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Re-Train Yourself :

VIA Rail Offers Halifax/Sydney Tourism Run

by Tony Thibault - Editor@Large

Oh the glorious days of rail. When the iron traversed the country, when traveling by land meant taking the train. Canada has a proud rail tradition, one full of history & exploration, not just transportation. As one VIA Rail spokesperson quoted, "part of Canada's fabric". But things are not as they once were. The mighty steam engine has lost its luster. These days, air, car, coach and ship have decreased the once mighty train's market share, especially as people movers. As tracks are being ripped up all across the land, all is not lost, at least not in Nova Scotia.

The Bedford Basin outside Halifax
The Bedford Basin outside Halifax
Here an ambitious new project has been undertaken to offer Train service from Halifax to Sydney as a travel product. Vying for the ever increasing tourist dollar, VIA Rail has partnered with Nova Scotia Tourism & Culture (formerly the Nova Scotia Marketing Agency until the recent change in party power). Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation & Tourism Cape Breton are also part of the initiative. The goal: to boost the travel traffic in the corridor between Halifax and Sydney using the train as the mode of transportation. Will the once glorious rails again carry tourists hungry for all that Nova Scotia has to offer? Time will tell. But if this trial run of the "Bras d'Or" service is any indication of what VIA plans to offer all customers and not just us travel journalist types, I think we have a winner here.
Let me preface this by saying that I may have become an expert on modes of transportation in the last few days. Being shuttled about Atlantic Canada via motor coach, van, plane (both large and small), boats, cars and more. I've been shown around by some wonderful people and seen some spectacular sites. So for this little train ride, I might be a tough sell.

I'm trying to remember the last time I rode the rails? In grade 9 we took off to Ottawa to see our Nation's Capital using the trusty train to transport the class. But as an adult, this is my inaugural voyage. The first thing that strikes me is the room. Elbow room, leg room, lots of rooms. Space! Something sorely lacking in the cramped quarters of my previous few days travel. Then there are the amenities. No stopping for a coffee, meal, or bathroom breaks. It's all here.

The Train turns amid the Fall colours
Taking a Fall Turn

ll in all, this could be the very best way to travel. Take a stroll and make new friends in the sometimes-cramped corridors ;-) The key here is the ability to move about at will, stretch out and most importantly socialize! As I sit in the bar car with some new found friends, I realize that the train allows us the opportunity to interface in a way no other form of mass transportation can.
A house on a Hill !
A House on a Hill

And then there's the scenery. Nova Scotia possesses some wonderful things to see, and that's no secret. The difference here is the way it's presented. Driving is a great way to sightsee, but don't take your eyes of the road. Motor coaches can provide a good vantage point, but we get back to that cramped thing. The Skyline viewing cars (domes or bubbles) of a train gives you the height to really get a panoramic view of things. And what things there are.

n this trip we are in the peak of the Province's fall foliage, though this service won't be introduced until May of 2000. As we meander our way through the tiny passageways carved through the wilderness by the rail line, the scenery is nothing short of breathtaking. The colours are in full bloom and each turn in the track releases another explosion of fall splendour. I'm being physically assaulted by beauty and loving every stunning blow ! (more..)

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