VIA Rail Canada

The Canadian railroad scene has differed radically from that of the United States in that it has been dominated by two giant, transcontinental carriers: Canadian Pacific, a private road, and Canadian National, a ward of the government. But despite a gallant, creative effort by CN in the '60s to reinvigorate passenger service with refurbished equipment, aggressive marketing, and flexible pricing, Canadian passenger trains eventually came to be beset with problems much akin to the woes faced by their U.S. counterparts.

In the mid-1970s, the Canadian government chose a solution that mirrored Amtrak, and VIA Rail Canada evolved. First, CN's services came under the VIA banner. Then, with the change from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time in the fall of 1976, a joint VIA timetable included both CN and CP trains. Finally, in September of 1978, Canadian Pacific's passenger trains came directly under VIA's auspices.


VIA's creation from two railroads' passenger trains was enormously simpler than Amtrak's amalgamation of 20 different companies' services. For years, not much changed in operational patterns.

Canada's greatest train, CP's stainless-steel Canadian (Budd-built in 1954), continued to ply its outrageously scenic route between Montreal/Toronto and Vancouver-basically with its original equipment, including a pair of domes, though former Canadian National "Daynighter" coaches (with wide spacing and leg rests, for overnight travel) were added. Their smooth, Cor-Ten steel sides, painted VIA blue with yellow stripes, clashed with the fluted cars of Budd's Canadian.


Though in later years VIA would fall on hard political times and suffer massive train-offs in the process, passenger railroading north of the border was (and, selectively, remains) a fine experience in the VIA era.

Read more about the history of railroads with these articles: