Discussion of Canadian Passenger Rail Services such as AMT (Montreal), Go Transit (Toronto), VIA Rail, and other Canadian Railways and Transit

Moderator: Ken V

  by chriskay
 
Trip report - Toronto - Moncton

Toronto - Montreal

My trip was on #60 with stainless steel HEP cars. It appears to be newly refurbished with new carpet, new artwork, new seating upholstery and cushions. The new cushions are stiff since they haven’t been used a lot like the old ones. No other changes - same seats and equipment. Does anyone know if this will be the same style as the LRC refurbs? I’m assuming yes.

Montreal - Moncton

My first surprise was that I was invited into the Panorama Lounge. I figured that was reserved for Easterly Class passengers. Since there is no Easterly in the off-season, I was in Comfort Sleeper class.

The second surprise was that the equipment had been switched from when I originally booked. I was booked into a double bedroom on the Renaissance equipment when I purchased my ticket in early January, but now I was on the Budd equipment. It’s obvious that this change had been made for quite some time since many people were booked into roomettes. I wish I had known about this ahead of time as I would have switched to a roomette myself. I couldn’t complain much, though, since I had originally wanted to have the ex-CP stainless steel equipment anyway, and this way I got a whole double bedroom to myself.

Everything is nearly the same as the last time I made this trip (four years ago), with a few small changes.

First, the toilets have been upgraded - they used to be small porcelain toilets. Now they are airplane style vacuum toilets. I assume this was part of the retention toilet retrofit.

The Skyline car was very quiet when I first headed over to the café section around 7:30pm. There were two people in the table seating area, one person in the lounge, and two people in the dome. I wanted to sit in the dome for a while, however the lights were one, which totally obliterates the night view. I know there’s a reason that they leave the lights on, but this is still an irritant for me. Perhaps they could turn the lights off in the low season. I decided to take the drink back to my room, instead. The attendant was more than happy to bring it to me, since I wasn’t permitted to carry it myself.

I notice that in the sleepers, where the berth sections are, the ladders are gone. They used to be hung from a rail on the outside wall of the shower compartment. I wonder if this was the result of a (potential) safety issue?

The overall decor on the Budd cars is starting to look a bit worn and tired. Does anyone know if there are refurb plans on the books?

After all these years, I still can’t believe they haven’t remedied the door lock situation on the bedrooms. This problem is especially glaring now since the Ren equipment has key-card access. I was afraid to leave the room without taking my important stuff - computer, camera, phone.

I retired shortly after we departed Charny. My sleep was better than usual.

In the morning I decided to take breakfast in the dining car, and was again surprised to find that it was quiet at about 9am Atlantic Time with only a half-dozen customers. The food arrived quickly, but the staff were strange, as usual. I even had a somewhat aggressive interaction over what I initially thought was an error in my order. I pleasantly inquired about it, but the server who delivered the food made me feel like an idiot for inquiring.

After breakfast, I went up to the dome in the Skyline car just as we were pulling into Bathurst. Again, only a very few people up there. I spent a lovely hour taking photos and watching the fresh powder blast by as we sped through the northern New Brunswick wilderness. This is the magical part of a winter train journey that I love so much.

A further observation on VIA’s client service culture:

Many of the staff seem to have this overly-familiar passive-aggressive way, which is always the way I remember it for the last 15 years I’ve been travelling this route. The impression that I, a paying customer, receives, is that I’m dealing with a lot of disgruntled employees. In my experience, this is could be the result of one of two things:
That the employees truly are disgruntled.
That VIA has a difficult time attracting talented staff who are client-focused.

Either way, this reflects very poorly on the organization, and both represent large systemic problems.

One thing I simply don’t understand is that after all this time, VIA still doesn’t get that they’re in the hospitality industry. On VIA’s website and brochures, they outline a deluxe travel experience where one would naturally expect a superior level of service. Well, I’ve been waiting for this for 15 years, where they start offering the level of service that you would expect in a 4- or 5-star hotel. The current calibre of staff is more akin to an inter-city bus station. Taking a transcontinental train with VIA is a premium experience - the quality of their staff should reflect that. But I am consistently disappointed at every level - from station agents to telephone operators, to car attendants.

I should add that I do not mean to offend any of the truly client-focused employees of the organization, which I’m sure exist... somewhere. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I’ve even experienced good service at some point. But if you are a VIA Rail employee reading this, I’m sorry to say that the negative service I’ve received from some of your colleagues have far overshadowed any great experiences I may have had in the past.

