THE "ROCKY MOUNTAINEER"
Westbound: Banff >> Kanloops >> Vancouver
This page recounts the westbound leg of a 2013 trip on the
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!
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.
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.
Silver Leaf Dome
Red Leaf 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
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
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
finally: KAMLOOPS -- VANCOUVER
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
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 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)
Rocky Mountaineer: Eastbound