Winnipeg - Churchill - Winnipeg
The train consisted of locomotives 6432 & 6458 with 5 vehicles; baggage, 2 sitting cars, Diner, "Chateau" class sleeping car. An ontime departure and early running came to an abrupt end when we had to wait for a booked passenger at Roblin. I was the only passenger in the sleeping car. Another joined at Thompson.
A slightly early arrival at Canora to change loco crews was lost when an extraodinary amount of time was taken to negotiate through the junctions, finally being about 12 minutes late.
By morning we were about 2 hours late. Train speeds seemed to be averaging around 20-40kph with some sections down to 10kph. Naturally more time was lost.
I spent all day killing mosquitos which had entered the car. The rear vestibule, which was closed off by doors, was full of them. They even managed to penetrate the Dining Car
On arrival at Thompson Jct we sat on the access curve for over 2 hours. The safeworking team which had come down in a hi-rail vehicle were over the statutory time at work and had to be relieved, at the same time they did not have the key to open the switch lock. Eventually a second hi-rail arrived. Instead of 5 hours at Thompson we had 35 minutes. The locomotives were refuelled from a road tanker. We were ready to depart on time but were delayed 15 minutes waiting for clearance from train control.
Train speeds continued to be very slow, mostly around 20kph but often down to 10kph or slower. There was a great deal of 'rolling' by the carriages. At McLintock loop we crossed a southbound freight behind CN 3002.
After spending 15 minutes reversing on the triangle we finally arrived at Churchill over 3 hours late. The loco crew required their statutory break and the evening's departure for The Pass was delayed until 10.00pm.
From Winnipeg into Saskatchewan the scenery is the usual prairies and fields and is most attractive. Once clear of the prairies the country gives over to waterlogged, ragged , univiting pine forrests. The entire surrounds are at once a desolate swamp of ugly pines, stunted trees and dead trunks. The total picture is one of the most depressing and boring gloom. The Cree name for this country translates as 'land of the little sticks'. Because of the slow train speed there seems to be no end to it. A few hours south of Churchill there is some respite with large areas of arctic tundra, but that is all.
To add insult to injury the recent changes to the Dining car service urgently need some review. While the choice of meals is not large, there is a sameness about them and they are of very poor quality. The very least ViaRail could do is to find a better supplier, as a matter of urgency. The advice to passengers to take plenty of food with them is indeed correct. Under the 'Rules' the Dining car crew are unable to make toast from bread a passeneger might bring themselves. The toasters in the kitchen are serviceable. Interestingly passengers are required to use disposable plates and cutlery while the train crew, who bring all of their own food, eat of china plates and with steel cutlery.
During my stay in Churchill I became an habitue of Gypsy's Bakery and an occasional visitor to the Seaport Hotel. The winter tour operators had closed down and the summer ones not yet started. A visit to 'The Beach' looking north over Hudson Bay revealed ice as far as the horizon and right up the the shoreline. A flock of birds were enjoying the ice and seals could be seen on the ice. One morning gunshots were heard over the town indicating the presence of a Polar Bear. It had moved off before I could see it.
For the return journey the train arrived in Churchill at 11.59am. Over 2 hours late. Departure was set for 8.30pm. The consist was 6409 & 6455 leading the ususal 5 vehicles
Departure was at 8.31pm. The first 296kms to Gillam takes 24 hours. This is an average of 13kph. There are long sections with very low speed restrictions. e.g. over 24miles at 10mph. It was not long before we were told that there had been a derailment at The Pas and we would be bussed from Thompson to The Pas. The 4 passengers in the sleeping car were not happy particularly as we were also told to expect to have to sit up for the second night.
A careful view of the track reveals that in previous weeks there had been service disruptions caused by washaways from flooding by melting snows. Repairs had been carried out but speed restrictions were still necessary. The ballast appears to be sufficiently deep but of uneven size. Much appears to be little more than gravel. I cannot find an explanation for the rolling of the carrriages. There was a complete track maintenance team and equipment at Gillam who set out as soon as we arrived and cleared the section from Churchill. The equipment was branded as belonging to CP.
A few miles before Gillam the train stopped at an isolated grade crossing to let off a passenger, a young woman. Her intention was to take a bus from there to Winnipeg, in which case she would arrive a full day before the train.
A better appreciation of the pine forrest was obtained when considering the harsh climate they have to endure and it is a wonder that they can survive at all. Train speed increased slightly after Gillam but not by a lot. The 252 kms to Thompson requires 7 hours. We arrived 2h45m late on time adjusted for the late departure from Churchill.
The derailment at The Pas had occurred as the other ViaRail carset was departing for Churchill. Some local youngsters had placed items on the rails causing a truck on the sleeping car to derail.
For the "bustitution" there were the 4 sleeping car passengers and 2 train crew. The sitting passengers had made other arrangements. All 6 of us set out in a 47 seat road coach. A 400km 4 hour trip. One of our passengers was a NewYorker. For 3½hours of the trip we were subject to a harangue and rant of Tea Party politics. Many of the propositons were contradictory and if the economic issues were implemented it would plunge the US into years of a deep recession. From the other side of the world, where I come from, those of us with an interest in these matters, long ago concluded the Tea Party were a bunch of nutters. The exhibition I endured unequivocally established this conclusion as being accurate.
At Thompson we found the train intact and standing on a siding. The train crew and station Agent arranged for us to occupy the cars. Examination had concluded that the condition of the sleeping car as being "OK2RUN". We were grateful that we would be able to get a nights sleep.
The crew arranged matters so that we could go down to the WestCanada Hotel dining room for a decent evening meal and rejoin the train. Departure could not be before scheduled time of 3.15am.
Next morning we collectively concluded that we had a 'private train'. From The Pas track conditions are much better with higher train speeds. Travelling through the hills on the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border were enjoyable to be replaced with the broad prairie further south. The pine trees were stronger and healthier and presented an enjoyable picture.
Passengers were boarded at Dauphin and Portage la Prairie. Arrival in Winnipeg was 1 hour late. We were all grateful.
The next morning the train departing for Churchill had a replacement sleeping car.
The line from the junction at Portage la Prairie to The Pas is CN track and from there to Churchill is Hudson Bay Railway. While we were at The Pas we saw the train come in from Pukatawagan. It comprised an ex CN loco, box car, ex Via Baggage, 2 ex Via non-airconditioned cars and several freight vehicles. The ex Via cars were still in the old blue & gold livery. The ex CN loco was also in CN livery with HBR stenciled on the valance. The train speed seemed to be about 10-20kph. The line was purchased by the local native tribes some years ago.
The whole return trip to Churchill can only be described as 'Tortuous'. It was worth the experience, including the 4 hour bustitution from Thompson to The Pas.