Rail travel in Canada

Although trains are not nearly as ubiquitous and convenient a mode of travel in North America as in Europe or East Asia, they remain popular with some travelers because of the spacious design of the cars, the scenic routes, and the overall comfort of the train ride. Some people prefer to take trains because they do not require long waits at security like at airports, or because they are uncomfortable with flying. Unfortunately, unlike their European counterparts, passenger trains in Canada outside the urban cores can often be off-schedule, sometimes up to several hours late. Train rides in Canada often take much longer than car rides and plane rides, but, when the service is running well, the unique experience can trump the long ride.

All trains will have coach seats. For longer rides many trains have sleeper rooms. The price of these rooms depends on the quality - whether or not there is a sink, or a private shower/toilet. You will pay a considerable supplement for sleeper car service in addition to the regular fare.


Via Rail network map

Canada's railway system primarily transports freight, and freight has priority over rail-line use. Therefore, passenger trains are sometimes delayed. The country's two major railway companies, Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway, turned over operation of their passenger services in 1978 to VIA Rail Canada. In addition to VIA Rail, a few smaller railways in remote areas of Canada also offer passenger service. Montreal (AMT), Toronto (GO), Ottawa (O-train) and Vancouver have commuter rail. A large number of companies offer excursion services primarily geared towards sightseeing and tours; in Calgary an expensive, seasonal private tourist train to Vancouver is the only scheduled intercity passenger rail.

For travel within Canada, the passenger rail system is (for the most part) a monopoly. For long distance travel, it can cost more time and money to travel by train than to fly; for short trips, it's usually cheaper to take the bus. Outside the Windsor-Quebec corridor, trains can be considered to be more hotels on tracks rather than a way to get from city to city. These trains offer comfortable seats or sleeping accommodations, unique scenic views, and meals at a premium price, if you have the extra time for the experience. Within the Quebec City - Windsor corridor, VIA Rail is more comparable to air travel; train travel will still take more time than flying, but taking the train in this region can be significantly cheaper than flying, considering baggage fees and taxi fares to and from suburban airports.

In a few remote regions, such as Churchill in northern Manitoba, rail has been left in service as it remains the only terrestrial means to reach a remote community. Conversely, a growing list of destinations (such as Prince Edward Island and the island of Newfoundland) have lost all rail service and rely instead on the Trans-Canada Highway or other road, ship or air transport.

Peak periods

The peak periods for most rail companies in North America are somewhere between March/April and September; however, you should check with the rail company. In the off-peak season, prices drop significantly on most carriers.

Tickets and Passes


VIA Rail offers discounted fares to youth and seniors:

Additionally, passengers may be entitled to unadvertised discounts on top of these fares by being a veteran or member of the Canadian Forces, or through membership to some organizations and professional/alumni associations. At 2014, Hostelling international members are also eligible at 10% discount from Viarail.

Discounted, non-refundable VIA Rail tickets are available in limited quantities with various conditions when purchased in advance, and "Express Deals" provide sales of up to 75% on certain trains when purchased online.

Passenger rail companies

Via Rail train in Churchill


Via Rail dining car

VIA Rail Canada

Special stops

VIA Rail offers hikers, kayakers and residents of remote regions the option of special stops at almost any point on several rural routes, as long as passengers purchase their tickets and specify their exact destination 48 hours in advance. This is not available on all routes: most importantly, the Quebec-Ontario corridor is excluded, as are the prairies west of Winnipeg. Please consult the link for more information on stops that are permitted. .


Special size luggage...

From the beginning of June to the end of October, VIA rail now allows cyclists to bring their bikes as is aboard trains running in the Corridor to Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City, London, Windsor (Ontario), Jonquiere, and Senneterre. There is a fee of $20 plus tax for each direction of travel and you must check your bicycle at the baggage counter one hour before departure. After that, you are not guaranteed a space for your bike. Upon arrival at Toronto, Ottawa, London, Windsor, or Montreal, the train crew will bring your bike to you at the baggage claim area in the station. At all other stops, you might have to go to the baggage car to retrieve your bike. Do not leave any equipment (i.e. pannier bags) attached to your bike when you check it in. These must be checked in separately. Check the VIA rail website for train schedules with bike racks.

During the weekends in summer from last weekend in June to Labour Day weekend as well as Victoria Day weekend (third weekend in May) and Canadian Thanksgiving weekend (second weekend in October), GTA commuter rail operator GO Transit offers a special excursion train from Toronto Union station to Niagara Falls four times a day on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays (Victoria Day, Canada Day, Civic Holiday, Labour Day, and Thanksgiving Day). These trains feature special bicycle cars which have bike racks on the lower level and seating on the upper level. You can recognize them by the bicycle decals on the sides. There is no additional charge to bring your bike aboard and space is given on a first-come-first-served basis. These trains make intermediate stops at Exhibition, Port Credit (Mississauga), Oakville, Burlington, and St. Catharines.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, March 27, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.