I planned a trip over Labor day weekend on the VIA train from Jasper to Prince Rupert for my son and myself as kind of a last chance at summer mini vacation...
I now live in Calgary while my son lives in Prince George with his mom, so at first look this seemed like a perfect weekend escape, I would leave Jasper on Friday, pick up my son in Prince George and carry on to Prince Rupert on Saturday, returning to Prince George on Sunday enjoying the scenery and the renaissance of using a mode of travel firmly set in the last century... I would return to Jasper and onward to Calgary on Monday... Labor day.
The #5 VIA train left Jasper on time and with some freight related delays we ended up about an hour late into Prince George... Not horrible, but indeed the station was closed, fortunately I had made arrangements to be picked up at the station, although I had to wait for a bit as there is no cellular coverage on the CN line until entering the CN rail yards... Arriving at 8:15 instead of 7:10 pm wasn't the end of the world for me, but surely was an inconvenience for those without contacts in Prince George.
The second leg of the journey wasn't quite as punctual, which caused the train to be over 2 1/2 hour delay in arrival in Prince Rupert, where at least the station was open and they had arranged cabs for everyone. The train was supposed to leave at 8am from Prince George, but due to the train crew not getting a mandated break because of delays the previous day didn't leave until after 9am... and no VIA rail staff except the porters from the train.
It's at this point that I must commend the Tourism Prince George staff... holy crow, they were awesome, they had coffee and snacks for sale and were more than helpful in assisting where they could... unfortunately, not getting any help from VIA Rail...
The trip to Prince Rupert was pretty uneventful, except for all the freight related delays, the longest was when we were parked 1.5km outside the Prince Rupert station for more than an hour. As a result we didn't get to our hotel until 11:30 pm and needed to be back at the station at 7:30 am, so unfortunately we didn't get to spend even a short evening exploring downtown Prince Rupert... which from the trip to and from the rail station looks pretty awesome! We will be returning and plan on spending a few days... FYI.
The return trip to Prince George was as delayed as the trip out complete with a delay parked just outside of Prince George of more than an hour... in a cellular dead zone, so no-one could let contacts know of where we were, and with the station closed left folks waiting in the dark for us to arrive. Posted arrival time was 8:30 pm, we didn't arrive until after 11pm. Again, everything was dark and folks who had booked rooms were left to fend for themselves.
Once again, on Monday morning the Tourism Prince George were awesome, not much of a VIA rail presence to speak of. The train from Prince George to Jasper was (surprise!) on time, something I don't think happens very often.
It might be in Tourism Prince George's interest to consider expanded service at the VIA Rail station, It would be nice if there were more services close to the station, perhaps a Starbucks or a Timmies. If VIA is abandoning Prince George as a station, perhaps Tourism Prince George could extend hours at the station to assist the foreign tourists who are currently left feeling Prince George is a little backwoods stop in the middle of no-where. Where you arrive in the middle of the night and find your way to your accommodations without assistance, and after short nap, make your way back to the station to find no service except Tourism Prince George.
In closing, nice work Tourism Prince George! In spite of VIA Rail showing that they don't want to be in the passenger rail business... oh wait, that IS their business!!