Trip Coach: February 27, 2007
Train expert Fred W. Frailey, who has ridden every scenic route in the U.S. and Canada, answered your questions about train travel.
Clinton, NJ: I would like to travel by train across the whole of both Canada and the United States. Is there a convenient way to travel from say the eastern part of Canada to British Columbia and then pick up an east bound train from the West Coast of the US back to the East Coast?
Fred W. Frailey: Hi folks. Glad to be here. Lots of good questions, so let's get started.
Please take me with you. Here's the trip: First, Amtrak's Adirondack from Penn Station in New York to Montreal -- it's an all day trip. See amtrak.com. Then on VIA Rail Canada the next day to Toronto. Day three in the morning, board VIA's Canadian for Vancouver. You get there day 7, if I'm counting correctly. On day 8, ride Amtrak from Vancouver back across the border to Seattle. Day 9 in the afternoon, get on the Empire Builder through the Montana Rockies and Great Plains, arriving Chicago the afternoon of Day 11. You should be able to make a same-day connection for New York on the Lakeshore Limited, arriving day 12, happy and refreshed. For the Canadian portion, go to viarail.ca.
Rutland, VT: I would like to see as much of the Rocky Mtns. as possible by train. My rough plan is to ride Amtrak's California Zephyr eastbound getting off at Denver, staying overnight as needed, then riding what I believe are as many as three separate day trip trains that operate out of Denver. Does this sound like a good rough plan to you, and if so, what can you tell me about the day trip trains out of Denver? Additional trips to see the Rockies, probably at different times might be on Amtrak's Empire Builder and Via Rail Canada's train between Vancouver & Toronto (the Canadian, is it called?). Your thoughts and comments?
Fred W. Frailey: Your idea of riding Amtrak's California Zephyr is terrific, but you're going the wrong direction. Eastbound, the Zephyr lately is running hours late and it's dark before you get to some of the spectacular Front Range scenery in South Boulder and Coal Creek canyons. I strongly urge you to ride the Zephyr westbound, leaving in the morning.
Day trips out of Denver by rail? I cannot think of a single one, unless it's to visit the Georgetown Loop narrow gauge railroad, about an hour west of Denver on Interstate 70. There's a privately run ski train that runs on the California Zephyr line about 60 miles, from Denver to Winter Park, but only on winter weekends. The Durango-Silverton narrow gauge train is worth a visit, but Durango is a 6-7 hour drive away from Denver.
I cannot praise the Zephyr route enough, by the way. You go through one rugged canyon after the other, until the mind reels -- after South Boulder and Coal Creek, there's Fraser, Byers, Gore and Glenwood canyons, the last three alongside the wild Colorado River. And west of Grand Junction, beyond the mountains, you pass in late afternoon a desert so mindful of a moonscape that you wonder if there's a single chard of life out there -- awesome.
The single best way to see the Rockies by train, other than the California Zephyr, is on a privately run train, the Rocky Mountaineer. It runs twice a week each way between Calgary and Vancouver and between Jasper and Vancouver, the two sections of the train joining at Kamloops. I strongly suggest you take the Calgary train because it takes you alongside those great vistas by way of Banff and Lake Louise, then over the continental divide and down into the valley via two spiral tunnels. Later that day you'll traverse the Selkirk Range, and then for about an hour alongside the shore of a vast lake. You overnight at hotels at Kamloops, then continue to Vancouver the second day along the Thompson and Fraser rivers. If that last day sounds boring, believe me, it's not. The Jasper train misses all the spectacular sights I just described during the first day. One more tip: Pay the extra money and go first class. The first class cars are new high-level cars with 360-degree viewing of the scenery on the top and a dining room on the bottom. Oh yes, there's a big fat observation platform at the back of the first class car, so if it's a nice day, you can stand outside and enjoy the breeze. When we took that train, my kids loved going "outside."
Florence, OR: Loved the Trip Coach through Canada on trains in current issue...will take this same trip soon but wonder about "senior-specials" & Seasons?..want good weather but don't want to travel when the Summer School Kids are onboard !! Would love to take train from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver,Canada--is that possible?? Tammy...66 yr single senior lady traveling alone.