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Westbound: Banff >> Kanloops >> Vancouver

This page recounts the westbound leg  of a 2013 trip on the Rocky Mountaineer running through spectacular scenery in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The basic ride is from Calgary / Banff to Vancouver or Edmonton / Jasper to Vancouver (or reverse).

We travelled Banff - Vancouver - Jasper, with Brewster tour bus from Jasper back to Banff where our car had been parked. This route is 5 daya on the train with stops to overnight at hotels so the mountains can be seen in daylight. It also gives 15 gourmet meals and a seemingly infinite supply of snacks and drinks.

Well that was the plan, anyway. Mother Nature and  a few technical problems made the trip a lot morre interesting than usual. None of these issues were the fault of the Mountaineer trains or the RM team, who coped extremely well. It is also highly unlikely that our series adventures will ever be repeated.

Read more on this page, then trace the return journey using the links at the right to see "The Rest of the Story" that took us to Jasper, twice!


The Rocky Mountaineer (RM) is the other world-class, world-famous streamline passenger train and has been operating in Canada since 1990. The trains are privately owned and run on Canadian Pacific or Canadian National tracks in Alberta and British Columbia, and more recently into the state of Washington. They carry about 100,000 passengers a year from late April to early October. Photos on this page by Sonja.

Rocky Mountaineer route map

RM's Gold Leaf service uses custom-built "UltraDome" double deck rolling stock, lead by rebuilt ex-CNR GP 40-2 locomotives. The upper deck seats 72 under a full glass dome, with dining for 36 at each seating in the lower level. They were built by Colorado Car Company, and are identical to those on the Denali Park line in Alaska. The cars have a kitchen at the front end, with the bar and snack area above, and an outdoor balcony/observation deck at the rear, which doubles as the entrance to the car. This means the train must be turned after each trip to get everything facing forward again. In Gold Leaf, try to get a seat mid to rear of the car - it is noisy up front with all that kitchen and bar activity. Crew cars are tacked on the end of the train so you can't see back along the track from the balcony, even if you are on the last dome car.

Silver Leaf service uses single level dome cars with meals served at the seat, airplane style. Red Leaf service has no domes but good picture windows. These are refurbished equioment from CNR's 1950 to 1980's streamliner, the "Trans Continental".

RM trains stop for the night so that scenery is mostly viewed in daylight. Comfort, fittings, food, and staff are top of the line. The RM crew tell good stories and provide accurate history and local lore without being too intrusive.

Gold Leaf UltraDome                      Silver Leaf Dome                          Red Leaf Coach

Whistler Dome                     Whistler Coach
Photos from RM website

Like Via's "Canadian", the trains run on CPR or CNR tracks following or meeting 120+ cars of freight. Rail Traffic Control in Calgary does a good job of guiding trains to "running" meets to reduce downtime along the line, but breakdowns on the freights are frequent, so each trip on the RM is an adventure, some more so than others, as will be seen below. Delays are not usually the fault of the RM system, and the staff cope with delays very well; food and drink soothes the savage in most of beasts.

The Train to Nowhere: Banff -- Spiral Tunnels -- Banff
Our trip was definitely an adventure. It began in mid-June and didn't end until mid-September. Read on to find out why.

We planned a full circle tour of RM routes starting with Banff to Vancouver, returning via Whistler, Quesnel and Jasper. The adventure began at Banff when the RM failed to show due to a broken coupler on the freight in front of it. After shuttling the bad-order car to a side track in Banff, the freight trundled past, followed by our Mountaineer. After loading 550+ passengers, we headed out through the Rockies. Breakfast was served at noon as we passed Lake Louise. Still climbing through the great scenery, we crossed the Great Divide at 5332 feet elevation and stopped before entering the Spiral Tunnels. It soon became clear that the freight had jumped the track inside the tunnel.

Our hotel in Banff, the Rimrock Resort                   

After a 3 or 4 hour wait, our train backed downhill to Lake Louise where we stopped for the lunch (now supper) service. Several more hours passed, then we backed all the way to Banff, amid considerable frivolity from the 26 Ausies onboard our car. The Glenfiddich may have helped. This may be the longest backward passenger train ride ever undertaken (47 miles), but the Guinness Book of World Records has no category for this feat.