Hilariously, I scoured the VIA website for references to a superior level of service, and couldn’t really find any. Yes, they outline a superior travel experience, as far as the facilities are concerned, but nowhere does it say that you can expect to be treated with warmth, sincerity, or hospitality.

To conclude this trip report, I am pleased to say that despite my concerns with the staff, I had a lovely trip, as I always have. I truly enjoy travelling this route by rail - especially in winter.
  by jp1822
 
Sorry to hear about your experience with the VIA staff. I will say that I have always been pleased with VIA's staff - whether on the Chaleur to Gaspe and back, the Ocean to Halifax and eventually back, or the flagship Canadian. I have and still find VIA's staff to be far superior than the staff on Amtrak. And sometimes it takes a request to shut the lights out in the dome car. It's typically been done on my train trips aboard the Chaleur, Canadian, Ocean (when travelling in Easterly Class) etc.
  by chriskay
 
jp1822 wrote:Sorry to hear about your experience with the VIA staff. I will say that I have always been pleased with VIA's staff - whether on the Chaleur to Gaspe and back, the Ocean to Halifax and eventually back, or the flagship Canadian. I have and still find VIA's staff to be far superior than the staff on Amtrak. And sometimes it takes a request to shut the lights out in the dome car. It's typically been done on my train trips aboard the Chaleur, Canadian, Ocean (when travelling in Easterly Class) etc.
I did ask if the lights could be turned out, and the attendant told me that they must be left on with no further explanation.

-Chris
  by NS VIA FAN
 
I made a round trip on the Ocean between Truro and Montreal last week and was also on a Budd set.

I had previously scheduled the trip so I would be on a Ren set for the smoother ride but had to reschedule at the last minute and ended up on a Budd set both ways. This stuff is getting old! The Budd fleet was constructed in 1954 and the last major rebuilding was 15+ years ago. I got very little sleep with the constant shake, rattle and vibrating. First time I’ve ever had to use the VIA supplied ear-plugs!

The Budd set will be in service for a couple more weeks while 1 set of the Rens is in the shops for modifications. Then it’s back to full Ren service. Easterly Class with a Dome Observation Park car will be offered again this year from mid-June to mid-October. I find this the best time to ride and the best of both worlds: the Dome Obs + the comfort of the Rens.
  by timberley
 
I was actually just planning to post a brief review of my Ocean trip from This past Saturday/Sunday (Feb. 21/22nd), from Truro NS to Montreal, then onwards to Brockville on Train 57.

I deliberately planned my trip such that I could ride the Budd consist, since I had only ridden the Renaissance cars on the Ocean thus far. My return trip this Friday will also be on the Renaissance cars, so this was my one Budd run.

I was just in comfort coach class, and to be honest, I much preferred the Budd cars. True, the Ren cars do look nice and new, and are quiter, but I found the HEP-1 seats to be surprisingly roomy and comfortable, and the leg rest was very nice. Of course, I still had trouble sleeping, but that's just me on trains in general.

I think the main reason I prefer the Budd sets is the Skyline car. I spent all of the daylight hours from when I boarded until it got too dark to see anything, just sitting up in the dome drinking in the scenery and watching the train up ahead. For me, the ability to see everything that's coming up just makes the trip so much better, especially since I really like to know exactly where I am. Even just watching the signals change as we passed them was interesting. The dome was generally fairly empty too, so it was nice and quiet. I couldn't believe how quickly the hours passed. Later, when we stopped at Matepedia, I went back to the dome to see what was going on. The power got cut, so the lights went down. That made it quite easy to watch the Chaleur pull in, and attach to our front end. It also made it a lot easier to know what was going on, since I hate being stopped for close to an hour and not knowing at all what is going on.

After that, I met another group of students, one of which was from my school (St. FX!), and we ended up hanging out in the dome until late into the night. It was a lot of fun. That's one thing I have against the Ren cars, is that it's hard to meet people. I mean yes, there is the service car, but that's a very small lounge space.

Come morning, I was back in the dome to watch our approach to Montreal, until one of the on-board staff quite rudely informed us that the car was closed and we had to go to our seats. I must say, while one of the staff members was very friendly, helpful, and just a lovely guy (he's been on that train for quite a few years now), the overall staff still leaves something to be desired. I always find that though, that VIA has some employees who are just lovely, helpful people, and some who are just, well, rude. I do agree, that I have also often found the sentiment as though little perfectly honest questions were unwelcome, and met with harsh responses.

