Canada is a huge country. It is the second largest country in the world after Russia with a distance of 6.500 kilometers from west to east. It is almost impossible to see the whole country in one trip, but for the adventurous traveler there is a wonderful way to see Canada, the train. A seven-day train journey connects Vancouver in the west with Halifax in the east. You choose the comfort yourself, but if you want to do it as cheaply as possible, you travel through the country in economy class. No bed, no shower, no meals. In return you get to meet an interesting train family, more adventure and an unforgettable experience.
Passenger transport in Canada is done via ViaRail, a government organisation. They use the train network of Canada National (CN), a private freight transport company. ViaRail has a leasing contract to be able to use their network.
We were very impressed with the professionalism and helpfulness of the ViaRail staff. Baggage handling works like on the plane, with a check-in procedure, but then the quick variant.
It is possible to completely cross Canada by train. You can go all the way from Vancouver in the west to Halifax in the east. However, the most popular route is the four-day train journey between Toronto and Vancouver, a journey of 4,466 kilometers. This train is called The Canadian and travels through the Boreal forests of Northern Ontario, the vast prairies in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and finally the beautiful Canadian Rockies. The train has a number of panorama dome cars with large glass windows and ceilings so that you have a beautiful 360-degree view.
The Canadian leaves Toronto twice a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays. The arrival in Vancouver is four nights later. So if you leave on Sunday, you'll arrive in Vancouver on Thursday morning, although that may be a bit later due to the many delays.
Along the way there are many stops and it is possible to split your train journey with stopovers into a number of cities. For example, the train stops between Toronto and Vancouver in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Jasper. In the larger cities, the train often stops a little longer, but due to the many delays, the original timetable is unreliable. We would have a three-hour stop in Jasper, but due to the many delays we stopped for just 45 minutes.
How you sleep on the train strongly depends on your own budget. In the economy class, the cheapest variant, you have a comfortable chair with a reclinable seat. There is a lot of leg room and power outlets to charge your phone or laptop. If it is not too busy on the train, every time outside the peak season in summer and the Christmas holidays, you usually have two seats for yourself and sleeping is comfortable. As a couple you can take a four-seater and make a kind of bed with all footrests. We slept in a chair for four days in a row and slept amazingly well.
If you don't like to sleep in a chair, you can opt for a bed in the sleeper class. There are open berths where the seats are transformed into a bed at night. The more expensive variant is a private cabin and the most expensive variant has a full room with a double bed. In the sleeper class there are showers and the private cabins sometimes have their own showers.
In the sleeper class all meals are included, but you also pay a higher price for that comfort. In economy class you have two options, bring your own food or buy everything on board.
We chose the cheapest option and brought our own food. Hot water, pepper, salt, peanut butter, jam, mayonnaise and sauces are available free of charge. This was a handy addition to upgrade our own food. You don’t have much excercise on the train and you don't walk more than 3,000 steps a day so you are not that hungry. This was our four-day food supply:
Breakfast: bread, cream cheese, peanut butter, granola, fruit
Lunch: tortilla wraps, cheese, avocados, bell peppers
Dinner: noodles, vegetables (homemade mix of carrots, broccoli and leeks)
Snacks: mandarins, cookies, nuts, chips
The alternative is to buy food on board the train. There is a small shop where you can buy snacks, soft drinks, coffee and noodles. You can also order meals, from breakfast to dinner. You pay between $ 8 and $ 11 Canadian dollars for meals, which is a lot if you have to buy food for four days. The meals look good, but are unfortunately served in disposable plastic containers.
The cheapest by train through Canada is the title, but is it really cheap? A trip between Toronto and Vancouver is unfortunately cheaper by plane, just as traveling by plane in Europe is much cheaper than the sustainable variants. But, you don't see anything of the country on a plane. The train is much more than a transportion, it is a journey, an experience, a way to see a country.
The standard price for a train ticket in economy class between Toronto and Vancouver is around € 350. The sleeper class is more than twice as expensive, but you have a bed and three meals a day. Fortunately, ViaRail has a fantastic offer that makes it suddenly very cheap, the Canada Pass.
The Canada Pass
With this pass you can make a number of one way trips by train within a certain period. There are different variants where you can choose between 6 or 12 journeys, within 15 days, 30 days or 60 days. We opted for the variant with 6 trips within 30 days. This pass costs around € 500, but ViaRail regularly has offers to buy the pass with a discount. We were lucky and bought our Canada Pass on Black Friday for € 375. We traveled from Quebec to Vancouver and back within thirty days, which would normally cost almost € 1,000 and now less than half. Cheaper than flying, more sustainable and more beautiful.
The luggage rules for the train are very flexible and you can take a lot of luggage with you. There is a full baggage car with a lot of space and that little extra weight does not have much effect on the train. You can take a large bag of 23 kilograms and hand luggage on board. You can also check in two large bag in the luggage room.
We took our bike on the train and it costs $ 28 for a one way trip. For us the ride between Quebec and Vancouver counted as one ride so we only paid € 20 for our bikes. We were also able to deliver them the day before and the transfers in Montreal and Toronto were arranged automatically. The bikes did not have to be in a box and were treated with great care. Perfect service!
We took the train at the end of December, just before the start of the Christmas holiday. Canada is then covered with a layer of snow and you ride through a white landscape for four days. The days are shorter so you see a little less of the country, but the cold outside makes the train feel like a cozy, warm hotel.
In the summer months Canada is green and the fields are full of grains. The days are long so that you can sit in the panorama car until long in the evening.
(Many) Delays due to priority for freight transport: because ViaRail uses the CN network, freight trains have priority. The majority of the network is a single track with occasional double track to pass a train from the other direction. You will often stand still and wait for another train, especially the first part between Toronto and Sascatoon. At a certain moment we were 12 hours behind schedule, but that time was largely made up in the last part of the schedule, partly thanks to shorter stops in Edmonton and Jasper. The train that left four days after us, even had a 37 hour delay due to mechanical problems.
There is no wifi on the train between Toronto and Vancouver. At the train stations in the larger cities there is usually free WiFi and network connection. There is Wi-Fi on the train between Toronto and Quebec.
The train family is a colorful group. In economy class you share the wagon with many other travelers, and a large part travels the entire route. Expect a colourful group with all types of persons. You will make a lot of friends and have nice conversations so that time flies. You will never have time for all those books and films that you have planned.