I take advantage of our extended stop in Thompson to step off the train. It's raining here, and even the hardened smokers are finding it hard to justify huddling outside for longer than their cigarettes last. There's also a slight chill in the air - perhaps a hint of what is to come? I walk up and down the platform to watch the activity that has started with the arrival of the train. A number of pick-up trucks are loading supplies onto the train, and a large crowd of people of virtually all ages is preparing to board the train. They are all going into the seated coaches, which soon fill up their comfortable limit, allowing every family a group of four seats and every individual a pair of seats on their own.
The train is fuelled and watered, and I hop back on board. Thompson is actually some way off the main line between The Pas and Churchill. We left it about an hour before getting to Thompson at the usefully named Thompson Junction. After the train is loaded and secured, we back out of the station and perform a slow reversing manouever over a triangle of tracks that turns us back towards the main line.
It's not just the passenger number that has grown. From this point on, the Hudson Bay Railway (over whose tracks we are running) insist on their own engineers piloting the train, and their own conductors managing the passengers and collecting tickets. I suspect that this would not be entirely necessary, but it saves VIA Rail having to base crew in Thompson, and also increases the number of local people who can benefit from this government subsidised source of employment.
We crawl over the turning tracks, and rumble on, back on the line towards Thompson Junction. We're now running about two hours behind, although this is hardly a complaint considering the circumstances in which this train runs. Exploring the two coach cars, I find people chatting, playing cards, sleeping or watching movies on portable DVD players. Up to now the train has been particularly quiet. That's because it's only the hardened rail fans or tourists who ride all the way from Winnipeg. If you live in Churchill and want to go to Winnipeg, it's faster to travel to Thompson by train, and then take the Greyhound bus to Winnipeg. It took us nearly twenty-three hours to travel from Winnipeg to Thomspon along an indirect route of almost 1,150km. By bus, the same trip by more direct roads takes just nine hours.