Monday, May 15, 2006

Train 14: into the night

We're on time as we head up the busy line towards Québec City. The 'Ocean' doesn't call at Québec City, but after passing through the peaceful towns of Saint-Hyacinthe and Drummondville, we reach Charny at about ten o'clock. A bus shuttle operates between here and Québec City. There are a lot of passengers boarding both coach and sleeper cars on both the 'Chaleur' and the 'Ocean' portions of our long train, so we make several stops. Each time the train pauses to allow people to board, before pulling forward to allow for the next section of the train to take on passengers. Once the last section of the train has pulled into the station, we're allowed off for a 'smoke stop'.

It's dark when I hope down off the train and take in the fresh night air. I have to step away from the crowd of cigarette smokers who are clustered close to the train, but it's a warm night for the time of year. Our train stretches away in both directions - although I'm near the front of the Halifax portion of the train, the Gaspé train is ahead of us, and there's not enough time to do a walk along the full length of the train.

The Montréal - Halifax 'Ocean' is now operated exclusively by the newer 'Renaissance' trains. I've heard very mixed opinions about these trains, and one complaint is that they don't include any dome or lounge cars. There are three levels of service on board the 'Ocean' during the peak season: Comfort coach, Comfort sleeper and Easterly ('Alizée in French). There's a functional 'service' car behind the coach carriages and sleeper carriages, but it really isn't much more than a place for passengers to buy snacks and coffee and to watch movies on small and uncomfortable bistro seats. It's also very small, offering much less space for relaxing away from your coach seat during the journey. Although Comfort class passengers don't get a dome any more, a vintage stainless steel 'Park' car like the one that tails off every Toronto - Vancouver 'Canadian' is included at the far end of the train for passengers in Easterly class. It's fitted to the more modern train by means of a specially adapted Renaissance coach... much of this service reveals this hasty patching together of a train that wasn't designed for this job. It's very flash, but it's not in the same league as the older VIA trains I've been travelling on, which are much grander and more comfortable.

For passengers to the more remote Gaspésie, however, things carry on as normal. Ahead of our part of the train, the 'Chaleur' is formed entirely of older stainless steel cars. I would much rather be spending a night in coach class in one of their squishy seats... age isn't everything, you know...

The coach attendants call 'all aboard' and I hop back on board. I have one more night ahead of me travelling alone in coach class. We pull out of Charny, and I do my best to bed down in my unforgiving seat for the night.

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