Canadian Rockies by Train - review

CANADIAN ROCKIES BY VIA RAIL - Problems that can occur

 

Re: VIA Rail trip 1-4 August 2006

A letter to VIA RAIL sent 15 August 2006 to which there has been no reply as yet (7October 2006):

My wife and I took our two grandchildren on this Toronto-Vancouver trip at a cost of $5,734.60 to see the Rockies for a, "once-in-a-lifetime" trip. Much to our disappointment, this certainly turned out to be the case but in a way that was very different than we expected when we obtained VIA information on your website.

After some delay leaving Toronto, we had a long stop due to an accident shortly out of Toronto that resulted in our being considerably behind schedule. We did not realize, nor did we notice anything in your trip information, that freight trains have a priority over passenger trains that resulted in constant stops (even backing up various times) and made it impossible to make up any time. As a result, we had no stops in daytime when we could do anything before Jasper. Our grandchildren were unable to leave the train at any point to do anything except briefly stretch their legs. Things they had planned to do were not possible. For example, one had arranged to send a friend postcards from each province but she was unable to do this anywhere until we arrived in Vancouver.

We arrived in Jasper in the dark and, therefore our trip - taken for the purpose of seeing the Rockies - continued through the Rockies in the dark. In Jasper, I spent my time rushing around trying to get help in contacting our pick up in Victoria to tell them we would be delayed and when we would arrive. Staff on the train offered no help and suggested I phone from Jasper but no one could tell me when we would arrive.

When we woke up in Kamloops, we were told at breakfast that derailments on both CN and CP tracks would require taking a bus to Vancouver. This meant that seeing the Fraser Valley (a second choice for us but at least something worthwhile to see) was now a miss as well as the Rockies. There were again no facilities to phone Victoria to notify people of the further delay in our arrival (and no stops to do it on the way to Vancouver).

We had to wait all morning till past noon for the buses to come. We were in an isolated industrial area with no facilities. No one did anything about food although the kitchen staff could certainly have provided it. When we walked our grandchildren to the train engines for a picture, someone told us to go back because we were in a dangerous, industrial area (there were no people, except for those on the train, in sight and certainly no activity). We were put on the bus about 1:00PM without any lunch although we were given lunch tickets at breakfast. On the bus they had water, some pop and some cookies/crackers. We were driven to Vancouver without any stops for food or bathroom breaks (there was a toilet on the bus but the smell that spread into the nearby passenger area got worse and worse as the trip progressed). Upon arrival, about 7:00PM, we just made a later ferry to get to Victoria. We finally were able to eat on the ferry at about 9:00 PM having had nothing since breakfast! Also, of course, our planned ferry trip to see Bald Eagles and look for whales with the grandchildren was ruined because of darkness.

We rested for one day and then took our charter flights back home. In Vancouver, we were handed a letter when we got off the bus from Mr. James Kleiner, Director Customer Experience - Customer West. He indicated that he trusted, "we have your understanding that this was a situation beyond VIA Rail's control." He further indicated that VIA Rail would refund a portion of our Silver and Blue ticket fare.

Neither Mr. Kleiner nor VIA have my understanding that this was a situation beyond VIA Rail's control in all respects. I want to assure you that all of these events were certainly beyond my control in spite of paying an amount for a 3-day trip that was considerably beyond what other trips we were considering would cost for this time period - but this was, as your website states, "the trip of a lifetime."

You will also appreciate that the price for this trip was paid almost completely with the objective of seeing the Canadian highlights that come after Jasper - especially with no stops before to do anything with our grandchildren.

As a Canadian, I was embarrassed to see what can happen on Canadian rail lines given the number of passengers from places like Europe where rail service is reasonably reliable in our experience.

In an effort to help others, who may be considering this trip, I have prepared a note on our experiences to put on my website so people searching for information on this trip can learn of some of the risks they will be taking and some of the less than Silver and Blue service levels they might expect when things go wrong. I will wait to post this until I get your reply so that I can include what VIA does for passengers when this happens.

I suggest further, that your own website should be upgraded to include information about the risks that things can go wrong, the fact that passenger trains come second after freight trains in Canada, the fact that most stops are in places with no access to towns and have little (often no) facilities.

I would like to request that you provide us with a full refund of the cost of our VIA fares (we still have return flights, ferry and other costs) given this trip was not only a disappointment but extremely frustrating from almost the beginning.


Yours sincerely,


Encl. Copy of tickets and copy of letter from James Kleiner

Appendix

Selected statements from your website that led us to decide to take this Rockies trip
(and our comments):

Follow the links below to plan all aspects of your Canadian train trip, and get ready for the journey of a lifetime!

superb meals and impeccable service aboard the Canadian
(no meals from 7 in the morning till approx. 7 at night in Vancouver if we had been able to stop and eat there and none until 9:00PM for us!!)

Can there be a better way to see the Canadian Rockies? Bring your camera and take home some dazzling souvenirs. Even amateur photographers can't help but come away with masterpieces, especially when the train slows down for photo opportunities.
(what Rockies and photo opportunities?)

Take afternoon tea in the middle of Jasper National Park amid the spectacular scenery of the Canadian Rockies.
(not for us)

you arrive in Winnipeg on Wednesday afternoon, Jasper on Thursday afternoon, and Vancouver on Friday morning.
(not even close)
View our photos of the stunning Canadian Rockies and the Pacific region.
(obviously there is no need to reproduce here the wonderful photos of the train in the Rockies and the mountains that appear on your site. We certainly had no information about risks that could prevent enjoying this journey of a lifetime experience.)
Other stops include Sudbury Junction, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Jasper and Kamloops. (we saw nothing to tell us the few stops we had in the day time would be outside these places where there were usually no stores, kiosks, washrooms or ever telephones so we could notify our pick up from the ferry of the delay)

…to the sparkling Pacific Coast of British Columbia.
(we essentially saw nothing after Jasper, our treatment was deplorable for us as adults and our grandchildren were subjected to this inexcusable treatment)