Overall, I loved the trip. The HEP-1 cars definitely have some pluses over the Ren cars, as well as some draw-backs. I quite like the fact that I don't have to worry about hitting my head off of the sloping bathroom ceilings like in the Ren's. Also, the HEP-1's definitely win in terms of onboard baggage space. I don't even know what the point is of those moronic overhead "storage" spaces are on the Ren cars. What are you supposed to put in there? Your camera? Honestly...

Simply put, the Skyline car is the major win for the Budd cars in terms of being a coach class passenger (In coach, the train becomes the affordable option for me as a student....in sleeper, well, there go my textbooks for the year...). If they could just splice in a Skyline on every Ren set (I know, I know, compatibility problems), then they would be my choice.

One other thing....the Ocean ended up getting to Montreal 1h15min late....but this actually was a great thing, as it meant that instead of having to kill an hour and a half in Montreal Central station, they had train 57 ready on the opposite side of the platform, so we just walked straight across and onto the train!

I guess I should also comment briefly on the HEP-2's in the corridor, since they were mentioned earlier in this thread.... They are indeed a comfortable ride, although I definitely noticed the stiff seats! I hope that gets broken in. And they do seem an awful lot inside like the LRC's are already, just red seats instead of green (in comfort class), and the different arm rests. I still prefer the LRC's though, since I find them more comfortable, and I love the bigger windows on the LRC's as well.

Oh well, it was a great trip, and I look forward to my return this weekend!
  by NS VIA FAN
 
NS VIA FAN wrote:I made a round trip on the Ocean between Truro and Montreal last week and was also on a Budd set.
I was in Chateau Dollard both ways. Someone else asked to be moved and were accommodated in another car. When I found I was in the same car coming back, I also asked to be moved but everything was sold-out.
  by missthealcos.
 
Speaking as a big fan of Via, I too unfortunatley have to say that I am rarely thrilled with the staff. There is a general air of arrognace, that I just don't find acceptable. The younger the employee, generally the better the attitude, some of them are very good, and I must say the Dining car staff is normally wonderful...and works ridiculously hard!. The attendants and other service people though(lounge in Park car, skyline food service) are generally horrible to deal with though, particularly coach attendants, very poor "don't ask me for anything" attitude. At the risk of starting an issue here, I will make one simple observation: They need to drop the bilingual requirement, particularly on the Canadian. 99% of the time that I run across a reall bad one(or group), they are French Canadian, and have a horrific attitude. The bilingual requirement is causing alot of good people to be passed over. Unfortunatley, pretty much everyone who tries to get an onboard job with Via finds out very quickly(and I've known several myself personally, who really wanted it, and would have been great people for the job), if you aren't from Quebec, forget it.

I've run into it every single time I've ridden with Via, same thing, every time. This isn't meant to inflame anyone, or insult a culture, it is simply a fact. Out west anyway. I overlook it, being a railfan etc. increases ones tolerance level. I have seen MANY fellow passengers who do NOT overlook it. Honestly, I find it unfortunate, especially given the cost of a ticket, that the only place I can say I have found consistantly pleasant employees, is on the E&N!

I will say though, that they do keep tabs when something is particularly bad. On one trip East to Winnipeg, the Park car attendant was so horrid, she sat and did absolutely nothing the entire trip, enraging a few passengers. The service manager was quite displeased, and from what I could gather, this employee was let go upon arrival in Winnipeg..there were fireworks on the platform.

On the subject of the dome lights...what is the policy? Yes, you have to ask, and sometimes, they will do it..other times you get simple arrogant "no". Others, you get a reasonable explanation, but still no, or , they will say wait until it's really late, and they will turn them off. I did have one person(a particularly nice fellow, and he was form Quebec, of course my statement above isn't blanket) said it had alot to do with "young people" and things getting out of control, if you know what I mean. In Silver & blue, there is no question, the lights go out. In coach, issues seem to exist. I've had a couple of trips in coach somewhat ruined by the denial of having the dome lights out at night. Anyone know what the "official" policy is?
  by Tadman
 
I'm not aware of any official policy on Via, but on Amtrak I always carry a sleep mask in coach. I cannot wait for the day I can afford sleeper.
  by buddah
 
Well I haven't been on a LD VIA trip yet. most of my runs are corridor runs.. Toronto-Montreal, Toronto-Windsor, Toronto-Niagara falls. and I can say there customer service is not up to par as it should be for coach class passengers, I began riding VIA 1 a few years ago and haven't looked back. I'll grab a coach ticket if its last min and I need to depart in less than a few hrs. I noticed a big difference in the way the attendants treat the passengers in First class. whenever I can I book in advance to get the first class ticket at the super saver fare rate which works out to be around the price of a regular coach ticket.
  by timberley
 
I do have to agree with "missthealcos" on several points. Before I say anything, I want to make it clear that I do not mean any offense by any of my statements, and I do not intend to make any blanket claims, or insult or degrade the culture or language of French Canadians, be they in Quebec or elsewhere.

