Thursday, September 7, 2017

Not a piddling matter

A westbound Canadian calls at Capreol, Ontario, in 2007, when Debby and I last rode that magnificent transcontinental train from Toronto to Vancouver.
The days are dwindling to the last big train trip Trooper and I will take for the book-in-progress, Places We Have Peed: Traveling with Service Dogs in North America. (Christine Goodier, a retired travel magazine editor who lives in Sarasota, Fla., is my co-writer. She also has a service dog, Raylene, a Lab and fellow graduate of Trooper’s at Dogs for the Deaf in Central Point, Oregon.)

But I’m a little nervous about this journey, to begin November 3.

It’s a coast-to-coast Canada trip aboard two famous trains, the Ocean between Halifax and Montreal, and the world-renowned Canadian from Toronto to Vancouver. (We’re also taking a connecting regional train between Montreal and Toronto.)

The Ocean is a reliable performer, almost always getting into Montreal on time or just a little late.

But the Canadian’s timekeeping has been in a shambles all summer. It’s not just a little late every day but big-time late—six hours behind schedule into Vancouver if it’s lucky, as many as 20 hours if it isn’t.


The big problem is the long, long freight trains (20 to 30 per day) the Canadian National, over whose tracks the Canadian runs, has been fielding this year, thanks to an upturn in the economy. The 2 1/2-mile-long double-stack container trains, with 150 or more cars and multiple locomotives, typically are longer than the sidings on the line. The Canadian has had as many as 36 passenger cars in its consist, but is still short enough to fit into a CN siding.

So guess which train has to go ”into the hole” when they meet from opposite directions on the prairie? Yep. Every time. Also, if the Canadian creeps up on a dawdling freight going in the same direction, the slowpoke can’t pull over on a siding to let the passenger train go by.

So what? you might ask. You get more time on the train. What’s not to like?

Beside the happenstance that all the glorious daytime scenery in the Canadian Rockies might vanish into the night, there’s also the problem of Trooper’s toilet needs.

The Canadian is carded to stop for long minutes at several crew change and fueling points about six to eight hours apart, ordinarily enabling us to get off for a leisurely whiz and poo without inconveniencing anyone. But when these stops don’t come on time, that means I must beg the train manager (there are no conductors on VIA’s trains) to ask the engineer to halt the Canadian at little two-by-four flag stops that it otherwise would blast through at high speed.

We’re lucky that it’s VIA Rail’s policy always to accommodate the needs of service dogs, even though doing so might make a late train even later. Still, I hate to add to the delay.

Possibly by November, things will be better and delays will be minimal. But I’m not counting on it.

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