Saturday, July 6, 2024

Review: Riding the rails where the Ventures roam

This past week, I took my daughter to Montreal, as part of a late birthday gift. She is a big hockey fan so we went to have a tour of the Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens. We then followed that up with a trip to the team store, where she got her first Habs jersey. A fun day in a city that I love.

For the purposes of this blog, the trip was also a great opportunity to take the train. In this instance, it was my first chance to ride Via Rail's new Siemens Ventures train. 

This was the scene at Ottawa's main train station as our Venture was parked a few tracks over from a more traditional F40-LRC consist that was headed for Toronto. Our train was Via Train 24. My first impressions of the new Ventures coaches were that the centre aisle was wider than what you'd find on an LRC or silver HEP car. The interior is very white. The area for people with disabilities was spacious, much more so than the spaces you'd find on more traditional Via equipment. There was no shortage of space.

I've been reading some interesting commentary online about the new Via equipment being relatively scarce outside the Ottawa-Montreal-Quebec City route. There was also the Via "announcement" that its entire corridor now features the new Siemens trains, which is a bit of a stretch, to be sure. For my daughter and I, taking the train between Ottawa and Montreal meant we rode on a Siemens Venture set both ways. This seems to be the route where much of this equipment is being tested.

These digital signs were spread out along the car, which told you (roughly) where you were on your journey and how fast the train was moving. The Alexandria Subdivision is almost exclusively Via territory, save for the occasional CN freight train. On our way to Montreal, just east of Ottawa, our train managed to maintain a steady speed of 151 km/h for a long stretch, which was pretty impressive. As we got closer to Alexandria, the pace slackened a bit. Our train was given priority over a westbound train as well as a CN freight train closer to Coteau. As we neared Montreal, we yielded the main line for a westbound train, which caused us to pull in to Montreal's station a few minutes late, but nothing noticeable.

The train sheds at Montreal's Central Station were filled with new Siemens trains, but it's hard to get photos there, as it's so dark. The platforms at this station are as high as the coach doors, so there is no stepping down to the platform, as you have to do in Toronto. However, Toronto's train sheds are much brighter after the installation of much-needed windows there. It's a very different experience once you get off the train in Montreal.

The ride itself was incredibly quiet and smooth. Earlier this summer, I was on the last car of an all HEP consist on the way to Toronto. The difference in ride is not even close. The new Siemens coaches are a massive upgrade in terms of ride quality. I will say, however, the seats themselves felt a little stiff to me, although they weren't uncomfortable by any means. The leg room was more than enough and it was definitely a step up from the older coaches.

I mention the quiet. As someone with a hearing impairment, I have to wear hearing aids. I could hear all the announcements on the Ventures. I should clarify. It's not sound that is my problem, it's sound clarity. The acoustics of the Venture's sound systems are a massive improvement. Many details were well thought out in these new trains.

My daughter insisted on a platform shot, so I happily obliged. It's not easy getting anything decent on the Montreal platform, but I like this shot. My daughter and I had a wonderful day in Montreal. They locals treat you well when you're wearing the team colours!

The experience at Montreal station was pleasant as well. The Via personnel were very kind to us. We had to check one bag as we could not bring it on the Bell Centre tour. The gentleman at the baggage desk allowed us to check it for free, as he was enchanted with my daughter. I will have more to share about the Montreal station and my railway observations on this trip. Those will be for future posts.


Steve Boyko said...

I'm glad you and your daughter had a great trip to Montreal!

Michael said...

Thanks, Steve. It was a great day, which gave us all a break from reality for a while. The new Via trains were a real treat to experience first hand.

Kevin from Windsor said...

I rode these trains in Florida on the BrightLine and they are sweet. I'm glad VIA standardized with Amtrak, BrightLine and soon Ontario Northland on common equipment. New trains. New stations. If only they had more frequent service and memory schedules. BrightLine manages it by running most of their freight trains overnight. We should be able to travel anywhere in the corridor on 2h headways during business hours. And maybe throw in an overnight train along the entire length of the corridor between Windsor to Quebec City in each direction. It can weave around the freight trains.