The train from Prince Rupert to Jasper takes two days and has an overnight stay in Prince George as it is so slow. I had opted for this as it was a a lot cheaper than the more famous Rocky Mountaineer. It was also more of an adventure. I had read it stopped often for freight trains and there could be delays. This was an understatement! A freight company owns the track and ViaRail lease it from them. Freight always gets priority and does not run to a schedule. The trains can be over 200 carriages long (Robyn counted) and take several minutes to pass.
In theory, it left at 8am. We arrived early as we weren’t sure if, like the ferries, we would have to queue for a boarding pass. We didn’t. There were several people on board we recognised from the bus to Port Hardy and the ferry. We were obviously all following the same route. We found two seats in a group of four, and the conductor warned us we would have to move if a family came on board. Over the next two days, he alternated between being friendly and being very grumpy but always liked talking to Robyn! We upset him in Terrace by moving to better seats when people got off. He had noted those seats were empty and allocated them to someone boarding. He wasn’t happy but forgave us when he saw it was Robyn! We were all given permission to go upstairs to the ‘Bubble’ carriage. He issued orders to limit our time to one hour in the front seat so everyone could have a turn (which was fair enough).
Our first stop for freight was immediate. We moved into a siding and waited for 20 minutes. By the end of the trip, everyone joked we could estimate the length of delay by the ‘freebies’ offered; coffee for a short stop (less than an hour) or coffee and snacks if it was longer. Many of the passengers were English, and stoic is our middle name! However, the delays challenged the patience of an Australian who boarded in Prince George. He loudly demanded free beer and cigarettes, which he did not receive, and was going to write letters! We also noted he occupied the front seat in the ‘Bubble’ for longer than the specified hour and was geographically challenged about B.C..
Over the course of the trip, we talked to most of the people on the train. It wasn’t difficult. There were only two carriages, and they weren’t full. Most people opted for the ‘Bubble’ or the carriage at the back rather than the conventional one.
My first conversation was with a local man travelling with his three-year-old son and baby to Terrace, the first stop. His wife was driving a car and trailer on the road alongside and keeping pace with the train. They owned a Bouncy Castle business and travelled all over the district each weekend. His son loved Thomas the Tank Engine, and they had surprised him with the train trip that morning. According to his dad, he was overjoyed. It wasn’t obvious as the little boy was exceptionally shy. All the passengers waved to his wife as she drove along, waving to her son.
We reached Prince George at 11pm, a mere two-and-a-half hours late. We were lucky. Two weeks previously, the train arrived at 4am! No taxis were waiting but the train staff phoned for them and one soon arrived. It ferried passengers one by one to their hotels. It was pouring with rain or we would have walked. At long last it was our turn. The hotel was a welcome sight!
The journey the second day did not start until 9.45am so we had time for breakfast and a trip to the supermarket to replenish supplies beforehand. It wasn’t a leisurely morning, though, as we got up late and were both still tired.
The delays were fewer that day but otherwise it passed much as the day before. We might even have arrived on time if we hadn’t had an hour sitting on the tracks just outside Jasper, which we reached at 8.30pm. We checked into the Jasper Central Hostel (which, over the next two days, impressed me with its efficiency and organisation) and left in search of dinner. The front desk lady recommended The Raven, which was an excellent choice. We shared two starters and had a glass of wine each. It was all delicious.