Trekking Tales: The pros and cons of boarding a VIA Rail train in Clearwater

Our train rolled quietly into the station, an hour and 10 minutes late

“You know my husband is a train fanatic,” my sister Vera from Brisbane, Australia had explained, as she planned a fine trip to spend three weeks with the B.C. part of our family. Our youngest sister Edwina, from Cairns, realizing this was the perfect time to come, joined the expedition. Vera’s route included going from Jasper to Prince Rupert and by ferry to Port Hardy.

“The passenger train going to Jasper stops right here in Clearwater,” I hastened to tell her.

“How much of that part of the trip do you want to come on?” she asked. “Talk it over with John.”

With no persuasion from me, my husband gave the right answer: “All of it!”

After spending time with other family members, our Quesnel sister (Valerie) brought them to Clearwater. On Saturday, July 4, friends took five of us and suitcases to the station about half an hour before the train was due – as instructed. Some luggage was there, but no owner. Nor was there a soul to be seen despite the abundance of vehicles; all the buildings were locked. No problem; we had our tickets.

“Is that a train coming?” someone exclaimed. Nope, it was the rattle of planks on the single lane bridge across the North Thompson River. We heard more sounds that made us think we’d soon be on board. A freight train chugged by. “Oh-oh!” We knew there had to be at least 15 minutes between trains. At the precise moment our conveyance was due a passenger train came – from the north. A couple of us had waved in friendly fashion, and perhaps that is why it stopped. “Are you coming on board?” asked a conductor after the engineer radioed them. Oops!

“When will our train come?” we asked, thinking there would be radio contact.

“Yours should be on time.”

“It’s already late.”

“It will be along soon-ish…” Obviously they had no knowledge of where it was and when it would arrive. If the engineer knew, he wasn’t telling. “We are running 12 hours late!” they called as they headed southbound, leaving Clearwater Station behind them. Gulp…

When yet another freight train rattled by, we started to worry. “We aren’t leaving until we’re sure we won’t have to drive you to Jasper,” stated our considerate friends firmly. The temperature was rising quickly, shade was minimal to almost non-existent, and the only places to sit were on some wooden steps and a small, ragged old bench. Certainly insufficient for this group which now included the other passenger and her well-wishers.

I tried phoning the emergency number up on the wall, which was a mistake, for, although it did not say anything, this was strictly for freight trains. The operator said she would put me through to Via Rail, but after long minutes of listening to unending clicks and crackles on my cell phone, I gave up. The way the temperature was rising, the real emergency in this group could be heat stroke – not to mention becoming somewhat hot under the collar. There wasn’t even a timetable of passenger trains or any other sign that anyone might know you could catch a train here. We had no pressing connections to make since we were staying overnight in Jasper but the frustration was in not knowing how long we could be waiting. There was no phone number for Customer Service on our tickets.

Since no WiFi existed there, one of our faithful friends said, “I’ll go home, try the computer, and call you.” That was the magic moment. No sooner had she left, rattling across that blue bridge, when our train rolled quietly into the station, an hour and 10 minutes late. Our friend just made it back in time for goodbye hugs.

 

After passing our suitcases up to the welcoming conductor, we found comfy seats, and breathed great sighs of relief. We were on our way.