Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Jasper, AB

We arrive in Jasper a little behind schedule. VIA Rail cushion their long distance train schedules with service stops like the one here, so with fifty minutes to service the train and for passengers to stretch their legs, there's every chance we'll be leaving on schedule again. Our coach attendants make absolutely sure we know how long we have to get off the train, and make sure that all our watches are now on the same time zone. Horror stories are recounted of passengers left behind, and who have sometimes been seen running back to the station by helpless train staff as the train pulls away. Once the train starts moving again, it's very hard to stop it in time, and you're likely to be left here for up to three days until the next train passes through. So you don't want to get left behind.

A sign on the side of the station advises anyone who has trouble with VIA's metric timetable that Jasper is 534.9 miles from Vancouver and 2408.8 miles from Montréal. I have a long way still to go.

Once on the platform I decide to take some exercise, and begin the quarter mile walk from one end of the train to the other. Now, as I have already mentioned, I'm not too hot on train identification, and I certainly haven't been spending much time noting train names and numbers. But to help me find my way around, I usually doodle a diagram of our train as a string of little boxes in my sketchbook to work out where the different coaches are. The sleeper cars on this train are all named, so I jot down the names as I walk past. From front to back, our train looks like this:

Locomotive, locomotive, baggage car, seated coach, seated coach, Skyline dome car, Laird Manor (sleeper), Hunter Manor (sleeper), Dunsmuir Manor (sleeper), Skyline dome car, Palliser (restaurant), Cornwall Manor (sleeper), Hearne Manor (sleeper), Monck Manor (sleeper), Chateau Lasalle (sleeper), Skyline dome car, Louise (restaurant), Abbot Manor (sleeper), Brandt Manor (sleeper), Burton Manor (sleeper), and the Kokanee Park car.

Once I've reached the other end of the train, it feels like I've reached the end of the town's short main street. I cross into town and search out a post office to buy some stamps. I have some food with me (again, thanks to my kind hosts in Seattle) but I stop by a diner to take out a freshly made toasted turkey sandwich with a big cup of cream of brocolli soup. I return to the platform, but the train is closed off while it's cleaned and serviced. I chat with the sleeper attendant who explained the berths to me earlier in the day. I'm impressed that even during their precious off train breaks, the VIA staff are more than happy to answer my dumb questions and pass the time of day with me. These folk love their job, and just love talking to us, even though we must make the same jokes and ask the same questions as every other group of passengers.

Just after 12.10, the train re-opens for boarding, and I take my lunch with me on board. It's a gorgeous sunny day in Jasper, warm enough for just a t-shirt. I'd love to stay, of course, but my journey continues.

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