Thursday, June 12, 2008

I heart trains

I got to thinking about trains the other day. Growing up, trains were a huge part of my life. The town we lived in at the extreme outskirts of Montreal (Deux Montagnes - or Two Mountains before everything in Quebec had to be French) was serviced by a commuter train as old as the hills. Deux Montagnes was the last stop on the line. The service was expensive and unreliable, but it was the quickest and most convenient way to get to downtown Montreal from the extreme outskirts, save for a car. Needless to say, I used it a lot. As a side note, the modernization of the commuter line was promised endlessly by CN (the line operator), but never came until the Montreal Transit folks took it over long after I left home. Now the line is even faster and I have heard more reliable.

Once I left home to join the military, I used to take the train from Kingston to Montreal or Toronto in the days before I owned a car. Again - expensive, unreliable, but convenient.

Fast forward to Calgary. No passenger train. If I want to go anywhere, I have to catch the train in Edmonton. For fun, I checked to see what a return trip from Edmonton to Toronto would cost for 2 adults. On VIA Rail (CN), the absolute cheapest fare is $1300, with regular fare close to $1800. That's just for cattle class. If you want beds, that'll be $2800. Single bedroom? $3600. This trip takes 2 days each way. I wanted to see what a similar trip would cost on the American Amtrak system. The closest station to Calgary is Shelby Montana. The Amtrak trip would cost $900 for cattle class. If we upgrade to Roomette / Business Class seat, it goes up to $2000. That's a significant savings assuming an at par dollar.

I am saddened and disappointed that we've let our train network disintegrate as it has. I would be happy to see the country without the hassle of being behind the wheel if the fares were more reasonable. I imagine what it would be like to ride a high speed train across the country like the kind they have in Europe. You could theoretically get from Edmonton to Toronto in 24 hours or less. Edmonton to Vancouver in 8 hours, all while looking out your window at the magnificent Rocky Mountains. These figures are based on an average speed of 140km/h, factoring in stops etc. Much better times are possible, especially across the prairies, as in Europe, some lines go as fast as 350km/h.


JIM LOOMIS said...

Where did you get those fare quotes? According to the VIA website, the fare from Edmonton to Toronto for coach class with no discounts of any kind is $586 ... and this is the most expensive time of year to travel.

Karl Plesz said...

Right on their site. By the way, that's for 2 adults. I chose November as my time period. I plugged it in on their site again and came up with the same figure.