Saturday, December 24, 2011

Riding VIA business class

I make lots of rail trips each year because I live in Moosonee and taking the train is the cheapest way to head south (no roads here). The train is the Polar Bear Express which takes five hours to cover the 186 miles to Cochrane. Right now I am down south for Christmas and yesterday I took the train from Toronto to Belleville.

Since I do not ride VIA Rail very often (a couple of times a decade), I decided to try out business class for one leg of the trip.

Business class means you get to sit in what was a very crowded lounge at Union Station in Toronto before they call boarding for the train and lead you past all the economy class passengers who are lined up to get on. Mind you they are boarding you half an hour before the train leaves.

The coach was 4003, a nice stainless steel car with a long history that has been totally renovated inside. A good stretch of the car consists of non seating areas (galley, luggage storage and washrooms). It has 15 rows of seats and yes, they are 2+2. The seats are nice but rather narrow. The seat trays are tiny. To someone used to wide open ONR cars 4003 seems very jam packed.

Meal service was very good. The car had two attendants who were on their feet the whole trip, up and down the aisles bringing beverages (all included), appetizers and a rather good lunch around to everyone.
My own vision of first class rail travel has 2+1 seating or even parlour seats so it was a bit disappointing to feel so well packed. I know that it lets them get in more passengers. It is funny to think that VIA first class has more seats in the car then a regular ONR coach.

We got up to 90 mph which is a lot different than 50mph on the Polar Bear Express or 70mph on the Northlander. The tracks are excellent, a very smooth ride even at top speed.

Lots of delays though. We were a bit late getting into Belleville after spending some time waiting to get into the station. What was also interesting was the amount of time spent at station stops. Baggage handling is fairly slow and the tightly packed cars take a long time to unload.

We were in the first car. We felt right at home when we got on since the door to the baggage car was open and we could see in and hear the caged dogs, just like at home.

While we were lined up to get off, and parked on the Moira River bridge for a few minutes, the two attendants started singing in the vestibule. The passengers seemed to appreciate it. I realized that you were supposed to tip them and asked a lady behind me who said she was giving $20. It seemed fair; they were awesome at food service and attending to passenger requests.