Meanwhile, back in the office, the RM staff found hotel rooms in Banff for the entire train load and we disembarked 12 hours after our departure, right back where we started. RM offered a cash rebate or a "free" two-day trip as compensation for the delay, even though it wasn't their fault.


Banff Station -- a Canadian Heritage Station

Waiting ......                                             The Cause of it all

Wild RIDE: Banff -- KAMLOOPS
The next morning found us all onboard 11 RM buses, hastily brought in overnight from Kamloops, to get us to Kamloops. These were old units with 4-speed manual transmissions and a 50 foot linkage. The drivers had been up most of the night getting to Banff and were used to short hauls in Kamloops from hotel to train and back. The gear shifting skills on a few were not up to highway speeds and Rocky Mountain hills. By the time we reached the Park Bridge, frantic radio chatter between drivers, and the smell of burning brake shoes, were very noticeable.

Sharp-eyed bus riders noticed our train exiting the Spiral Tunnels en route to Kamloops -- but we were not onboard. The tunnel was now clear and we still had 7 hours to go to catch up.

RM arranged a lunch and museum tour at Three Valley Gap, BC, and a stop at Craigellachie, BC, where the Last Spike on the first Canadian transcontinental railway was driven.

A 1922 0-4-0 Mining Locomotive at Three Valley Gap Museum

Craigellachie BC, location of the Last Spike on the Canadian Pacific Railway Nov 1885

Kamloops Train Yard: Snowplow and MOW Crew Car

Kamloops Yard

We boarded our train again early morning and headed through the spectacular Thompson and Fraser Valleys to Vancouver. This is the most scenic section of the trip because of the steepness of the valley walls and dozens of tunnels and bridges. The intricate track work and bridges on both sides of the rivers speaks to the difficulty the original track layers faced in the mid-1880's. We arrived "on-time" but a day late. So was the train really "on time"? We missed a day touring Vancouver, so I think it was really late.

On arrival, we got checked-in, walked the Vancouver waterfront, rode to the top of the lookout on the Harbour Centre Tower, and feasted on a wonderful Thai dinner on Hastings St. The calendar was approaching the longest day of the year so there was plenty of daylight to see the sights. Most RM trips don't arrive much before 6 PM so it pays to plan for those long daylight hours.

Our train on the Thompson River west of Kamloops                           Thompson River Valley

                 Thompson River Valley                         Confluence of Thompson and Fraser Rivers

"The Frog" on the Fraser River                          Our Train crossing the Fraser River

Bridges over the mighty Fraser River                            Pedestrian Bridge Over Hell's Gate

More Hell's Gate on the Fraser River

Vancouver skyline from Harbour Center                      Old CPR Station downtown Vancouver

Ships in Vancouver Harbour

Across the Water: VICTORIA and Butchart Gardens
We  had arranged for a bus tour of Vancouver's North Shore, which we had to drop due to our day-late arrival, and a tour to Victoria and Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island. Although RM promised to rearrange bus reservations for us, this didn't happen. The hotel concierge fixed us up and we boarded a Pacific Coach tour that was excellent. The driver was knowledgeable, spoke well, and loved his work. While on the ferry, we had breakfast, watched the Gulf Islands pass by, then drove straight to the Gardens.

World famous from the turn of the 20th century, this is the "must-see" visit in British Columbia. You could spend days here if they would let you. Too soon, we re-boarded the bus for a tour of Victoria's old architecture, the Empress Hotel, and BC's Legislature buildings. A stroll and snack on the water front completed a great visit on the Island. Back to the ferry and late to bed - a long but very pleasant day.

One of the many Gulf Islands                   Fishing boats ply the waves

The Other Ferry Boat                                       Butchart Garden Entrance

____________The Snail Fountain                                The Original Garden In The Quarry

The Famous Rose Garden                                              One of 400+ Rose Varieties

The Empress Hotel, completed in 1908                                          BC Legislature Buildings

Victoria's Inner Harbour (Wikipedia)

Continue to Rocky Mountaineer: Eastbound