'Not a lot of happy faces' on holiday train delayed 16 hours from Saskatoon to Winnipeg

When Todd Peterson and his son boarded a Via Rail train headed east Monday morning in Melville, it was already more than 12 hours late.

Passengers describe five-hour pauses in travel

Via Rail has been experiencing delays of over 12 hours on some of its trips throughout Western Canada this Easter weekend. (Canadian Press)

When Todd Peterson and his son boarded a Via Rail train headed east Monday morning in Melville, it was already more than 12 hours late.

The pair were headed to Toronto to visit colleges. They were supposed to board at 12:50 p.m. CST Sunday, Peterson said. Instead, it was 2 a.m. CST Monday morning.

"I assume we're going to be over a day late," Peterson said by phone while still on board. 

The pair had planned to take in a Blue Jays game, but will probably miss it. 

"This was supposed to be a pretty good trip. We were supposed to see the country," said Peterson. He won't be taking the train home, as he had planned.

"This is a one-and-done. We'll be talking to Via when we get to Toronto. Hopefully we get our money back."

Train unprepared for long delays

According to Peterson, food service was shut down for the night when he got on the train, leaving passengers with no access to food or water for hours.

"There was a person getting off in Melville and she called her husband and had him bring her food and water from home," he said.

Because of the long delays, the woman's sister, who was continuing on to Winnipeg, didn't have enough to eat for the rest of the trip.

It's really hard to plan because you prepare for a day trip and all of a sudden you're boarding your train at midnight and you're on a night train.- Kerry Fraser, Via Rail passenger

Many people were unprepared for an overnight train ride. Meal services do not extend all night, making it impossible to purchase food at such a late hour.

Kerry Fraser and her family got off the train long before Peterson's final destination, but still arrived over 16 hours late to their destination.

"We got on the train in Saskatoon yesterday at 2 p.m.," she said by phone prior to their arrival in Winnipeg. Fraser and her family were travelling home to Winnipeg after visiting her parents for the Easter holiday.

She echoed Peterson's concerns about others on the train.

"People are under-prepared for food. When we travelled from Winnipeg to Saskatoon, we were 11-hours delayed. It's really hard to plan because you prepare for a day trip and all of a sudden you're boarding your train at midnight and you're on a night train."

When morning came on the trip to Saskatoon, Fraser had to request breakfast for her family, who hadn't eaten overnight.

She said that on the train home to Winnipeg people in coach, especially, were perturbed.

"You're sleeping in a chair, there's limited services, and at any given time, like last night, we spent five hours outside Melville waiting for trains to pass."

Stopped for freight traffic

Kerry Fraser's 10-year-old twins, Charlotte and Benjamin, have been spending their time reading, watching movies, and sleeping on their long train ride home to Winnipeg. (Kerry Fraser)
Both Peterson and Fraser mentioned long periods without any movement over the course of the trip, as the passenger train pulled over to allow freight to pass.

"By looking at it, the big problem with traffic is the trains are up to two miles long, and the sidings are only just over a mile long. So they have to let the big trains through. The shorter ones are the only trains that will fit on the siding," Peterson said.

Despite the delays, onboard staff "have been very kind," according to Fraser.

"It's not their fault," she said.

"On a train, there's no compensation at all. They're under no obligation to give you anything. So they're not in a position to refund our tickets, give us travel credits, or even provide us with food."

Fraser's 10-year-old twins, at least, were having a good time.

"I'm watching some movies and drawing, but it's getting really boring because sometimes we stop for two hours, move for half an hour, and stop for another five hours," said Charlotte Dorrington.

"I like it," her brother Benjamin said of the train.

"When there's not a thirteen-hour delay like we had on the way to Saskatoon."

A spokesperson from Via Rail said that heavy railway traffic is to blame for the 16-hour delay.

"Freight trains play an essential role in the Canadian economy, which is why we continuously work with the infrastructure owners to improve the efficiency and on-time performance of both services," said Mylène Bélanger in an email.

About the Author

Bridget Yard

Reporter

Bridget Yard is a video journalist based in Saskatoon. She has also worked for CBC in Fredericton and Bathurst, N.B.