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Western Canada trip report

Western Canada trip report




            My friend Mark had wanted to ride VIA Rail Canada’s Canadian for a long time. He mostly wanted to ride through the Rocky Mountains. I decided to join up and slowly we formed a plan. Due to time constraints, we would fly to Vancouver, stay for a few days there before we took the Canadian to Edmonton, Alberta. After spending two days in Edmonton, we would go to Calgary, Alberta. Two days after, we would fly home. I know people in Vancouver and Calgary.


            Interestingly enough, this trip didn’t cost me too much. Mark and I had arranged to stay at people’s houses in the three cities we would visit, which meant we didn’t have to spend a penny for accommodations. My mom donated some of her accumulated Aeroplan points which saved us a bundle for plane tickets, (though I still had to pay the airport fees.) Mark paid for the train tickets. We decided to go in mid January because it wasn’t peak season for the Canadian.


January 11, 2007:


            I got up at 4:05 am and had breakfast. The reason for getting up this early was because to use the least amount of Aeroplan points, we had to fly the first or last Air Canada flight to Vancouver. We had chosen the early morning flight.


            We picked Mark up at 4:45 am and headed off to the airport. We arrived at Terminal 1. As we arrived, we noted that Terminal 2 at Pearson would close at the end of the month when an extension of Terminal 1 would open. I thought it was ironic because I had flown to Halifax last year out of the same terminal because I wanted to see what it was like.


            When we checked in, we were told to use the automatic check in, unlike my Halifax trip. The check in ended up giving Mark his desired aisle seat, but I was moved to the middle seat instead of my desired window seat. I really would have preferred the “old fashion way” by confirming with the agent.


            We cleared security without any problems and headed off to our gate. I was expecting that we would fly on an Airbus A321. However at the gate was Air Canada’s 65th Anniversary plane, which is an A320. (The A321 is an extended version of the A320). I took a photo of the plane at the gate.


            After Mark and I took some photos of the plane, I took a little walk around the area and stopped in a store that sold snacks, drinks, miscellaneous souvenirs, and DVDs. One DVD that was for sale, interestingly enough, was “Snakes on a Plane”! I’m not sure how many people would have bought that prior to getting on their own planes!


At one point, I asked the Air Canada attendant at the gate if the window seat beside me was free. I was disappointed when I was told it wasn’t.


            Soon, it was time to board. Mark and I took our seats. When we took off, I filmed the take off roll to the best of my abilities despite it being dark and having someone seated between me and the window. Soon, they started serving food.


            The plane was equipped with personal entertainment systems. They were turned on shortly after takeoff. A lot of the flight, I was watching something on the personal TVs.


            A few hours later, we were flying over the Rocky Mountains. The pilot made an announcement and I shot a photo from my seat.



            I went back to watching the personal entertainment videos. Soon, we were approaching Vancouver. I watched as the plane turned around over the ocean and filmed the landing. We taxied past two Boeing 747s, including one belonging to Japan Air Lines. We were soon parked at the gate. It took several minutes, but we soon got off the plane and upon entering the terminal, I was able to get a semi-decent shot of the plane.



            Mark and I then went to the baggage claim after he phoned his parents. Air Canada didn’t loose our baggage but it didn’t come out right away.


            In Vancouver, we had arranged to spend four days and three nights with his friend Andrew. Andrew’s family used to live in Thornhill, Ontario three blocks away from my house. I had met Andrew on numerous occasions while he was living north of Toronto. After we got our bags, we looked for him, but didn’t see him. Mark called him. Andrew said he was on his way. He lives about 15-20 minutes from the airport. Several minutes later, he wasn’t there. Mark called him again and we found out that Andrew was waiting for a taxi to take him to the airport to meet us. Up until that point, I thought he would have driven and met us there. If we had known that, we most likely would have taken a taxi to his house. Mark and I stopped to get something from the food court in the arrivals level of the terminal.


            At one point, I decided to call Andrew and ask him to cancel the cab while Mark and I would take one to his place since there were many taxis at the airport. When I finally called him, I learned the taxi had already picked him up and he was on his way to the airport. A few minutes later, he met up with Andrew and the three of us took a taxi back to his house.


            On the way, we saw that Vancouver got a lot of snow which doesn’t happen all that often. For awhile, there had been very little snow in the Toronto area, so it was backwards! At least it wasn’t as bad as the freak snowstorm that I was caught in Buffalo in the middle of last October.


            When we got to Andrew’s house, I took a couple photos of a cat his family has been feeding named Pierre, (I like cats.)


