Across British Columbia by Train: Jasper (Alberta) to Vancouver

1 Pyramid Mountain
Pyramid Mountain (seen here in the morning sun) towers above the Pyramid Lake and its resort.  Lowell Silverman photography, 2014

My parents and I returned to Jasper, Alberta from Lake Louise the afternoon of Monday, October 20, 2014.  We stayed the night at the Pyramid Lake Resort.  The morning of October 21, we drove out to Maligne Lake and visited Maligne Canyon on the way back.

23 Maligne Lake
Maligne Lake in HDR.

There’s not a whole lot to tell about our brief visit to the lake, but here’s a picture of an adorable red squirrel taken while hiking along part of the Mary Schaffer Loop.

720Red-Squirrel

We drove back to Jasper and returned our rental car.  Our train, the westbound Via Rail Canadian was on schedule.  (We’d taken an earlier train from Toronto and done a four day stopover in the Canadian Rockies).

720LaurentideParkJasper
Laurentide Park on the Canadian at Jasper

Unlike the earlier train, this one was in a shorter winter consist of 2 locomotives and 12 cars instead of 19.  Another notable difference was that Laurentide Park, the dome/lounge car bringing up the end of the train, had been modernized.  (For a comparison of the old and new Park cars, please read my Introduction to Via Rail’s Canadian.)

18 Jasper Station
Jasper Railway Station
720Jasper-interior
Interior of Jasper Railway Station. This is one of Canada’s Heritage Railway Stations

While waiting to board, I checked out an old CN steam locomotive on display near the station.

3 Old Steam Engine

We checked our luggage and got our dinner reservations before boarding the train at 2:15pm MDT.  The train departed on time at 2:30pm.   Although the train passed from Alberta into British Columbia almost immediately at Yellowhead Pass, for convenience the train crew didn’t adopt the latter province’s Pacific Daylight Time until after dinner.

5 Mt Robson
Mount Robson

From one of the domes, we got a look at Mount Robson, which at 3,954 m (12,972′) is the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies.  According to my father, it has a reputation for being cloud-shrouded more often than not, similar to Alaska’s Denali.

7 Yellow BC Forest
Forest in British Columbia

Along the route there were some stands of trees that were still adorned with fall foliage.

8 Rainbow BC

8a Rainbow BC

About two hours into the journey we saw a rainbow, though only for a matter of seconds (probably because the movement of the train changed our vantage point quickly to a position where the water droplets couldn’t catch the sunlight the right way).

9 The Canadian BC

10 Dramatic Skies BC
Dramatic skies after passing through a rain squall

During dinner, we passed Pyramid Creek Falls (no relation to Pyramid Mountain or Pyramid Lake).  The Canadian is actually the best way to see the falls since the road running parallel to the railroad is much further away.  The engineer slowed down briefly so passengers would have the best views possible (which I’m quite thankful for, since all my shots but the photograph above were spoiled by motion blur or reflections from the glass).

The Canadian was actually running ahead of schedule.  Factors explaining this success would be padding built into the schedule, little interference from freight trains, and the fact that all stations between Jasper and Kamloops were flag stops.  If nobody had purchased a ticket for those flag stops by a certain deadline, the train could speed through the station or depart early.

13 Blue River HDR
Blue River in HDR

We arrived in the rather run-down town of Blue River, British Columbia an incredible 1 hour and 10 minutes early.  The train held for 10 minutes and the crew let passengers stretch their legs on the platform.  A few walked across the street to the old store with its rusty metal roof.

12 Blue River Store
Store in Blue River

We stayed in the Park car until past dusk.  I listened to a few songs by a musician giving a performance in the “bullet lounge” at the end of the car.  Apparently Via has a program in which entertainers can apply to get free transportation in exchange for giving performances en route.

14 Live Entertainment

I was tired and retired to my berth pretty early, around 8:30pm PDT.  The section of the journey between Jasper and Vancouver is rather slow; subtracting the scheduled 35-minute stop in Kamloops, the train is scheduled to make the 534.9 mile (860.8 km) journey at an average speed of only 26.3 mph (43.9 kph).  Ours must have been running a bit faster to stay ahead of schedule, but not nearly as fast as the train had been running across the prairie.  The one advantage of the slow speed is that the journey is smoother and sleeping is much easier than during the higher-speed segments.

I awoke around 5am the morning of Wednesday, October 22, 2014.  It was raining heavily.  Though it was still dark outside, there was enough ambient light to see we were traveling along the Fraser River Canyon.  Although a scenic highlight, it’s really only visible in daylight to travelers on the Canadian when the train is running behind schedule westbound (and not at all eastbound).  Scheduling trade-offs like this are part of the reason the shorter and more expensive Rocky Mountaineer travels only during the day, with passengers spending the night in a hotel rather than on the train.  The previous evening’s run ahead of schedule undoubtedly ended at Kamloops (since we couldn’t depart there early like the flag stops).  However, the train was again ahead of schedule by about 25 minutes by morning.

15 Empty Park Car

I made my way to the Park car.  At this early hour, I had it all to myself.  It was positively cozy and had a different atmosphere than daylight hours when it was crowded with people.

720NewParkCar
Laurentide Park

Around 6am, some passengers arrived and the attendant turned the rest of the lights on, ending my solitude.  We passed Abbotsford, the last flag stop, around 6:30am.  The rain stopped as the sun came up, though it was still a pretty gloomy day.  I joined my parents for the last meal on the train, a breakfast of eggs, toast, potatoes, and fruit.

16 Crossing the river
The Canadian approaching the Fraser River
17 Bridges
Fraser River

The Canadian slowly approached the outskirts of Vancouver and crossed the Fraser River.  During the last portion of the journey, the train’s pace was at a crawl.  In fact, the automated commuter SkyTrains blew past us several times on their separate elevated tracks.

18 Backing In
The Canadian backing in at Vancouver

Entering the rail yard in Vancouver, the front of the train ended up out by the Rocky Mountaineer‘s station before slowly backing into Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station.  We disembarked from the train at 8:30am, one hour and 12 minutes ahead of schedule.  My father commented that this incredible performance shows how well the train could perform without the interference from freight trains that sometimes has the Canadian running five to seven hours behind schedule.

After picking up out checked baggage, we caught a taxi to our hotel located near Stanley Park.  We didn’t have any particularly grand adventures in Vancouver…but in the interest of completeness, stay tuned for next post, which will bring this series on Canada to a close with a gallery of photos taken while exploring the city.

19 Vancouver Sta
Pacific Central Station, Vancouver

Series on Via Rail Canada’s Canadian

Introduction to Via Rail’s Canadian

Night of Departure and Day One (Across Ontario by Train)

Day Two (Three Hours at The Forks in Winnipeg, Manitoba)

Day Two (Across the Prairies of Manitoba and Saskatchewan)

Day Three (Across Alberta by Train: Edmonton to Jasper)

Day Three—journey resumed after stopover in Canadian Rockies—and Day Four (Across British Columbia by Train: Jasper (Alberta) to Vancouver)

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