Believe it or not travelling in Canada by train CAN be done on a budget, and thanks to Canada’s 150th Anniversary, youth (12-25 years old) can travel anywhere in Canada for the month of July for only $150! – UPDATE: VIA Rail has sold all of the 1,867 passes that were available for $150. That being said, a summer youth pass at regular price is still cheaper than many flights in Canada.

The trick to travelling across Canada on a budget with VIA Rail is to do a little research (which we are doing for you in this post), and be ready to pounce when a deal comes along! We’ve spent HOURS on the VIA Rail Canada website looking for all the information we wanted to include in this post, and thanks to our penchant for being too detailed, this post is rather long (Oops!!).

Note: you’ll probably want to bookmark this post, and then share it as well. Just a wee suggestion. 😉


VIA Rail Routes

Polar Bear swimming in Churchill

Polar Bear swimming in Churchill

Depending on your goals for travelling across Canada, you may need to travel on more than one route offered by VIA Rail – which is a fab idea if you ask me! Here is a breakdown of the routes:

The Ocean – This line runs from Halifax to Montréal with stops in places like Moncton and Québec City. The Ocean offers economy and sleeper and sleeper plus classes, and a panoramic car. The train runs on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday from Montréal and Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday from Halifax. There is FREE wi-fi available in the service cars.

Montréal – Gaspé – This line has both economy and sleeper class, and meals are available for purchase from the service car. This is an overnight train which runs Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday from Montréal and Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday from Gaspé. Important note: During infrastructure work currently in progress, trains 16 and 17 will not be operating, and train service between Matapédia and Gaspé will be suspended. As an alternative, you can travel on trains 14 and 15 operating between Montréal and Matapédia.

Montréal – Jonquière  – This line is a great option for a short getaway into the Saguenay region and do a little wildlife and whale watching. The trip is about nine hours long and the train runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday from Montréal and Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday from Jonquière.

Montréal – Senneterre – This line is for those who go goo-goo for gorgeous scenery as you’ll travel into Northern Québec, otherwise known as the Abitibi-Témiscamingue Region. Only economy class is available on this train. Tickets start at $95 CAD, per direction.

Québec – Windsor Corridor – This is a great way to travel from Québec City to Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, and further down to Windsor. The trips are shorter, which means you have a choice between business and economy class, and there are often fare deals called Escape Fares which will offer cheap fares starting as low as $25. There is FREE wi-fi available throughout the train.

The Canadian – This is by far VIA Rail’s most popular long distance line. This is where they truly shine and if you’re travelling across Canada, you will be on the Canadian line.  This line has economysleeper plus, and prestige class. The Canadian offers dome cars with panoramic views of passengers in every class, as well as activity cars for guests in sleeper plus and prestige class.  The Canadian runs twice a week during low season and three times a week during high season. It’s best to go to the website to find out which days they travel through cities in between Toronto and Vancouver. If you’re travelling straight through from Toronto to Vancouver the trip is four nights, five days.

Winnipeg – Churchill – This line is THE only cheap way to travel to Churchill, Manitoba to see Beluga Whales (July – Aug), and Polar Bears (Oct – Nov). It is an absolute MUST, and it’s long. The trip will take two and a half days. This line has both economy and sleeper plus class, and food is available for purchase in the service cars, for those in economy class.

Jasper – Prince Rupert – This line is on my list for 2014. Prince Rupert is the jumping off point for exploring Haida Gwaii which is a drop-dead gorgeous archipelago in Northern British Columbia. This two-day journey has two classes, touring and economy. If you have the time. GO! This train runs Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.

Sample Itineraries

The following itineraries are merely ideas. You can do pretty much anything you want. It all depends on time and what you’d like to do on your trip. In an effort to show how cheap is CAN be, these itineraries for economy class travel.

**Note: These are sample itineraries that I have personally researched and created, you will not find these on the VIA Rail website!**

The ULTIMATE Across Canada Adventure

This economy class trip encompasses The Ocean, a little of the Québec – Windsor Corridor, Churchill, The Canadian, and Prince Rupert. It’s a cross Canada trip that includes taking some amazing side trips along the way! Prices based on high season and are subject to change. 

The route: Halifax – Québec City – Montréal – Ottawa – Toronto – Niagara Falls – Toronto – Winnipeg – Churchill – Winnipeg – Saskatoon – Edmonton – Jasper – Prince Rupert – Jasper – Vancouver.

