Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Train 692: the first morning

I sleep well once more, and enjoy being a little closer to the train’s centre of gravity. The upper berth is definitely more fun for a first time sleeper passenger: climbing up into it makes it even more special. The lower berth, however, is much more practical and suitable for most adults. I say good morning to Vera, who’s already awake, who says that it’s by the far the best sleeping accommodation on the train. The return of mainline VIA Rail coaches to the ‘Hudson Bay’ is to be welcomed – apparently the unreliable ‘Northern Spirit’ trains didn’t offer this budget sleeper accommodation.

I take a shower. While I’m washing my hair I sense the train slowing down. The distant rattling of wheels over bolted tracks begins to recede through the drain beneath me, and we come to a halt. Crouching down, I can see gravel and a sleeper directly beneath me. I towel myself dry, and when I emerge from the bathroom I see that we have been pulled into a siding to allow the engineer to do a wheel check. The train’s smoking population has been allowed off to inhale the ‘fresh’ air, and they’re beside the track enjoying their morning fags.

I come forward to have breakfast. We pass a junction with another rail line that seems to go north-west to a point on the Nelson River called Kelsey. I believe that this is the site of one of Manitoba Hydro’s larger dams, although I’m not sure. Unlike Thomson’s spur, there is no passenger service on that line.

I order the ‘Continental’ breakfast. As always, I’m still not sure which continent this breakfast comes from, because it’s definitely not Europe. I substitute cereal for hot oats, which are served with brown sugar and milk, and have coffee, toast and juice to start my day. It comes to a very reasonable C$6.

Vera is sitting near me, and as we cross a bridge high above the Nelson River (downstream from the Kelsey hydro dam) she says that it’s looking higher than she has seen it in a long while. In a recent trip south she says that the train was held up even more by very high water levels in the streams on either side of the track. I’ve yet to see a beaver on my trip, although their dams are everywhere, and these frequently have to be broken by track maintenance crews to stop overflowing water from causing subsidence to the already fragile track bed. A little later I even see a few trees felled by beavers; their trunks chewed away to leave the timber and stump with perfect exposed points, like freshly sharpened pencils.

We reach Pikwitonei at 09.30, keeping very good time so far.

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