Via Rail Train to Halifax Nova Scotia
When possible and practical, we like taking trains. By the time you get to an airport, go through the hassle of security, then get from your destination’s airport into the city, trains often don’t add much time to travel. Add to this more comfortable seats than planes, power plugs, often free wifi, and the ability to more easily get up to stretch, and you can see why we like trains. And, oh yes, trains are also usually less expensive.
Although trains are not as prevalent in the United States, some places have compelling train service. We have often taken the train Boston to New York or Washington DC. And we plan to someday take the Amtrak Coast Starlight from San Francisco to Portland Oregon.
Scenic Train Trips
And then there was the Glacier Express in Switzerland. Although it takes about 3 times longer than normal trains to travel the same distance through the mountains, it is one of the most scenic rides in the world through the Swiss Alps.
We also experienced the beauty of the Canadian Rocky Mountains by taking the Rocky Mountaineer.
Not All Trains Are Equal
The train seemed like a great idea. We boarded our 10:49 PM train in Quebec for what was supposed to be an 18-hour journey through Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. We booked a sleeper cabin for the overnight journey. The room was small and cramped, but the bed and pillows were comfortable. During the day the beds were converted into a bench seat. We had a power plug in our private cabin and could charge our devices.
Food was included in our ticket price. It was served in the dining car and was good. Not memorable, but good. We had breakfast and lunch dishes including crepe with glazed pine nuts, pecans and pineapple and sausage cassoulet.
Another positive was the staff. They were great. Friendly, helpful and always around to help.
But from there the trip went downhill.
We Wish We Had Read The Reviews
The main problem was the train itself. Due to the shortages caused by years of Covid, the train cars were still the old inadequate cars versus more modern replacements that they will allegedly someday receive. (The staff told us that some of the other routes had newer cars but not this route.)
- The sleeper cars were old and needed to be updated.
- While our cabin has power plugs, it did not have wifi. Wifi was available in the lounge area, but the lounge did not have power plugs.
- Speaking of the lounge, it consisted of a few very uncomfortable seats.
We did find some very comfortable seats outside of the area set aside for those who did not purchase the more expensive sleeping compartments. The seats were roomy and comfortable and had power plugs and full-size table trays. But again, the car did not have wifi. The problem was that this area was for those who purchased seats but not sleeping compartments. Although more than half of the seats were vacant, we were not allowed to sit here and had to leave when we were discovered seating there.
Before the trip we did receive an email telling us that we might have delays due to weather and the tracks. Little did we know that delays ALWAYS happened. Our 18 hour trip from Quebec to Halifax ended up being 21 hours.
OK, maybe it is not their fault. The tracks were owned by freight trains and passenger trains had to yield to them. But according to the staff, the train was NEVER within an hour of the identified travel time. We were lucky it was only a 3 hour delay.
And as we discovered from a frequent VIA Rail traveler we met on the plain, three hours late is almost considered to be “on time” for a route that often arrives six or more hours late! One would think that the train company would build time into their schedule to account for these delays. But then who would book it?
We like train travel but obviously not here. BTW, the staff was great but they had no control over the conditions. So which is better? not having a train system or having a terrible train system? Lesson learned, read the reviews and then take a plane on this particular route. Cheaper, faster, easier