That being said, I have noticed the overwhelming presence of French-Canadian staff on board VIA Rail trains. It is quite clear that it is due to the bilingual requirement, and also in many ways the fault of our Canadian society. We anglophones have an easier time remaining "unilingual" in Canada, since pretty much anywhere you go you can expect to get English service. For Francophones, this can be much more of a challenge. If you intend to go anywhere outside of Quebec, knowing English is very much an asset. Since the pressure is higher, many more of them learn English, and as a result are considered bilingual. I have also noticed this trend working with the public within an hour of the Quebec border in Ontario. While I was required to be "semi-bilingual" for my job, I noticed that the majority of French speaking people from Quebec who came in could get by with only moderate difficulty in English.

It is no surprise then that VIA would find a greater number of employees who qualify as bilingual who speak primarily French. Also, many of their operations centre in Quebec.

Now, back to the trains, since this is a train forum.... I have noticed, unfortunately, that the "bilingual" requirement sometimes doesn't seem to fully be enforced. I recently had the experience on a train from Montreal to Toronto of the car attendant making an announcement about safety issues on the train and other general information. Since I do speak and understand French reasonably well, I understood the bulk of the French message. But when it was repeated in English, I could barely make out a word. I felt sorry for any of the English speaking passengers who couldn't understand French, because I doubt they could understand a word f what was said. In this case, I think it would be a good thing to make sure that staff, if required to be bilingual, really ARE bilingual. And when it comes to announcements, especially important ones, if one staff member can't make them clearly enough (be it in English or French), they should have a different crew member do it. It shouldn't be that hard.

Aside from all of that, I do agree, and find it hard to explain, that VIA seems to have such a poor staff overall. Yes, I have dealt with pleasant, attentive, helpful attendants, and had great experiences. But the majority have been less than satisfactory. Saying all that, I do acknowledge that I too am a huge VIA fan, and love the trains and everything. I just don't appreciate when, as happened to be recently, I'm on a train for 2 and a half hours in a car staffed by TWO attendants, and one of them comes around 15 minutes into the trip to offer services and such, but then the two of them spend the rest of it sitting at the end of the coach paying no attention to passengers.

VIA definitely needs to step up a little bit. I have dealt with wonderful people on their trains, I just wonder why there aren't more. Personally, I can't understand it. I mean, they get to spend all of their time at work on a train, why wouldn't they be happy?! :P

Maybe that's the answer....only hire railfans!
  by buddah
 
timberley wrote:.
Aside from all of that, I do agree, and find it hard to explain, that VIA seems to have such a poor staff overall. Yes, I have dealt with pleasant, attentive, helpful attendants, and had great experiences. But the majority have been less than satisfactory. Saying all that, I do acknowledge that I too am a huge VIA fan, and love the trains and everything. I just don't appreciate when, as happened to be recently, I'm on a train for 2 and a half hours in a car staffed by TWO attendants, and one of them comes around 15 minutes into the trip to offer services and such, but then the two of them spend the rest of it sitting at the end of the coach paying no attention to passengers.
VIA definitely needs to step up a little bit. I have dealt with wonderful people on their trains, I just wonder why there aren't more. Personally, I can't understand it. I mean, they get to spend all of their time at work on a train, why wouldn't they be happy?! :P
Maybe that's the answer....only hire railfans!
I have to fully agree with you on the bilingual status of the conductors my last trip from T.O. to Montreal I had a conductor who was fluent in french but his english was so poor I began to think he was FOB from a third world country. AS an American I know english: correct grammar, slang, broken english, spanglish (spanish english), caribbian english (Patawa) etc. and nothing this conductor was saying made a word of scene. I kindly half way through the trip asked the conductor in the VIA 1 car I was in to do something about the announcements for it was a shame I needed to bring along my own translator to try and understand what this conductor was saying, needless to say for the remainder of the trip someone else made the english announcements. I agree Hire rail fans I'm sure VIA will have "JD power and associates" #1 Customer service award year after year. :wink:
  by missthealcos.
 