            Andrew’s family has a little dog named Zoe. Zoe is very affectionate and I remembered her being pretty frisky. When I went inside, it didn’t take long for Zoe to run up to me and I could tell she was still the same. Mark and I set down our stuff and we chose bedrooms.


            Meanwhile, I decided to call two of my friends I met in 2002 when my friend Jason and I went to the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, (SAIT)’s railway conductor program in Calgary, Alberta. There were about 15 of us in the class. I graduated, but never had success in finding employment on the railways. As a result, I am less than satisfied with the school and my head instructor who shall remain nameless. I still keep in contact with some of my friends from the class though.


            I first called my friend Fred, but no one was home, so I left a message. I did the same when I called my other friend, Ian who also lives in the area. Sometime later, Fred returned my call. We arranged to meet up the next day.


            Later, Mark and I ate dinner at Andrew’s house. Several hours later, we called it a night.


January 12, 2007:


            I got up and had breakfast. Mark got up later. Today, we were planning on heading downtown to find the trolleybuses that run in Vancouver. Andrew was working that day, so it was perfect to go downtown.


            Andrew’s mom first drove Mark and me to a 7-11 so we could buy day passes for the buses, Skytrain, and Seabus. After, she drove us to where we could pick up the 98 B-line bus into downtown Vancouver. Mark and I didn’t have long to wait and we boarded a Translink New Flyer D60LF for the ride into Vancouver. We sat in the seats in the articulation joint.


            A few blocks after we got on, I noticed that private bus lanes were being built for the 98 B-line. It reminded me that the VIVA service in my area hopes to build private bus lanes in the future; however, it’s still in the planning phase and won’t happen anytime soon.


            We passed by one of Translink’s garages and saw several diesel and trolleybuses in the yard. Both the older Flyer E901 and the newer E40LFR models of trolleybuses were visible. Soon, our bus was under trolleybus wires and we passed a few E901s going in the opposite direction.


            Eventually, Mark and I got off the bus to wait for a trolley bus. When we got off, I saw a Flyer E901 trolleybus painted in the older style livery laying over and took a photo of it.



            Shortly after photographing that trolleybus, the next 98 B-line bus came and Mark and I photographed it. Shortly after, Flyer E901 trolleybus #2750 which is painted in the current Translink livery arrived. I took a photo of it as it arrived.



            We rode 2750 into the heart of downtown where there were several trolley bus routes. We saw some newer E40LFr trolleybuses in downtown. After Mark and I got off, I filmed 2750 pulling away as well as an E40LFR right behind it.



            Mark and I started photographing buses in the area, both diesel and electric. We even saw a stalled Double Decker bus.






            After, Mark and I boarded a New Flyer E40LFR on route 5 and rode it until we found somewhere to eat lunch. After we got off, we walked to an A&W across the street. As we got to the A&W, a man asked us if we smoked and offered to sell us cigarettes in exchange for some money for bus fare. Mark and I didn’t buy any since neither of us smoke. I thought, “That was weird!”


            While we were waiting, my friend Fred called us. We arranged to meet by a hobby shop at 2:45 pm. Fred gave me directions on how to get there on the Skytrain. However, throughout the day, I would keep on accidentally call the Skytrain the C-train, which is the name of Calgary’s Light Rail system.


            After lunch, Mark and I walked to a Skytrain station and boarded a westbound train. It consisted of the newer Mark 2 cars. The Skytrain is similar to the Scarborough RT line in Toronto which uses Mark 1 cars like the Skytrain. However, the Skytrain is larger than the RT in Toronto and shows what could have been in Toronto. Currently, the fate of the RT was in question in Toronto since the line is now very busy, the current system can’t handle it. It now seems that the line will be upgraded to accept the newer Mark 2 cars by rebuilding the approach to the Kennedy terminal because the Mark 2s can’t handle the curve just before the station.


            Mark and I rode the Skytrain to the Waterfront station which is two stops away. This was also the downtown station where the seabuses and the West Coast Express commuter trains arrive. Mark and I took some photos of the area.




            Mark and I decided to walk to the far end to try and photograph the locomotives on the West Coast Express commuter trains. We walked through Gastown and saw the old steam powered clock. I then photographed WCE F59Phi #903.



            After, Mark and I headed back to Waterfront station. Mark and I photographed two Flyer E901 trolleybuses before heading into the Skytrain station. We saw a train of Mark 1 cars on the Millennium line, (which we were intending to take). I got on the front car of the four car train. Seconds later, I noticed that Mark wasn’t on the train, but taking photos. I got off and took a photo of the train.



