Day 3 on The Canadian: Saskatchewan to Alberta

I managed to get a good five hours solid sleep before waking at 4am to toss and turn for a couple of hours. I’ve learned that you can’t sleep on your side because the rocking of the train throws you off-kilter.

There was no set breakfast, per se, this morning because…I’m not exactly sure why. I think it was supposed to be because we’d arrive at Jasper around lunchtime which meant the staff wouldn’t be available to serve. I’m not sure. Either way, we only got into Edmonton at noon so we’re a good five or six hours behind at least (I overheard that we stopped for two hours somewhere overnight).

Instead of the main breakfast, they had a continental option. I had porridge and looked out the window. Saw more deer. A different, larger species than the day before.

The landscape is more scrubby now, with thin, short trees, and grassy hills (though the grass is grey and depressed). It’s cowboy country.

After breakfast, I worked and then had brunch at 10:30, sharing a table with a guy and a girl from New Zealand. The girl came for a short holiday (and only came because they were going to do the cross-country train journey), while the guy has come here for a year to work.

We rocked up at Edmonton, Alberta, at quarter to 12. The station is in a rather non-descript part of town so if this was your first impression of the place, like it was mine, you wouldn’t bother coming back. And when one of the other travellers told me it had Canada’s largest shopping mall, that was a further black mark against its name.

What was meant to be a 20-minute stop turned into 45 minutes. I can’t really say that the delays bother me all that much as I don’t have anywhere to be or any pressing engagement. Which makes me doubly glad that I decided to take the train on Saturday, as opposed to Wednesday. The Wednesday train is scheduled to arrive on Saturday morning, which is when Glen flies in, but if I was late, it’d throw a whole lot of things into disarray. As it is, other people on the train are starting to get restless.

Then from Edmonton we headed towards Jasper. More delays along the way because the railways are so congested with freight trains. Heading into Jasper is something to behold. Beautiful scenery that just suddenly happens. All of a sudden you’re into forests and then mountains and lakes. Stunning.

Luckily I was already sitting in the dome car at the time so I got to take lots of photos before it filled up with people. We then sat far outside Jasper for another hour and a bit, just sitting there, waiting.

As a result, dinner was quickly put on and I got to eat, which was just as well because I was starving. Eating dinner (trout tonight) while the mountains and forests rolled past as we came into Jasper was wonderful. Then we saw a whole bunch of elk. I saw one out the window before others on my table and all I could do was point because I didn’t know what they were. Almost said moose but they didn’t have the antlers.

So now I’ve seen White-tailed Deer and Elk. Apparently someone else has seen wolves.

I wanted to get off the train at Jasper but the steward I asked couldn’t tell me how long we’d be here and then said I had to walk all the way down the end to get off. Then when I got there, the guy on the platform did that annoying as **** thing where he wouldn’t give an exact answer either way, instead saying, “Well, we’re kind of not here very long and everything is closed and…” I walked away, fuming.

Unfortunately, another steward crossed my path at that point and I had a small tantrum, which further made me annoyed with myself for 1) not just getting off the damn train in the first place, and 2) losing my cool.

I walked to the other end of the train where another staff member was opening a carriage onto the platform. She then said that if you get off the train you have to go into the station because there were buggies going back and forth along the platform and it wasn’t safe.

Thank you! A clear bloody explanation. It looked as if we’d only be there a short while longer so I went back on the train.

I’m determined not to let it ruin my trip but the majority of the staff I’ve had dealings with on the train have been less than stellar. Customer service isn’t about following the instructions that someone in management has laid down. Customer service is about dealing with customers on a case-by-case basis.

I understand and sympathise with you that you’ve been on the train for a few days and your breaks may not be as long as you liked (though where some of them disappear to during the day, I do not know), but quick frankly, that’s what the job involves and if you don’t like it, go do something else. Life’s too short.

The dining car manager we had from Toronto to Winnipeg was telling other passengers that he’s worked for Via Rail for a long time and that he’s probably won’t get to his 40th year with the company because he’s getting over it. And you know what? It looked like it and sounded like it, too.

On the other hand, another of the staff, Janet, has been with the company for 25 years and you get the impression she loves her job. I heard her talk about railway signs on Day 2 and then listened to her talk again today. It’s the same talk, even down to the jokes, but you wouldn’t know it. Every time she delivers it with energy and excitement, like she’s tapping into the passengers’ excitement for being on the trip. It shows and it’s great to see.

I get the impression from some of the staff that they’re just tired of doing the same thing over and over, repeating the same answers to the same questions. Problem is, we’re not all the same passengers. It takes effort to act like it’s the first time you’ve heard it. I get that, but it also takes initiative and interest to pre-empt those questions before their asked.

Anyway, that’s enough of my rant. Basically it comes down to, would I take this train again, even with the same staff problems? Yes, I would, but also forewarned is forearmed so I probably wouldn’t have the same issues as next time.

We’ve just left Jasper now, heading through the national park and out the other end to go towards Kamloops. Arrival time in Vancouver is going to be much later than originally scheduled (9:30am).

(Plenty of photos taken but they’ll come in the next few days.)

2 Replies to “Day 3 on The Canadian: Saskatchewan to Alberta”

  1. Hi!! I’m doing this trip in a few weeks and am really enjoying reading your thorough coverage of the trip!! I commute with Viarail frequently and definitely agree that the staff can be pretty hit or miss, sometimes they are quite snotty.

    I was wondering as a single person travelling was it obligatory to sit with strangers at a group table for meals? This seems awkward to me…

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    1. Yeah, you sit at a table of four and there are three settings for each meal (I think, from memory). Unless the train isn’t full, you’ll be sitting with other people. Don’t worry, they’ll feel just as awkward as you 🙂 the bus trip in Winnipeg is organized by Via rail when you get to Winnipeg, though it’s another company that provides it (you pay them on the bus). If you haven’t been to Winnipeg before, it’s worth it. Have a great time!

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