Last year when our parents turned 60, my sister and I were thinking about what we should give them as a present. As my mother dropped several times how she would love it to visit Canada one day to visit our cousin living there, we decided to gift them the plane tickets to Canada and invite ourselves along for the trip. In about one and a half week we made a trip around the cities in central-eastern Canada, visiting Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa and Toronto.
As to avoid having to rent a car or go through the hassle of taking a domestic flight, we opted to travel by train in between our destinations on our Canada trip. The first train ride would take us from Montreal to Quebec City. As the business class fare wasn’t much higher than the standard economy class fare, we decided to treat ourselves and give us a first class trip.
In Montreal the VIA Rail trains leave from the Gare Centrale, first opened in 1943 to consolidate all passenger train services in Montreal into one station. The main hall is above and across the underground track, with stairs and escalators heading down towards platform level for boarding. On both sides of the hall you have some large bas-reliefs depicting Canadian life, arts and industry.
As we were travelling in business class, we had access to the VIA rail business class lounge. After checking in at the desk we could have a seat and wait for our train to board.
The lounge offers a number of different seating options, all in the VIA grey and yellow. You also have two accessible bathrooms, one for each gender. The solid offer is limited to some apples, but the liquids include soft drinks, tea and a number of speciality coffees which can be brewed by the machine.
If you want to drink some water you can just use the tap to pour some water into a cup. There was also a glass showcase depicting VIA rail merchandise which you can buy if you want.
When boarding was called we headed towards the platform entrance for our gate, where our ticket was checked before being allowed on the platform.
As we were seated in coach 1 we had to go all the way to the front of the train to board. Our coach was a refurbished LRC car, it had leather seats (just like in Austria’s Railjet) in a 1-2 configuration.
We entered the coach through the galley, after which you had some baggage racks to stow your bulky bags.
Above the seats you have baggage lockers just like in a plane, yet they are big enough to hold typical carry-on size bags. Another airline like feature was the presence of safety cards, displaying the procedures and location of emergency equipment.
The train left perfectly on time, driving backwards. Apparently trains in Canada always run in the same direction, but as the train was inbound from Ottawa we first have to do a reversing manoeuvre before we could carry on to Ottawa driving forward again.
Just as we were backing out of the station, the staff already came around offering us welcome drinks in the form of some coffee, tea or Orange juice. I asked for some tea and was given a real porcelain mug of hot water along with a bag of tea (of which the taste you could choose yourself).
After crossing the bridge over the Saint Lawrence River (and getting a last glimpse of Habitat 67 and the Montreal Skyline) we were handed a hot towel to freshen up before the meal service.
As this was a morning departure we were served breakfast and had the choice between a hot and a cold option. We all went for the hot option and it consisted of some scrambled eggs, bacon and banana bread made into a French toast (which was very delicious). Along with the hot main there was fresh fruit on the tray and you could choose between a hot croissant or bagel to go along with it.
A glass of orange juice and a refill of your coffee or tea was also offered. Via rail also uses real and branded cutlery, which always give a more upscale feeling. The size and taste of the meal was perfect and kept me from going hungry for quite some time.
The first part of the trip took us through mainly flat land and fields and gave a taste of how vast and empty Canada can be.
After clearing away the empty meal trays, the crew offered some cups of water and some mints.
The coach was equipped with two toilets, located at the non-exit end (there are only doors at one end of the coach) and where clean throughout the journey.
As we got closer to Quebec the landscape got a bit rougher and hillier, providing for some nicer scenery. The crew also came around with a final drinks service, my cup was first disinfected by some rum before they poured in the coke.
After slowly descending the slope into Quebec City, we arrived at the City’s wonderful Gare du Palais. Now we finally also got to take a look at the heavy F40PH diesel locomotive that had pulled our train all the way.
I really enjoyed my trip on-board VIA rail and I would recommend you to try them out on your next trip in Canada, especially the business class service is worth the mark up.
Have you travelled on Via Rail before? How was your experience? Let us know in the comments below!