            Moments later, the train left. We waited as another train heading to Surrey, BC arrived, then departed. Shortly after that train left, the next Millennium line train entered the station. It also consisted of Mark 1 cars. We got on the front car and the train soon left.


            Several minutes later, we saw VIA’s Vancouver Maintenance Centre. We decided to get off the train and ride a train going the opposite was and film the yard. That’s what we did.


            In the yard was VIA FP9 #6300, their last active F-unit. (Sister #6301 is stored out of service in Montreal while 6300 is sometimes used as a switcher).



VIA 6300 has an interesting history as on February 8, 1986, that unit was in the consist of the VIA train involved in the crash at Hinton, Alberta in which 23 people where killed when a VIA train collided head on with a CN freight train. Interestingly enough, 6300 was in the MIDDLE of the train and everything in front of it was written off.


After we got off, Fred called again and told us to meet him at the Renfrew Skytrain station at 2:45. Mark and I got on a Mark 2 train and rode to Broadway station where we changed trains and arrived at Renfrew around 2:30. We stopped in a nearby McDonalds before heading back to the station. While I was waiting, I photographed Flyer E901 #2890.



Soon, it was 2:45. At first, I didn’t see Fred or Ian. But then, Fred called us and told us to meet him at the hobby store about a block away. He gave us directions. When we got there, we photographed the outside of the store because of how they had a fake steam engine as part of the display.



Mark and I went inside the hobby store. I didn’t see Fred or Ian inside, so I would check the door every so often. Shortly after, Fred and Ian showed up. I was happy to see them after almost four years. I introduced them to Mark and we looked around the store before Fred, Mark, and I bought some items. (I bought an HO scale passenger coach, a DVD on BC Rail, and some decals for a VIA P42).


After, Fred invited Mark and me over to his house while Ian went out. I squeezed into the back of Fred’s pickup while Mark rode up front. Fred gave us a tour pointing out the station the Rocky Mountaineer luxury passenger train serves, and the BNSF yard. We then headed into the ports and came across a string of tank cars. Fred told us that he had put the tank cars there earlier as he works for CP. We also saw the two beltpack equipped GP9s that he was using earlier.


Fred told us about some stories from the railway in the Vancouver area. One such story was when he was backing a cut of grain cars when the cars ran over some ice that had accumulated in the switch and derailed, almost taking out Fred’s truck! Fred was also on a freight movement that was going over a swing bridge when the bridge tender decided to open the bridge while the train was going over! Fortunately, the train was only going about 10 MPH and was able to stop before disaster hit. Fred told us when the Millennium Skytrain line was being tested, there was a glitch in the automated train control of a test train and as a result, a test train ran off the end of the line!


One other story Fred told us was that a BNSF movement ran a signal and fouled the mainline as a West Coast Express commuter train bared down on it. The commuter train was able to stop in time to avoid disaster, but some colourful language was heard over the radio!


Fred also told us another interesting tale. One time one of his friends took an Alaskan cruise and on the ship, they played the movie Titanic. The second time his friend went on a similar cruise, they played the movie Poseidon Adventure! Those are pretty interesting movie choices to say the least.


We then went by a park, hoping to see a West Coast Express commuter train pass, but there were several grain cars that would block our view of the train. We then took a drive through what’s considered the bad part of Vancouver. Fred locked the doors as we drove through the bad part of town. We then took a trip through Gastown and the downtown West Coast Express commuter station. Fred pointed out that it was “The end of CP Rail.”


We then headed over to Fred’s house passing the tracks used by Vancouver’s historic trolley operation, which wasn’t operating at the time. We also passed an abandoned CP spur line. The line is still in place, and was considered for use in a rail shuttle from the airport to downtown. Unfortunately, a group of people complained saying that it would be too noisy. As a matter of fact, the person who spearheaded the protest of using the line got their house egged by people who supported using the line! As a result of this protest, a new line is currently being built for a hefty amount more.


This reminded me of how NIMBYs like that have put dampers on other transit projects in both Toronto and Chicago. In Toronto, a group of NIMBYs, (Not In My Back Yard), known as “Save our St. Clair, SOS) protested when the TTC was planning on building a private right of way for the St. Clair streetcar route. They managed to screw up the plan which wasted a lot of time and money. However, the project will still go ahead as planned. North of Toronto, the final leg of the VIVA bus rapid transit system is also being held up by people at the proposed end of the line saying that the buses would be loud, which is totally wrong since the VIVA buses are pretty quiet.


