Friday, August 17, 2012

Upper berth train ride old style

The historic Canadian Northern train that runs around Fort Edmonton has an early drop-down top berth. In later versions, the convertible seats got more comfortable, with upholstery instead of wooden slats. These converted into lower berths, screened off by heavy curtains. This basic sleeper car design still endures.

When we moved from Alberta to BC in the late 1950s, I saw the Rocky Mountains for the first time. There were mountain goats beside the track, and a whole long train to explore.

I couldn't decide which was more thrilling:  to climb the ladder to the snug top berth or to lie in bed looking out the window, enjoying the changing views of sky and trees through the night, soothed by the rhythmic motion and the clacking of the train wheels.

Many years later, my mother and I rode the Canadian from Vancouver to Toronto on a three day journey. For the long trip across mountain and prairie, we took a roomette, with tiny but perfectly cosy and adequate facilities.

There were two calls for dinner, early and late, signalling the times when passengers would go along to the dining car and enjoy delicious meals set out on elegant white tablecloths served using CN dishes and heavy silver cutlery.

In Toronto, we boarded the Ocean Limited, which took us as far as Sydney, Nova Scotia. From there, the ferry took us through the early morning to the small town of Port-aux-Basques on the west coast of Newfoundland.

The remainder of the journey to my mother's home city was accomplished by bus and took all day. We boarded at 7 am in Port-aux-Basques, and were greeted by our relatives in St. John's at 5 pm.

Newfoundland once had a narrow-gauge railroad, called, with affectionate irony, the Newfie Bullet. After this last province joined Canadian Confederation in 1949, the rails were torn up and replaced by the promised highway, the Trans-Canada. The completion of that long highway from Victoria BC to St. John's accompanied the overall decline of rail travel. Unfortunate.

The superior speed and increasing accessibility of airplanes heralded the end of passenger trains as serious modes of transportation. Train journeys across Canada are prohibitively expensive. In terms of cost, they have traded places with aircraft; while once only the wealthier people could afford to fly, now train travel is the expensive luxury.

No comments:

Post a Comment