Canada May 2011
This trip “through” Canada was part of our larger USA trip but the Keewatin Railway Co. train we went to ride on was like a stepping stone from Utica, NY to Skagway, AK. A stepping stone that took 2 long distance train journeys and 4 flights to navigate…..
Our train travel in Canada during our trip was very minimal with the majority of our travels through the country being done by air. However we did have a very enjoyable trip withVIA Rail, my first experience with them, from Winnipeg to The Pas on the Winnipeg – Churchill service. With VIA not running long distance trains every day of the week it makes it hard to be able to use any other form of travel, unless of course you’ve got months to spare……
Having arrived into Winnipeg by air we soon found out from the information desk what bus we needed to catch into town, and where to get off near to our hotel, the Humphrey Inn & Suites. As it turned out our bus driver was an Englishman, who was as withered as us to find another English accent on the bus. Our journey into town was free as a result!
The Humphrey Inn & Suites is in walking distance of Winnipeg Union Railway Station, it was quite a nice hotel too, the staff were very friendly and told us all the best places to eat and drink nearby.
Our VIA Rail train #693 1205 Winnipeg Union – Churchill was formed of 2 x VIA Rail F40’s (6413/6421), baggage car, 2 x coach car, dome/dining car & sleeping car, only load 5. And with only 12 people on board we set off at 1205, bang on time. We spent the whole of the journey in the dome car talking to other passengers, there were more foreigners than natives on board and two other English folk too! The on board staff had been doing the run for years, and years, one of which could even remember the “good old days” when VIA used to use MLW FPA4s! What we’d have done to have those on the front of the train eh…..?
Lunch on board wasn’t up to much, just sandwiches or a burger, however dinner was nothing short of excellent. Freshly prepared by the travelling chef. My beef was cracking. Unfortunately VIA have now replaced the travelling chef with microwave meals…….
The pouring rain we’d started out from Winnipeg in gave way in the afternoon to glorious sunshine, which made for some fantastic viewing from the dome car, which was by all accounts a trial putting it on the train. It certainly cut out the monotony of what the journey would probably have been.
The only downfall of the trip was the fact that we got dumped into The Pas, Manitoba at 0220 the following morning, while everyone else on board was asleep. The inbound Churchill – Winnipeg was already in the station waiting to leave when we arrived.
Having been delivered by VIA to The Pas, Manitoba, at 0220 on a Monday morning imagine how pleased we were to find the pre-arranged pick-up not waiting for us. Thankfully a 50c phone call rectified that and we were soon at the Kikiwak Inn, getting some much needed sleep. Later that morning we had breakfast before heading down to the station again. The hotel was only a mile or so from the station and offered very decent accommodation indeed, the breakfast was good too.
When we’d planned the trip to ride on the Keewatin Railway Co. passenger train from The Pas to Pukatawagan, we’d been expecting the Keewtain’s own locos to have worked the train and had actually attempted to make sure the guys running the train had provided them for our visit. Despite our efforts both the MLW M420’s (which had been the sole purpose of our trip really) were out of use on shed, we found out later from the train crew that the MLW’s had set quite a big fire near Sherridon due to them having no spark arrestors. The fact was #2402 was on shed, serviceable, according to the shed staff but #2401 was clearly out of service, evident by the fact its engine room doors were open with various parts resting on the foot-boards. The result of which was that the locos were provided by Hudson Bay Railway Co. in the form of two very battered GM GP40-2LWs #3005 & 3001 in multi.
The stock for the train was ex VIA Rail, of which there were three coaches, attached to the rear of the freight wagons. People were waiting on the platform as we arrived, when it began to snow! We bought our tickets from the makeshift counter in the station booking hall. Once boarding commenced it was a free for all with everyone saving seats for everyone else. Thankfully we managed to get two seats right at the back of the back coach.
Having heard “the” stories about the natives and “their” train we braced ourselves for the worst journey of our lives but were actually pleasantly surprised. Despite the youngsters smoking drugs on the back veranda of the train and the mild drinking, the journey was ok. The on board crew told us later though that we’d picked one of the best days they’d had in recent months…….
With the train being GM’s vice our expected MLW’s there was no need for us to go to Pukatawagan and we’d made last minute arrangements for accommodation in Cranberry Portage, only 88km out of town. By the time we got there i was ready for getting off. It was an absolute stagger and took 4h37m to get there, which equated to a massive average speed of 12mph! Thankfully our lift to the Caribou Lodge was still patiently waiting for us.
The Lodge was right on the edge of the First Cranberry Lake, surrounded by some fantastic scenery. Our accommodation comprised of a twin cabin with en-suite. Meals were provided for us, at additional cost, and we were allowed to stay over in the lodge the following morning to pass away some time before the train back to The Pas. The strangest thing we came across during our stay there were Tetley Teabags! It was so good to get a proper cuppa out in the middle of nowehere. The English reading this will understand……
After spending some time rattling around Cranberry Portage, talking to random locals, all asking the same question “why are you here?”, we hung around the closed, desolate, graffiti ridden station, not really knowing what time the train would turn up. It was booked away from Cranberry Portage at 1700 but thankfully the crew had told us that it would be more like 1500 and at 1515 it turned up.
The loco’s were immediately detached from the passenger coaches and were used to shunt 5 empty flat wagons on to the front of the consist, which then had the coaches sandwiched between freight wagons. After we’d got our photos we boarded a deserted train. The only other people on the train when it left Cranberry Portage were the two train crew and two natives, who were in no rush to get to The Pas, and very pissed! The crew told us that people always get off at Cranberry Portage and make the rest of the journey to The Pas by road. It takes 45 minutes instead of 4 hours and costs the same. People just turn up in their cars and offer lifts back to make a bit of money. As a result we enjoyed a very civilised journey back to The Pas indeed. This time taking 3h50m, an average of 14.4mph.
Back in The Pas we had enough daylight left to take a trip round the Hudson Bay Railway Co’s shed, which had been pre-arranged before our trip but we still made sure it was ok with the guys on the shed before wondering round.
On shed in service were the following locos:
KRC 2402 & 2403
HBR 5004, 5517, 5007, 4200, 713, 3002, 5005, 5006 & 5001
Stored out of service were:
HBR 9522, 2509, 3550, 3787, 3764 & 3788
OMLX 3108, 3737, 4389 & 1750
Our departure from The Pas was with Bearskin Airlines from The Pas airport, the following morning, to Winnipeg, then on to Vancouver and finally Whitehorse in the Yukon to embark on some travelling on one of the most scenic railways in the world, in my opinion, the White Pass & Yukon Route. The Kikiwak Inn offer a free transfer to/from the airport too, which is nice as it’s about a $75 taxi ride otherwise, apparently.