I live in Rusagonis, outside of Fredericton. I went to a family reunion this last summer in Brooks, Alberta, and it was not a small trip.
The idea that we should all start travelling again “after COVID” promoted by mass media may have been behind the idea of a reunion. I prefer not to travel far or unnecessarily but I like my siblings a lot so I decided to go. It was really only for a few days but we all appreciated the amount of organizing and taking care of us that my brother and sister-in-law did for us.
I don’t want to travel by plane anymore —I have “flygskam” (flight shame)— so I would have to go by train and bus. Twice in the past ten years I have travelled to Alberta by bus although I had to go by plane once because of road wash-outs in Western Ontario. Now Greyhound is not operating across Canada at all anymore and even Maritime Bus doesn’t go further than Edmundston.
From Montreal to Toronto on the train, I sat next to a person who had gone by bus to Edmundston from where he had hoped to get a car ride (with others who had tried for days) to Rivière-du-Loup but, after hours of no luck, he travelled back to Moncton to go by train.
So, the only option is VIA Rail, but that service is very limited.
I had to go by bus from Fredericton to Moncton, then by train from Moncton to Edmonton, Alberta. During that trip, I had a one night lay-over in Toronto and took a bus from Edmonton to Calgary. I also had a night on the streets in Edmonton and an over-night in Calgary. Once in Calgary, I would have had to take a shuttle from Calgary to Brooks, where the reunion was.
I left on Friday, August 12 and arrived on August 19. It took one week to get there. On the way there, I did get a ride from home to Moncton from a sibling and, again, from Calgary to my brother’s near Brooks, Alberta, from another sibling.
To travel by train is advertised more as an experience than a way to get from A to B. I was on the phone for an hour trying to see if I could get better connections.
There are only two trains per week from Halifax to Montreal and three from Toronto to Vancouver. There is only one train a week that allows for only one night in Toronto; any other connection means a three day lay-over in the city.
Over the phone with the VIA Rail service agent, this was promoted as a chance to get off the train and enjoy the city, but how often can you admire the CN Tower? The observation car is obviously a nice feature: one can view endless lakes and forests in Ontario and ever-changing farmscapes after that.
During the journey, there were also many delays and time waiting for freight trains to pass on single track routes. Train employees mentioned that, in the past, the passenger train didn’t automatically wait for freight trains but the freight trains now have preference because more money is made with them. Obviously, freight transport by train is much more economical than transport trucks, and one wonders why doubling of all tracks is not done to speed up two-way traffic. It can’t be as expensive as highways to build and maintain largely for freight traffic.
I usually prefer the cheaper option of travelling in a train seat, which is much more spacious than seats in a bus or airplane. But, from Toronto to Edmonton, I had to buy a sleeper car ticket because seats were sold out. Those sleeping berths are pull-out and made by a porter and mine only offered a curtain for privacy. Shower and toilet facilities were cramped and inconvenient but all very clean and usable.
The train carriages are touted for their vintage appeal. The dining car from Toronto to Edmonton was from the seventies of the last century. I heard that the dining car from Halifax to Montreal was from the fifties.
No investments are made in passenger transport by rail.
The locomotives are just as “vintage” as the carriages. They belch big clouds of black smoke every time they accelerate or pull up a hill. Modern freight trucks don’t smoke as much because of environmental regulations and newly designed engines. Those regulations should also apply to rail locomotives; even better, more rail transport routes should be electrified, as is done with passengers rail in cities and almost all rail traffic in Europe. That would be a huge investment, yes, but much cheaper than shifting freight transport to battery or hydrogen operation as is now the plan.
Both bus companies that travel from Edmonton to Calgary and from Moncton to Fredericton provide good, comfortable and convenient transportation. If we can’t have cross-country train travel with good and more connections like there used to be, we should have a VIA-like arrangement for busses all across the country, as the National Farmers Union makes a plea for.
In researching the options to travel out West, I also looked for the fuel consumption of different modes of transport. It was reported that you could drive a small car for a year on the fuel it took to fly on one domestic flight. I am sure that depends much on how full planes, trains and automobiles are, and what kind of vehicles are used. Airplanes have become marginally better in their fuel consumption over the years but the best option always is for everyone to stay home.