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VIA Rail Trains: An Unbiased, Objective Perspective

It’s the eternal question of any uOttawa student, not originally from the glorious area that is the National Capital Region: how the hell am I going to get home for the holidays?

For some – our colleagues from British Columbia, for example – the answer is easy; pretty much the only way over the Rockies is in an airplane. For others, there are a few more options. If you know a friend who has a car, you might take a road trip. Or, you could always buy a friend with a car, over one of the many pseudo-legal car sharing ads on Kijiji. There’s always the Greyhound, if you enjoy sitting on a bumpy, probably smelly bus for 13 hours. For all I know, our Quebecois friends could charter a boat down the St. Lawrence (probably not, but it would be cool).



And then, there’s the VIA train, a Canadian institution. It’s (kind of) on the ten-dollar bill, immortalized in purple; it’s been ferrying passengers since 1977, and it’s basically sold out for the holiday season by October.

Personally, I’ve been taking VIA trains back and forth for about six years now (and yes, typing that out did make me pause and take stock of my life). At first, I was totally stoked to take the train. It’s the train! It’s so romantic and old-fashioned, hurtling through southern Ontario in an snake of metal boxes that (somehow – I’ve never quite figured out the mechanics, and believe me, I’ve Googled it) float serenely on top of smooth metal tracks.

But somewhere around my sixth four-and-a-half-hour train journey, the magic began to wear off. I started noticing the weird stains on some of the seats, and the completely illogical temperature control “system” that meant the car was either boiling hot or freezing cold. The admittedly pretty good but weirdly highly priced food started getting to me (and my wallet), and the carbon rubbings the attendants take of your credit card – am I the only one who thinks they should be able to have a debit machine if they have Wi-Fi on the train?

The Wi-Fi itself – oh boy. “Spotty” is optimistic! I’ve watched the same four episodes of Mr. D at least six times by now, because their proprietary video service is about the only thing that works on the train. At least the bathrooms are clean. Usually. Though the flush seems to open a screaming portal to the Netherworld that I really don’t want to think about.

Yeah, can you tell I’m a bit disillusioned by train travel at this point? To be fair to VIA, the route between Ottawa and Oshawa (my most common destination, and constantly under construction) isn’t exactly thrilling at the best of times.

Maybe my nine-hour trip from Oshawa to Quebec City this winter will be more thrilling, or recapture the original magic of train travel? Somehow, I doubt it. Wish me luck!

If you’re actually fond of the train, please, let me know in the comments. So that I know you exist. Because if you do, anything is possible.

Mercedes Cant is a Communication graduate student at the University of Ottawa.
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