About the Canadian Train
Canada’s national operator Via Rail runs the Canadian train – their epic flagship trans-continental journey that stretches east to west, from Toronto to Vancouver over 4 nights.
It’s a decidedly comfy, entertaining journey across a stunning and surprisingly varied landscape – placing it firmly among the world’s best long distance train rides.
Where & when does the Canadian train go?
Going west, the Canadian departs from Toronto’s Union Station at 10pm on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday every week in summer and twice weekly in the long winter months (November – April.)
From Vancouver, it heads east on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday during peak season and Tuesdays and Saturdays only during winter.
Stops are few and far between, generally 2 or 3 a day, mostly very early morning and late at night. Major stops on the way include Winnipeg (where you get a few hours to stretch your legs) Edmonton, Saskatoon and Jasper – a beautiful stop in one of the country’s best national parks. (Some of the smaller, ghost town stops are very interesting too. Read this post for a narrative account of the Canadian train journey.)
How much does a trip on the Canadian train cost?
Book a few months in advance and you could get one of Via’s Escape Fares for around $450 one way for the entire 3 night trip. Prices vary depending on the level of privacy and comfort you need for your cabin.
It might not be the cheapest long distance train journey, but it does offer pretty good value considering the enormous distance it covers and the very high quality of the food, service, entertainment and accommodation on board. Far better than staying in a boring 4 star hotel any day.
Check out Via’s excellent website for full details of the various sleeper car options and pricing. Look out too for their last minute fare deals which often shave as much as 50 -75% off the ticket price if you can book a week or so before you go.
What’s the food, drink and service on board the Canadian train like?
You can expect 3 meals a day, spread over multiple sittings, included in the price of your ticket. It’s of extremely good quality too. Meal times on the train are a highly convivial affair, as you’ll often be seated with friendly strangers. A great way to make new friends and meet locals of all ages.
The food was one of the highlights, being comfortably on a par with that served on luxury train the Rocky Mountaineer. A good range of local beer and wines are sold separately but soft drinks are inclusive. There are usually a few sampling sessions of local brews and delicacies to enjoy as well.
The train has recently enjoyed a whopping $22 million refurb too.
What’s the sleeper accommodation on the Canadian train like?
Sleeper accommodation ranges from mixed couchettes, which have a definite ‘army barracks’ feel to them, to Sleeper Plus Economy and up to a Deluxe Double with the huge double bed you can see above. (These are gradually being rolled out on Via Rail’s services in 2013 / 2014.)
When I took the train in 2011 I was lucky to be given a family room which normally sleeps 3, with its own toilet cubicle, ample storage space and access to a shower. You’ll find one in each car. Here’s a picture of the triple room I stayed in.
It’s worth noting that with Economy class you just get a seat, not recommended for an overnight journey, so you’ll need to upgrade your ticket.
My bed was very comfortable and I slept reasonably well considering that the train makes various stops during the night and that breakfast sittings start around 6am. On a journey of this length, there are plenty of chances to take top up naps in the day of course.
What’s special about the Canadian train?
The excitement of traversing this huge country, the great, friendly atmosphere on board, especially at mealtimes, the on board entertainment provided – food & drink sampling, films, games and occasional singalongs in the bar car – the excellent food and the chance to watch the stunning landscape roll by from the panoramic dome car all make this a journey to remember.
Is the Canadian train worth it and what type of traveller would enjoy it?
Yes, absolutely! Few train journeys offer as much diversity, comfort and stunning, scrolling eye candy over such a long distance.
It’s ideal for couples, honeymooners solo travellers and even students if you can bag yourself a bargain berth last minute in one of Via Rail’s many great sales. There’s always a jolly atmosphere in the dining, park and bar cars too. Highly recommended!
Know before you go
Canada does experience some pretty harsh winters, by Western European standards at least, so it’s not uncommon for a train on this long a route to experience lengthy delays of many hours at a time.
If you’re travelling in couchette accommodation you might want to take an overnight bag with you, as the rest of your luggage will be stowed separately. Plan this carefully, as you may not get access to it until you depart.
The Canadian crosses no fewer than 4 time zones, so listen out for regular announcements and make sure you have have your alarm set for the right time to make your stop!
Canada Rail Passes
If you’re planning to break this journey up and stop off along the way, it could be worth looking at getting a Canada Rail Pass. There are 2 types of Canadian rail pass – Corridor and System.
The Canrailpass System is the one you need for this trans-Canadian train journey. These give you 7 one way journeys over a 21 day period. A journey counts between any 2 stations where you decide to get on or off. You’re also entitled to take one complimentary stopover per journey, making it a great value way to see a good chunk of the country for a month-long train vacation.
Note that these only provide an economy seat and reservation, so you will need to upgrade for sleeper accommodation. Canrail Passes cost from $630 for Economy Class in low season upto $1189 for Economy Plus in the summer season.
Canadian train holiday
Coming soon – a few suggested itineraries for a month-long Canadian train vacation, making excellent use of your Canrailpass.
Want more Canadian rail adventures? Check out the luxury Rocky Mountaineer service and packages.
Have you taken this journey? Rate the Canadian train
Have you taken on a train trip on board the Canadian train? Tell us a little about the experience and leave a quick comment below.