting our extended family at the time and someone (I’m not sure who) convinced the CP Rail engineer to let my brother and I climb on board that mammoth machine. The engineer, Rick, was nice enough to show us the basics of the engine, including what he called “the robot,” which made no sense to me at the time. Somewhere in my family archives are photos of that encounter, including a shot of my brother and me on the walkway of the SD40-2. There is also a shot of the full consist. I have been bugging my siblings to search for them, but no one has been able to locate them. I once had copies of these photos but those images have long been lost. Sigh.
27. I’m trying to remember how I ended up getting this shot, which was taken somewhere near the Moodie Drive crossing. There’s nothing spectacular about this image, but I have always liked it for some reason and have ranked it among my favourite Via Rail shots.
28. Once in a while, you see something odd at Ottawa Station. I always love it when I catch something odd. This consist might be one of my all-time favourites. I love the weird rainbow consists.
29. Many people didn’t like the Canada 150 wraps, but I thought it made for a fun year trackside. This was the first time I captured a wrap.
30. I am dating myself again, but I remember being able to go to the “snack car” when I was aboard a Via Rail train between Sarnia and Quebec City. It was when my family went to Quebec City in the summer of 1983. To a young railfan, being able to get up and walk through a moving train was the pinnacle of adventure.
So those are the Via Rail memories, both distant and recent, that stand out to me. Although the company often finds itself the target of criticism and funding constraints, I think we should all be very proud of this service. I only hope that, one day, its political masters will build the railway back up to the national carrier it should be.
Stay tuned for a bonus Part IV of this series, featuring a guest blogger.