VIA versus Amtrak

The North American Rail Pass is not only good for the States but also for Canada. In fact, one has to travel into Canada as part the agreement to receive the pass. While most people are aware of Amtrak, fewer know that the Canadian equivalent is "VIA." Only one VIA personnel was found to be unfriendly which turned out to be he was just focused on his job. He was a matter-of-fact person whose number one concern was passenger safety and security.

While the average VIA employee is better than the average Amtrak employee, this is due, in part, with the different conditions under which the employees work. Canadian politicians are not captive audiences in the pockets of freight mongers. No better evidence of this is how the worse freight line responsible for the greatest amount of delays is Union Pacific which has one of its vice president on sabbatical as Amtrak's CEO and which has a former board director as Vice-President of the United States, Dick Cheney.

The following lists the difference between the two.

  1. Policies:
    1. VIA doe not cook its schedule books, see Lateness: Cooking The Books
    2. Global Warming: On VIA I was allowed to discuss my findings on global warming including setting up an LCD projector for larger groups. One teacher with 30 students asked if I could do three presenations so the students could ask more questions. On Amtrak, it was the difference between Massachusetts and Texas on the issue of education. On VIA, one employee suggested to the train service manager that I receive a free meal for the entertainment and education that I had provided so many passengers.
    3. Activity Director: Canadian trains have an activity director who organizes events for passengers. Several movies were available with matinee and evening showings. On Amtrak, you are price-gouged for a Railmedia DVD rental where once there had been free movies. (Another example of somebody's free market is really their getting free money.)
    4. Safety: On Amtrak are cards in the pouch on the back of the seat. On VIA, people sitting next to an emergency window are querried about ability and knowledge. Furthermore, on VIA, request for several volunteers to review how to open the doors and steps is followed with the instructions: 1. Drop handrail bar. 2. Open door. 3. Use foot to release false floor. 4. Lift false floor to expose steps. 5. If grade is level, place yellow footstep below lowest step. 6. Assist those who need assistance. (How many emergency exits does a train or plane have? Depends on the severity of the crash!)
  2. Cultural variety:
    1. You meet more people from different nations (30 on one trip) on VIA. Is the reputation of VIA versus Amtrak known worldwide that prompts more foreign nationals to use VIA instead of Amtrak?
    2. Universally, with a few exceptions, the "foreigners" could not answer the following question though they found the answer amusing: If you speak three-languages or two-languages, you are tri-lingual or bi-lingual. What are you if you speak one language? American.
  3. Amenities:
    1. Better observatory cars: VIA has the old bubble top cars. From them you can see 360 degrees, not just 150 degrees on each side. It is a great experience when the train slows to shoo away a herd of deer as well as an occasional elk or moose. In winter, the grain trains dribble grain which attracts hungry wild ruminants to the track. In response to the approaching train blaring its horn, the animals take the path of least resistance, that is, down the track where the snow has melted first. The sequence is like watching a cattle drive only instead of watching from a horse, you are watching from an iron horse. Eventually, the running ruminants tire and turn off the track. Sadly, at night, the animals prove the adage of deers paralyzed by a bright light. One engineer recounted a count of 22 deer that did not move when the train could not stop. If the deer are not near a population center, an engineer can turnoff the headlights and blow the horn to scatter the animals. If an animal is hit, the train must stop for a damage inspection.
    2. Bathrooms: Amtrak's Eastcoast trains have blue scented water for flushing toilets. Midwest trains have plain water ... if lucky--see conductor who said, "You should have told me we were out of water in St. Louis, now we have to wait till Ft. Worth"--see Texas Eagle/Doodle.
    3. Cleanliness: Repeatedly, Amtrak's trains were dirty before leaving station, e.g., Chicago. Never was a VIA found to be dirty when leaving from its first station. Never was an Amtrak employee cleaning the train while underway. Repeatedly, VIA personnel put on Aprons to cleanup during the trip. I watched as they clean the toilets and wiped down the common areas to reduce disease transmission.
    4. VIA has real dining with a real chef. Amtrak has glorified TV diners with a microwave manager called a "chef."
    5. Drinking water: I have never tasted water with an algae tinge on VIA while it was common on Amtrak. Amtrak personnel should drain a quart of water at the beginning of each trip.
    6. Outlets: I never encountered a taped-over electrical outlet on VIA but numerous on Amtrak.
    7. Battery Charging: My efforts to help passengers charge their batteries was never stopped by VIA but on Amtrak, my sign was always taken down.
    8. Seat Adjustment: On VIA, there was no problem turning seats so as to have a more comfortable arrangement. Woe be unto you if you try to get comfortable on Amtrak.
    9. VIA has pillows that are twice the size of Amtrak's powder puffers. VIA hands out blankets for passengers to use for sleep or assignation.
  4. POSH: The origin of the term POSH is supposedly an acronym for the sailing schedule between England and India through the Suez Canal: Port Outbound, Starboard Homebound. Supposedly, the cabins were in cooler on the shaded side of ship so that a premium was paid to travel P.O.S.H.  POSH can be used to describe a distinction between VIA and Amtrak trains in where they place the first and second class sections of passengers. On VIA, the first class section is at the end of the train which is the opposite of Amtrak. One can glean a reason from the experience of both riding on a virtual "Johnny on the spot" and walking along the an Amtrak train when it is in the station. The stench of a leaking honeypots is a consistent odor. Amtrak puts second-class travelers downwind after the first-class cars because of POSH: Potties Often Smell Here.

All together, if you take a transcontinental train, take VIA but be careful what you say to the Canadian Border Guards, more specifically, act dumb and stupid like a drugged patient on a back ward.