Traveling by train is as much about the journey as the destination. There’s less hassle than flying, more comfortable than the bus and more relaxing than driving. I love it.
(Video courtesy of Sambatuts, YouTube)
Train vs. Plane: Flying time is perhaps shorter, but waiting in airport line-ups, boarding, and travel between the airport and downtown take so much time that, all things considered, going by train is often faster.
Train vs. Car: A train travels at roughly the same speed as your car, assuming you don’t hit any bad weather or traffic problems. And since you are not driving, you are free to relax, work or just enjoy the scenery.
Business class costs about 20-25 percent more than an economy ticket so, when I was offered the chance to take a ride on VIA Rail Canada from Toronto to Ottawa recently, I happily accepted. Come, enjoy the journey with me.
Step inside this marble cavern of a building and immediately get transported to the heyday of train travel. Toronto’s Union Station, designated as a National Historic Site of Canada, is the largest and most opulent train station in Canada.
I showed my ticket to the attendant who took my bags for me and had them put on the train while he escorted me to the Panorama Lounge for business-class passengers.
Business Class Lounge
You get exclusive access to the stations business-class lounge. Spacious seating and coffee tables and multiple TVs make this a nice way to unwind before or after you board. Attendants there can help with reservation, ticketing, and local entertainment needs. You also have access to private washrooms, complimentary beverages, magazines and newspapers in both French (the official language of the Province of Quebec) and English. If you need to get some work done, there is a private business area with PC and Mac computers and color laser printer and free Wi-Fi in the lounge.
A staff member weighs each carry-on bag before you can board. VIA Rail Canada is serious about the 50 lb. weight limit. However, we had our luggage stowed for us, so this was not a problem. As a business class passenger, you have a dedicated boarding area and you get the chance to avoid the crowds. It made boarding faster, and it added to the feeling of exclusivity.
Pretty plush and roomy seats only four per row. Lots of leg room. The seats fully recline, which are great for naps, but a little awkward for the person behind you. The bathrooms are clean and well-equipped. Internet access was consistent, fine for casual surfing and getting some work done. Each seat also has an electric outlet to juice up all your gadgets. Plus, not being cramped in your seat is really nice.
Service and FoodAs soon as we were seated and the train pulled out of the station the server (Costel served us on the train out, and Rohan, who was the attendant on the return trip) came through with complimentary snacks (pretzels and drink screwdriver with orange slice garnish for me). We were served at our seats, airplane style.
I couldn’t decide which local wine and spirits to choose, so I got them all.
We were treated to newspapers, hot towels before our meals, unlimited wine and cocktails, snacks, chocolates and juice throughout our journey. The meals were cooked by hand, not pre-packaged or microwaved. And they were really good. Real glassware, dishes, and cutlery; truly top shelf. All of the products served are Canadian including the lovely maple chocolates at the end of every meal.
Getting there from Here
You can make a direct connection to these cities on Amtrak:
Vancouver, on the Amtrak Cascades line.
Toronto, on Amtrak’s Empire Service or Maple Leaf lines.
Montreal, by the Amtrak Adirondack line.
1 888 VIA-RAIL (1 888 842-7245)
Travel on Canada’s VIA Rail is a real treat, and train travel as a business class passenger is the best experience in North America, including Amtrak’s Acela. In my opinion, it is well worth the additional cost. If you can arrange it, business class is the way to go.