Same thing here. 90% of the time, one cannot understand a single word of the announcements, safety or otherwise...and I have seen other passengers around me getting quite purturbed at this, and other issues with onboard staff. And yes, Ironically, being Canadian means chances are you have probably taken a certain amount of French in school.. so I can actually figure out more from the French announcements, than the English! and this is originating in BC. Again, this isn't at all meant to be an anti French speaking sentiment, it's just the way things are. Some of the poor attitude I have encountered was very obviously a result of simply not wanting to be working Western Canada, that may sum part of the problem up. Hire some people from west of Winnipeg, eliminate the favourtism, and resulting narrowing of the talent field, and you never know, things might just get better! And as for Bilingual, it should be just that, if they really feel the need to enforce this policy, which should be done away with anyway, Bilingual means fairly fluent in both, not 100% French.
  by chriskay
 
I don't feel that the bilingualism issue is related to the customer service issue. In fact, on this particular voyage, I would say the staff were primarily anglophones, as on the announcements the service manager struggled to speak French.

Perhaps there is an issue with the bilingualism policy as it stands, however that is a separate topic. I'm confident, though, that there are plenty of qualified people who are perfectly bilingual who can provide decent hospitality and customer service.
  by timberley
 
missthealcos. wrote:Some of the poor attitude I have encountered was very obviously a result of simply not wanting to be working Western Canada, that may sum part of the problem up. Hire some people from west of Winnipeg, eliminate the favourtism, and resulting narrowing of the talent field, and you never know, things might just get better! And as for Bilingual, it should be just that, if they really feel the need to enforce this policy, which should be done away with anyway, Bilingual means fairly fluent in both, not 100% French.
That may be an issue in the west, but even travelling here towards the east through Quebec and eastwards from there I get the same kind of sentiments. It's really hard to try to figure why things are the way they are. I suppose the only thing we can do as passengers is voice any serious concerns to VIA, and really just try to be civil and polite, so we don't give any of the crew any more incentive to be any worse. Of course there is hope, since I have dealt with enough great crew members. I think maybe we should also try to really compliment those that do a good job, and make it clear that we really appreciate it...maybe they'll get the message, who knows.
  by marquisofmississauga
 
Firstly, I'm somewhat concerned about the above postings in relation to poor staff attitudes. While I am certainly no apologist for VIA when things aren't up to par, I have to say I've been lucky in that the vast majority of staff I've encountered in the last 20 years have been very polite. There are a few grouches I remember well from the Canadian and the Ocean, but they have retired - not a minute too soon - or in the case of younger people, they have found a job they like better. Service issues have centred around Activity Coordinators on the Canadian or Learning Coordinators on the Ocean not having any interest in their jobs - and there are very few with that attitude. I don't for a minute doubt what anyone says about their experiences, so it must be the luck of the draw.

Regarding bilingualism, there are some occasions on the off-peak Chaleur and Ocean when most of the former and many of the passengers on the latter are Francophones. Although English is willingly spoken by the crew, announcements are sometimes made only in French. I was travelling with a group of friends on the Chaleur about a year ago when we encountered some serious problems. At the Grand Riveiere station, which was as far as we were going by train, and later at Campbellton, announcements were made in French. I know enough French that the words "autobus" and "pas de voiture lits" strike fear in the heart of any train travel fan. For the benefit of my friends who understand less French than I do, I have had to ask for announcements to be repeated in English. I don't think this is a problem during the peak season when there are many tourists aboard.

The requirement of bilingual on-board staff has caused problems in Winnipeg, the principal crew centre for the Canadian. There have been times when insufficient bilingual staff can be hired for the peak-consist season (which is about six months long) so the trains sometimes run understaffed. VIA will not back down on this requirement, so I am told by a service manager friend of mine. So three summers ago there was a severe shortage and one dining car steward - one of the finest VIA employees - took early retirement in disgust because he could not provide a first-class experience in his diner.

Regarding the dome lights, I made enquiries of my SM friend about the official policy in answer to this question on another forum. The dome lights in coach class Skyline cars are to be left on, but off in first class Skyline and Park cars. My friend told me of employees (who were trying to be nice to passengers who made enquiries) being disciplined for turning off coach lights in the Skyline dome when outrages have occurred. I will leave it to your imagination on what was involved, but I have been told of several incidents involving alcohol, drugs and, if I may be permitted a quaint old expression, "pleasures of the flesh."

I have noticed a lot of cosmetic refurbishing on the Budd equipment. Most of the sleepers I have been in or walked through have had new carpeting and in many cases new upholstery and wallpaper in the rooms.