One more example of NIMBYs protesting transit in the Toronto area are a group of people who are protesting a rail link between Toronto’s Union station and Pearson International Airport. Because the service will be frequent, some grade crossings will have to be closed. I find that a stupid reason to protest because it will improve safety in the area by preventing several train/vehicle collisions, especially if they build overpasses or underpasses.


My friend Greg in Chicago once told me that a light rail line in the Chicago area, which would have been good, as many people loved the idea, was thrown out because of NIMBYs who protested when they found out how the line would have been routed.


For now, the abandoned spur near Fred’s house lies silent. As we approached Fred’s house, he pointed out a railway crossing that was used for the opening scene of the movie “Atomic Train”.


I also learned from Fred that another one of my classmates, Mike Cormier, (there were three guys in our class named Mike), was coming to Vancouver and we would hopefully meet up with him in the next couple of days. Mike Cormier was originally from Halifax, and is living in Calgary. However, he briefly lived in Toronto shortly after we graduated, and I took him to the Halton County Radial Railway Museum in Rockwood, Ontario.



We soon got to Fred’s house and he showed us his model railway. He and his brother actually have two layouts: One in HO scale and one in N scale. Mark tested his model GP35 out on Fred’s layout.


Fred then showed us some pictures he had taken. I had seen some before, when I was at SAIT. I also saw Fred’s two cats. I had brought a copy of the movie “Atomic Train” on DVD and we watched the opening scene that was filmed on the now abandoned spur.


            Meanwhile, Fred’s dad ordered Chinese food. Unfortunately, I don’t like it, except for the fortune cookies. I rummaged up an alternative vaguely similar to the lunches I packed for myself when I was attending SAIT.


Eventually, Fred drove Mark and I back to Andrew’s house. However, we managed to get lost in Richmond as we had left the directions at Andrews! We pulled into a plaza and called Andrew for directions and he told us to wait at the plaza while Andrew came. He showed up a few minutes later. Mark and I said goodbye to Fred before we went into the 7-11 and then back to Andrew’s house where we watched the latest episode of South Park. A little while later, we called it a night.


January 13, 2007:


I got up and had breakfast. After Mark got up, Andrew’s mom gave Mark, Andrew, and I a ride to the Richmond Centre mall. At one point Fred called, telling us that we might be able to meet up in the evening.


At the mall, Mark and I bought day passes for Translink. We went to a White Spot restaurant in the mall, but it had a big line. We walked a couple blocks to another White Spot for lunch.


After lunch, we caught the 98 B-line bus to downtown Vancouver again. When we got downtown, we stopped in a comic book store, and then we went to a Future Shop. After that, Mark and I photographed a Flyer E901 trolleybus that was lying over.



After, the three of us took a walk to the nearest Skytrain station, while photographing buses on the way. We got on a train of Mark 2 cars and rode the train into Surrey. Along the way, we passed the SRY railway yard and saw a train with a caboose on the end. Even in 2007, the SRY still uses cabooses regularly since they do a lot of switching. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of any SRY freights.


At the end of the line, I took a picture of the Skytrain.



At Surrey, I caught a glimpse of a couple Translink Classics in the distance, but I couldn’t really get a good shot of one. We rode the Skytrain back into downtown, taking in the sights. When we got downtown, we walked along the streets. At one point, we stopped in front of a fountain where the water was frozen solid. Andrew decided to grab a piece of wood, and try to break the ice with it, but had no success.


We then stopped at a mall, first looking into an EB games store. After, we stopped by the food court where Mark and Andrew got some dinner. I only got an apple pie and a drink from the A&W there because I was thinking we might meet up with Fred and have dinner out.


We then walked to a pub. At the pub, there was a digital display counting down until St. Patrick’s Day! I got a glass of coke while I waited and charged the batteries for my digital camera.


Meanwhile, Fred called and said he was busy, but would try to go out to lunch the next day. After that, we headed out back to Andrew’s. As we got to the Skytrain station to catch the 98 B-line bus, we just missed one, but we used the time to photograph a couple buses.




Soon, the next bus came and we got on. The ride was uneventful. We got off and transferred to route 407. The D40LF on route 407 had seats similar to the fishbowls in Halifax, and fishbowls 76 and 77 in Timmins, as those fishbowls were originally ran in the area. However, the only fishbowls in Vancouver are used for driver training only.


We got off and walked to Andrew’s house, where I was able to get some dinner. I then watched America’s Most Wanted and eventually called it a night.


Click here for part 2: Western Canada trip part 2.htm