Planes, trains & automobiles

Faster is not always better

There are many ways to get around a country the size of Canada. 

There was a time (a lot of time) before the existence of Boeing 747s and other contraptions that make it possible for a person to cross an ocean or a vast country in just a few hours. How did we do it? Well, for several hundred years, trains were the answer.  

Trains carry both freight and passengers year-round. They rumble through our cities regularly and sometimes keep us awake at night or waiting impatiently at railway crossings. But now that travelers can opt to reach a destination by plane in two hours rather than two days, trains don’t play as central a role in passenger travel as they once did.

I’m grateful for airplanes and the amazing places they’ve flown me, but perhaps they’re not the be-all-end-all means of cross-land, long-distance travel.

As a visiting student from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, getting to the University of Winnipeg for the first day of classes required more than hopping on a city bus or riding my bike down Portage. I had to make some travel arrangements and was faced with this decision: plane or train?

There was no price difference between plane or train economy classes (though apparently VIA Rail offers some sweet deals if you look for them). I decided to take the train.

While the sleeper cars looked comfortable and the meals were included, a more expensive ticket option would have been nice, and I was pleased with my economy-class train experience. 

What made it for me was the people I met and the beauty I saw. I could see where I was and where I was going, and it seemed like people had time to talk (okay, they definitely had time to talk), but it also seemed like quite a few of them actually wanted to. 

People on vacation, people working, people from different countries, were all looking out windows and watching Canada pass them by.

We were not hurtling through the air, plugged into individual in-flight entertainment systems and trying to ignore each other. We were trying to find comfortable ways to sleep in our seats, getting to know each other, eating a four-course meal or two (very delicious, though pricy for economy-class travellers), and even listening to a live musical duo, The Travelling Vagabonds (Through the Artists on Board program, VIA Rail has musicians entertain passengers in exchange for free travel).

On a plane, it often feels like you’re rushing. On the train it’s different. It feels long at times, but it’s lovely and I highly recommend it as a way to get to know and appreciate this country and some of its people a bit better.

Rachel Dyck is a visiting student at University of Winnipeg from the University of Waterloo, Ontario. She is taking an English major and a French minor and is enjoying Winnipeg so far!

Published in Volume 69, Number 4 of The Uniter (September 24, 2014)

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