My trip aboard The Canadian began in the Panorama Lounge inside Toronto’s Union Station. Passengers traveling in Business, Sleeper or Sleeper Touring class are welcome to use the Panorama Lounges available at large stations in the Quebec City-Windsor corridor, Winnipeg, and Vancouver. If you are familiar with Amtrak’s Club Acela or Metropolitan Lounges, VIA Rail’s Panorama Lounge is similar. If you are not familiar with these lounges, let me describe some of the features.
Ticket agents are available at the entrance to the lounge to welcome you and assist you with ticketing needs. As you check into the lounge the agents will help describe the boarding process and special situations for your train departure. Inside the Panorama Lounge, you’ll find comfortable seats and tables, some work desks with office chairs, a soft drink beverage bar, newspapers, timetables, and in some cases toilets. One important distinction from some of the Amtrak lounges, is that the Panorama Lounges do not have day bag storage. Bag services in VIA Rail stations are provided by the baggage staff of the station from their baggage room location. Passengers traveling in Sleeper and Sleeper Touring class may day check bags for no charge with the station baggage staff. Please be sure to have your tickets available for validation by the baggage staff. The soft drink bar includes sodas, coffee, tea, and bottled water.
My most recent experience with the Panorama Lounge was in Toronto for the westbound departure of VIA Rail’s Train 1, The Canadian. The train is scheduled to depart at 2200, 10:00 PM. Just as described by the Panorama Lounge attendant, the Service Manager for the train came into the lounge at 8:45 PM to invite all passengers to the check in desk outside the lounge. Only one member of each traveling party was needed at the check in desk.
At the check in desk, the Service Manager collected my ticket, checked my name off his manifest, and then described the location of my sleeping accommodations along with the name of my sleeping car attendant. For this trip, I was in car 121, room B, with Service Attendant Cal. After finishing the check in with the Service Manager, he asked me to check in with the Service Coordinator of the dining car. Here I made reservations for the first full day of dining. Breakfast was first come, first served between 6:30 AM and 9:00 AM. Lunch and dinner were by reservation and there were first, second, and third seating options offered. One receives the same seating order for both meals. So, if you choose the first seating for lunch, you’ll be in the first seating for dinner. Example sittings for lunch/dinner: 11:00 AM & 5:00 PM, 12:30 PM & 7:00 PM, 2:00 PM & 9:00 PM. For my first trip on board the Canadian, I choose the second sitting for lunch and dinner, 12:30 PM & 7:00 PM. After I had received all the welcome information and reservations from the service manager and service coordinator, I was told to hang out in the lounge for boarding around 9:15 PM.
Between the ticket collection and boarding time, I visited the baggage room to pick up my bags that had been day checked there. Back in the lounge, right on time at 9:15 PM, the Service Manager came into the lounge to announce the boarding of The Canadian. You could tell everyone was very excited about the journey as we all streamed out to track 20 for boarding. At the top of the stairs a station agent was checking for the sleeping car number and directing passengers in the right direction. I was directed at the top of the stairs to turn right and head to the first open door, where I met Cal, the sleeping car attendant for the rear half of car 121 and the entire car 122.
Sleeping Car attendants at VIA Rail are assigned one and a half sleeping cars. In the case of The Canadian, this equals 33 beds per sleeping car attendant (Manor series cars), less than the 42 beds of an Amtrak Superliner Sleeping Car attendant but more than the 30 beds of an Amtrak Viewliner Sleeping Car attendant.
Cal directed me up the steps of sleeping car 121, named Rogers Manor. He told me to turn left at the top of the steps and head down the hallway till I reached bedroom B. As I approached bedroom B (a VIA Rail Cabin for Two), the beds were made for sleeping. Both lower and upper beds were ready, along with the ladder in place for climbing to the upper bed. The sheets were pulled back in a triangle, the white sheets were clean and bright against the green duvet cover. Each bed had two plump and soft pillows at the head end. A basket of towels and toiletries was on top of the vanity. There were several washcloths and hand towels inside the basket. Beside the towels, bottles of lotion, mouth wash and shampoo joined wrapped soap and ear plugs. Next to the toiletries basket was a copy of The Canadian route guide, with two VIA Rail chocolates placed on top. To the side of the vanity there was a folder pocket attached to the wall holding a guide to train services, VIA Rail souvenir catalog, and the latest issue of their railroad magazine, Destinations. Finally, above the vanity were some drawstring bags holding full size towels for morning showers.
Around 9:40 PM, the service manager made a PA announcement about the welcome aboard reception in the Park car at the end of the train. Canadian sparkling wine and hors d’oeuvres were being served. I could hear Cal coming down the hallway introducing himself and giving an orientation about the sleeping car to guests down the hall so I stayed put in my room. It was at the bedroom before mine that Cal discovered that the toilets in the entire 121 car were not functioning. He radioed the Service Manager to have a look at it and call maintenance for help. He continued to work his way down the hallway and he introduced himself to me and oriented me with the features of my room and sleeping car. As departure time continued to get closer and closer, while Cal was giving me all the details of Sleeper Touring class, he was growing more and more concerned about why the toilets were not working. As he finished, he encouraged me to join the reception in the Park Car and that he would follow up with me there about the toilet situation.
I walked to the back of the train, the very last car, Evanglaline Park. The car was now nearing capacity. I climbed up the steps of the dome and found the last unclaimed seat next to Jen, someone I would meet in more detail the next morning at breakfast in the dining car.
We glided out of Toronto Union Station at 10:05 PM on our four night trek to Vancouver, BC. From the forward section of the Park Car dome, I could see our train snake its way through the many slip switches of the interlocking west of Toronto Union Station’s platforms. From my vantage point in the dome car I could see the front of the train. As we approached each signal, I could see the signal change from its indication to proceed to a stop indication as the locomotive passed by. As we picked up speed and slipped out of Toronto late at night my excitement for the journey that lay ahead peaked. I knew then that this was going to be a train trip I would not forget.