  • Summer Youth (12-25 years old): $699 (VIA Summer Youth Pass) Buy a one-way ticket from Halifax to Québec City. You’ll have 60 days of consecutive travel, with unlimited train trips!
    • Book Summer Youth Pass in trips: 1.) Québec City to Montréal, 2.) Montréal to Ottawa, 3.) Ottawa to Toronto, 4.) Toronto to Niagara Falls, 5.) Niagara Falls to Toronto, 6.) Toronto to Saskatoon and use Winnipeg as a FREE stopover, 7.) Winnipeg to Churchill, 8.) Churchill to Winnipeg, 9.) Saskatoon to Jasper and use Edmonton as a FREE stopover, 10.) Jasper to Prince Rupert, 11.) Prince Rupert to Jasper, 12.) Jasper to Vancouver.
  • Adult fare using Canrailpass: $1,299 (Unlimted pass valid for 60 consecutive days of travel)
    • Book Canrail pass in trips: 1.) Halifax to Québec City, 2.) Québec City to Montréal, 3.) Montréal to Ottawa, 4.) Ottawa to Toronto, 5.) Toronto to Niagara Falls, 6.) Niagara Falls to Toronto, 7.) Toronto to Saskatoon and use Winnipeg as a FREE stopover, 8.) Winnipeg to Churchill, 9.) Churchill to Winnipeg, 10.) Saskatoon to Jasper and use Edmonton as a FREE stopover, 11.) Jasper to Prince Rupert, 12.) Prince Rupert to Jasper, 13.) Jasper to Vancouver.

Note: A Canrail pass for students, youth and 60+ is $1,169

That is 16 city stops for UNDER $1,300! You cannot do that when you fly!! Note, it’s a FAST PACED route. To slow down and enjoy, take off Churchill and expand your time elsewhere.

Rocky Mountain Lovin’ a.k.a Toronto to Vancouver

This route is for those who want to travel from Toronto to Vancouver (The Canadian line), with side trips to Churchill and Prince Rupert!

The route is: Toronto –  Winnipeg – Churchill – Winnipeg – Saskatoon – Edmonton – Jasper – Prince Rupert – Jasper – Vancouver

  • Summer Youth (12-25 years old): $699 (VIA Summer Youth Pass)
    • Book in trips: 1.) Toronto to Saskatoon, using Winnipeg as a FREE stopover, 2.) Winnipeg to Churchill, 3.) Churchill to Winnipeg, 4.) Winnipeg to Edmonton, using Saskatoon as a FREE stopover, 5.) Edmonton to Vancouver, using Jasper as a FREE stopover, 6.) Jasper to Prince Rupert, 7.) Prince Rupert to Jasper
  • Adult fare using Canrailpass: $899 (Pass with 7 one-way tickets, valid for 60 consecutive days of travel)
    • Book in trips: 1.) Toronto to Saskatoon, using Winnipeg as a FREE stopover, 2.) Winnipeg to Churchill, 3.) Churchill to Winnipeg, 4.) Winnipeg to Edmonton, using Saskatoon as a FREE stopover, 5.) Edmonton to Vancouver, using Jasper as a FREE stopover, 6.) Jasper to Prince Rupert, 7.) Prince Rupert to Jasper

Dude, 10 city stops for UNDER $900!!

East Coast Bliss a.k.a Halifax to Toronto

This route is for those who are DYING to explore a part of the Maritimes, Québec, and Southern Ontario. It’s an amazing route, and pretty much any time of year (although it’s f-ing cold in winter).

The route is: Halifax – Moncton – Québec City – Montréal – Jonquière – Montréal – Ottawa – Niagara Falls – Toronto

  • Summer Youth (12-25 years old): $699 (VIA Summer Youth Pass)
    • Book in trips: 1.) Halifax to Moncton, 2.) Moncton to Québec City, 3.) Québec City to Montréal, 4.)Montréal to Jonquière, 5.)Jonquière to Montréal, 6.) Montréal to Ottawa, 7.) Ottawa to Niagara Falls, 8.) Niagara Falls to Toronto – Use remaining three tickets for day trips within the Québec City – Windsor Corridor line.
  • Adult fare using Canrail Québec City – Windsor Corridor pass: $499 (10-ticket Canrail Québec City – Windsor Corridor pass)
    • Book in trips: 1.) Halifax to Moncton, 2.) Moncton to Québec City, 3.) Québec City to Montréal, 4.)Montréal to Jonquière, 5.)Jonquière to Montréal, 6.) Montréal to Ottawa, 7.) Ottawa to Niagara Falls, 8.) Niagara Falls to Toronto – Use remaining three tickets for day trips within the Québec City – Windsor Corridor line.

