Feb 3, 2014

Posted by in Canada, Ontario | 0 Comments

The Longest Ride: Toronto to Winnipeg by Train

Midday Saturday I was in Toronto catching up with some friends.  I received a voicemail message from VIA Rail saying our train will be leaving at 12:30am instead of 10pm and to have a nice day.  I assumed that this meant that the departure time had changed, leaving us a couple extra hours to hang out with Chris and Mel.
Toronto Union StationSince I was passing through Union station anyway, on my way back to their place, I thought I might just pop by VIA desk and double check. I had one of those funny feelings in my gut.

The lady at the desk told me to ignore the message and be at the station a half hour before the scheduled departure time (so at 9:30pm) as the train could leave before 12:30 without warning if it was ready.

Wait, what?

Then what was the point in leaving me the message? Slightly annoyed, I continued back to Chris & Mel’s place to finish up packing, and get something to eat.

Arriving back at Union, on time, we stuck our head in every nook and cranny looking for the check in desk as we schlepped our baggage, kindly guided by some fellow travellers who’d set up camp for the 3 hours wait ahead of us.

Returning to the young couple that had made themselves comfy, we were invited to play some crazy never-ending edition of a Crazy-Eight-Rummy-combo card game. It had it’s own deck, 5x the size of a normal deck and 10 rounds. With a two and half hour delay, we had time to play in its entirety and then some.

At 10.30pm we heard the last call for checked baggage. If we hadn’t took it upon ourselves to clarify we would have assumed that we needed to be there an hour before the departure time we were told (11:30pm) and would have missed the final call for checked baggage. Then we really would have been in a pickle!

There was a lot of construction going on, so walls were down and doors were left wide open. We were fully dressed in our winter gears and still felt cold Waiting at Union station. It was close to -25 outside and I’m sure very close to that inside.  We understand that delays happen when you travel. Warm coffee and tea were offered at 9:30pm, and even though it didn’t taste good, the thought was appreciated.

During our wait, we bonded with a Dad travelling with his two young boys, ages 2 and 5. As you can imagine travelling with kids, he had all sorts of gear. The four of us volunteered to help him carry his stuff on board, which soon made us a family of 7. We were given priority boarding, which was a blessing because it meant we avoided the massive disastrous line we were not a part of that had formed in corridor. We couldn’t see it from where we were sitting in the waiting area.
toronto to winnipeg by trainWe finally get let on the train at 1am in a chaotic attempt at a boarding system and pull out of the station at 1:30am. A very grumpy old lady and man checked our tickets and snappily dismissed any questions by others directed at them about the delay or why the toilets had no toilet paper.

Yes train which apparently had been delayed for servicing, had no toilet paper in the toilets and it was 2 hours into the trip before two small rolls were placed into the toilet closest to us. Which was the next time we saw any of the staff again. There was no safety talk no explaining were anything was located, nothing. (At this point we had traveled on the train 3 times in the past week – Halifax to Montreal, Montreal to Ottawa, Ottawa to Toronto to which staff had be extremely friendly, The Halifax to Montreal was exceptional.)

The whole trip we were lucky to see the staff 6 times and that involved them steaming up the aisle at one point almost taking the arm off a 2.5 year old as he was lying on his seat. Often times the staff would bump into adults including myself  and just scowl and steam off. 12 ish hours into the trip the toilet backed up and became unusable quickly followed by the rest so for most of the trip 3 toilets was all there was for 5 packed cars to use.

We were feeling the post-holiday traffic stress.

The observation deck was almost inaccessible as travellers with their luggage were seated there for the duration of the trip due to not having enough seating in the normal cars. Glad there was nothing much to see in the dark, and to be honest, in Northern Ontario.
IMG_7490The 1st call for dinner was called in the dining car so we walked down towards it to make a reservation for a later seating only to find out we were not permitted past the dome/park car. Completely different to the Halifax to Montreal trip we’d taken. Economy was beginning to feel like a punishment.

The cook at our end in the small canteen thing did his best to deal with the tired fed up people and with what he had, turned out some half decent food. 40minutes before arriving we were given a ticket for a drink and sandwich, which was a nice jester but Thom ended up with a stale bun with just a small hunk of turkey slapped on it. Appetising, yeah?
via rail lunchOur company made the trip positively memorable. Sierra and Matt were just as equally as sarcastic in their sense of humour, so we got on just fine. The Dad’s name escapes me now, but he was fantastic with his two boys. We took turns hanging out with and entertaining the boys. We’d go on walks down the train together, read stories, play “I Spy”. The both of them loved Thom. We definitely had that “takes a village” thing going on, rather than being annoyed by kids who might get antsy and grumpy, we joined in the responsibility of keeping them happy.
toronto to winnipeg by train

Despite all this we made it to Winnipeg only 5 hours later then when we were scheduled to and told that we would be comp’ed in some way on the next trip we buy.

Since as we were leaving the country and had already brought our 3 remaining legs we went down to the ticket office to see if we could get something more related to our situation. I guess quite a few others had the same idea and we joined the queue to talk to the guy behind the desk.

Our hope was the short lived as once we got to see him we were politely told that the discount is applied to your file, non-transferrable, non-upgradable, not valid for food. He suggested we call the customer service line.

On the phone, they confirmed the 50% compensation was the only policy, regardless of situation.

Thom tweeted his disappointment in the staff and policies to VIA, and they asked him to email his concerns. He sent essentially this post to them, and we’re pleased to say they fully listened to us, and took steps to rectify the situation. They made a special acceptance for our case, and provided us a each a refund for what would have usually been the 50% discount. 

I’m not sure what was up with the staff on that particular trip, but it totally reminded us how much of a difference their attitude can make.


Disclosure:  I have not received any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the brands, topics and/or products mentioned, I am simply sharing my own experiences of how I spend my hard-earned travel dollars. 

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