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Via Rail Train Travel Tips

Travelling by train can be economical and relaxing if you plan ahead and use some simple strategies. Here, two experts offer practical Vial Rail train travel tips to keep you rolling along happily.

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Via Rail Travel Tips: Go Green and Save

Going Green

Concerned about reducing your carbon footprint? The train is becoming increasingly recognized as an environmentally friendly travel option. A train can use up to 70% less energy and produces up to 85% less air pollution than air travel, according to Climate Action Network Europe. Via Rail has cut fuel consumption by 25% and greenhouse gas emissions by 13% per passenger kilometre since 1990, while operating 25% more trains and carrying 18% more passengers. New cleaner running locomotives were purchased in 2001 and old ones are being rebuilt to reduce fuel consumption by 5 million litres per year and eliminate another 15 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. On the trains, the napkins and toilet paper are made from recycled material and the coffee and tea are fair trade. Compared to other modes of travel? Comparing fuel efficiency of different modes of transportation: an Amtrak train uses 2,100 BTUs (British Thermal Units) per passenger-mile, while an automobile averages 3,597 BTUs per passenger mile (based on 1.6 passengers) and an airline uses 3,890 BTUs per passenger mile, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Keeping Costs Down

It may not always be cheaper than travelling by plane or automobile, but the train does have benefits. For one, you get to enjoy the scenery along the way-something you can’t do if you’re on a plane, even if it is the quickest way to get from, say, Toronto to Vancouver. And you don’t lose time stopping to stretch your legs, eat, or sleep, as you would travelling across the country by car. So keep in mind the kind of trip you’ll get for your money and whether the savings are worth the trade offs.

We’ve got several Via Rail travel tips for you. Did you know railways often have deals, especially in the summer-companion passes, kids travel free or at a discount, senior and student discounts. So check the railway web sites ( and for special promotions. But be sure to book early because you don’t want to be de-railed by not being able to get tickets.

Sleeper car tickets are more expensive, but you’ll be more comfortable on a long journey, according to Loren Christie, a Toronto-based travel contributor for Canada AM. On Via Rail, sleeper cars can accommodate one to three people. Double bedrooms feature single bunk-style beds, and the triple bedrooms, a bunk-style bed and a couch that converts into a day bed. Some routes simply have upper and lower berths that are not enclosed accommodations (more options are available on routes out west). You can save on sleeper class tickets in some instances if you book at least five days in advance. And if you’re traveling with little ones, here’s a handy travel tip: try to book an end car so you don’t have to worry about your kids disturbing other passengers, recommends Vancouver-based Claire Newell, author of Travel Best Bets.

Packages that include train tickets, hotel, car rental and/or attractions are also an option if you are looking to save money on your next trip. This past year, for example, Via teamed up with spas in Ontario to offer a package that included train fare, accommodation, meals and spa treatment.


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Via Rail Travel Tips: Packing, Food & Entertainment

Packing Policy

It can be a hassle retrieving stored luggage, so try to pack all your belongings into a carry-on if you’re just going on a short trip. For long distance travel, you may need to store your luggage, but Newell still advises taking a carry-on on board. In your carry-on include: medication, toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, change of clothing, kids’ activities, snacks and valuables. “You don’t want to put any valuables at all in your checked luggage. I learned the hard way. It was a digital camera [that I lost].”

Fixed for Food

For short journeys, it’s often economical and satisfying to pack your own snacks than to purchase from the snack cart. “If you have anything in the way of food allergies or dietary concerns just take your own on board,” Newell suggests. Apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, sandwiches and granola bars all travel well. Likewise, juice boxes are great for kids.

For longer journeys, however, the dining car may be a better option. “A big part of the love of train travel is hearing the clank and the rattle of the dishes,” says Christie. He also says the food is surprisingly good. “Better than you would think,” with a couple of menu selections for appetizers, main meals and desserts.

Keeping snacks on board for longer journeys may not work out that well. So find out where the train stops and for how long. For instance, when Christie worked as a tour guide taking people from Toronto to Vancouver by train, they often had an hour-long stop in Winnipeg, where passengers had time to get off and buy snacks at a corner store.

Keeping Everyone Amused

These Via Rail travel tips are aimed at making kids happy. At some point, you might need more than the scenery to keep you amused. Christie recommends taking along books, magazines, a deck of cards (his favourite) and a map to follow your progress on a long journey. If you’re traveling with kids, take toys, games and activities to keep boredom at bay. Be sure to avoid games with too many little pieces that can easily get lost on a moving train. Portable DVD players and video games as well as digital music players can also keep kids entertained. Some trains also have activity cars, including the routes from Toronto to Vancouver and Montreal to Halifax. Via’s Western Transcontinental has the fullest range of options, including cards, board games, movies, bingo and karaoke.

Test Ride

Before going a long journey with kids, Newell suggests taking a short trip with them (an hour or less) to get them used to the experience and sort out any behaviour issues that may arise. Then, they’ll be ready to roll.