That is 9 city stops for UNDER $700!! Again, you cannot do that when you fly. Just sayin’!

Train Classes

Before I talk about fares, deals, and passes, let’s talk about classes (rhyme not intended) so you know which is best for you and your travel style.

Economy

VIA Rail Business Class

VIA Rail Economy & Business Class look very similar!

Seats in economy are generally very comfortable, come equipped with outlets, and recline for comfort. On trains within the Québec – Windsor Corridor the seats are a little older and may feel more cramped, but on the long-distance trains, there is more leg room.

Tip: if you’re sitting in four seat section (two seats that face two seats) and nobody is sitting across from you recline both seats and you can lay down flat for overnight sleeping.

Business / Touring Class

Business class is available on trains that travel through the Québec – Windsor Corridor and includes FREE wi-fi, meals, alcoholic beverages, soda, snacks, and has spacious seats with outlets for using laptops and charging devices. Business class passengers have full access to the Panoramic Lounges.

Sleeper Class & Sleeper Plus Class

Cabin for One with VIA Rail

Cabin for One with VIA Rail

There are several different types which vary depending on the line you are travelling on. All passengers travelling in a sleeper class have access to Panoramic Lounges at various VIA Rail stations across Canada. Here is a breakdown:

Berth – This is ideal for a solo traveller and the most economical option. Berths are beds during the day (separated by a curtain), and a bench during the day. This is not a cabin. People will be walking by on their way to their room or another train car. Note: This type of sleeper is only available on the Canadian line, and the trains from Winnipeg – Churchill, and Montréal – Gaspé. 

Cabin for One – This is a great option for a solo traveller who wants the luxury of a private space. All cabin classes come with a fan, air-conditioning, a sink, a private toilet (which is covered by the bed at night, meaning you need to use a public one), drinking water, pillows and bedding, and outlets (I was impressed with the quality of the duvet covers in sleeping class). Cabins for One are small, so during the day your bed is a chair, and at night you bed is either lowered down, or pulled out from the wall. At night you are able to lock your door from the inside. Note: This type of sleeper is only available on the Canadian line, and the trains from Winnipeg – Churchill, and Montréal – Gaspé. 

Cabin for Two – A cabin for two consists of upper and lower beds which are replaced with chairs during the day. The cabin comes with a bathroom with a toilet, and everything else that is included in a cabin for one. The room is cozy, and the beds are quite comfortable. Note: the beds on the Canadian line are bigger than those on the Ocean line. Ask for an ‘F’ cabin on the Canadian line if you want a little more space.

Cabin for Two with Shower – Basically this is the same as a cabin for two, but the bathroom has a shower head. If you’ve travelled to Asia you’ll be fine, if not… you’ll be fine too, just embrace the fact that you’re going to shower beside the toilet. Note: This type of cabin is only available on the Ocean line.

Cabin for Three – If you’re a family with small children then a cabin for three is a great choice. The cabin is very spacious during the day, and comes complete with three beds for during the night. The amenities are exactly the same as a cabin for two. Note: This type of sleeper is only available on the Canadian line, and the trains from Winnipeg – Churchill, and Montréal – Gaspé. 

Cabin for Four – A cabin for four is basically two cabins for two where the wall between the cabins has been removed. The amenities are exactly the same as a cabin for two. Note: This type of sleeper is only available on the Canadian line, and the trains from Winnipeg – Churchill, and Montréal – Gaspé. 

Prestige Class

Brand new for 2015, Prestige class is available on the Canada Line from Toronto to Vancouver. This is meant to be the ultimate luxury class for VIA Rail, with newly renovated cabins featuring a modular L-shaped leather sofa, private washroom with a shower, LCD TV, and a dedicated concierge. Similar to Sleeper Plus class, all meals are included with Prestige class fare. That being said, this class also includes the cost of alcohol and snacks, which is available for a charge to those in Economy and Sleeper Plus classes.

Fares, Deals and Passes

There are a couple of pricing options available and it’s worth looking into each of them when you’re doing your initial planning.

Youth Fares

VIA Rail Canada offers special fares for youth passengers ages 12 to 25. Yay for being young and travelling across Canada! Escape fares are even lower than those of the adult escape fares. I’m talking $30 fares for trips from Ottawa to Montréal.

During the summer months VIA Rail also offers a Summer Youth Pass that provides 60 consecutive days of unlimited train travel for only $699. This pass will is valid May 15th to August 31st.

Child Fares

With VIA Rail children 2 years old and under travel for FREE! Children 2-11 travel for 50% off in economy class. If you’re travelling across Canada in sleeper class child fares are discounted.

Canrail Pass

This pass is available to adults, seniors, youth, and children. There are two types of Canrail Passes, one for the Québec City – Windsor Corridor, and one for the VIA Network. This pass is used for Economy seats only, and available for 7 one-way trips, 10 one-way trips, or unlimited travel, all within 60 days. The cost breakdown is as follows:

VIA Network

  • Adult: 7 one-way trips $699, 10 one-way trips $899, Unlimited trips $1,299
  • Seniors, Students and Youth: 7 one-way trips $269, 10 one-way trips $359, Unlimited trips $1,169

Québec City – Windsor Corridor

  • Adult: 7 one-way trips $299, 10 one-way trips $399, Unlimited trips $699
  • Seniors, Students and Youth: 7 one-way trips $269, 10 one-way trips $359, Unlimited trips $629

Escape Fares

If you’re planning to travel in the Québec – Windsor Corridor than looking into VIA’s escape fares is definitely a must. This is where you’ll find fares as low as $20 at times. That is a fabulous deal. Express fares are the best place to look when you’re wanting a little getaway.

Express Deals

Express deals are for trains servicing the Canadian line (Toronto – Vancouver). This is THE place to go first when you’re planning a trip across Canada as the fares listed will be at least 50% off. The trick to booking these deals is that you needed to be flexible and able to travel within a couple days in order to take advantage of the deals. I’ve seen sleeper class fares from Toronto to Jasper as low as $480. That is a mind-blowing deal. This is the BEST way to find deals for SLEEPER CLASS FARES!

Food

A Prime Rib dinner in the dining car - a treat for anyone in sleeper class

Let’s talk about train food. The food available varies depending on which line and class you’re travelling. Anyone travelling in economy or sleeper class can purchase food in a service car, but the food is a little pricey ($2 for a can of soda, or a small bag of chips, $7 for a heated meal). This is standard across all trains. If you’re travelling on The Ocean in sleeper plus your meals are included, and fairly good. The best is the Canadian line which offers gourmet meals cooked by a trained Chef, which is available for sleeper plus passengers (that’s everyone with a sleeper).

My advice? If you’re travelling in economy or sleeper class (Ocean, Montréal to Gaspé, Winnipeg to Churchill), bring non-perishable snacks and some beverages. Here are some ideas:

  • Nuts & granola bars
  • Cured meats
  • Crackers
  • Fruit like apples, oranges, plums, etc (things that keep well)
  • Water, juice, or soda

Basically, budget $10 – $15 per day for snacks and food if you plan to bring your own. Cheaper and more filling that way.

Travelling with Pets

VIA Rail has a fairly strict pets policy in that cats, dogs, and small rodents must travel in the baggage car (unless you’re travelling with a guide dog) and have appropriate cages as well. I know that for animal-lovers this will be an atrocious revelation, but for those who have pet allergies it is kind of a good one as ventilation on trains is such that smells and dander can carry easily throughout the train.

Visit VIA’s website more on their pet policy.

Note: In summer the trains can sometimes be delayed due to ‘heat slows’ which require the trains to move slower than normal. Always leave a cushion in your schedule when travelling by train!

Additional Resources

Here are some additional resources to help you plan the perfect Canadian trip – no matter what your budget may be.

 

About The Author

Founder

Travel writer and photographer, Pamela has a deep love of all things Travel. She is an anglophone from Ontario who prefers living in Québec. An avid city explorer and chocolat chaud connoisseur, Pamela also writes for Québec Region blog, Savoir Faire Abroad and several other publications.

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