Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/9/2014 (2806 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Like many other businesspeople, I travel for work at least once a month. The trips have a dull sameness: Get to the airport an hour before departure, hope the lines aren't too long, wait to pass through security, cram yourself into a seat, be thankful for a beverage and maybe a cookie, hope you can get a bit of work done before arrival. At the end of the trip, repeat.
But that wasn't my experience on my last business trip. For that one, to Vancouver, I took the train.
I direct marketing, communications and fundraising for Canadian Foodgrains Bank, an international non-governmental organization that addresses global hunger. It's an invigorating and meaningful job, but it can also be busy and stressful, at times.
Work can rapidly pile up. There are reports and plans to review or write, articles to edit, decisions to make, phone calls to answer, emails to deal with and meetings to attend. One study found that managers are interrupted, on average, every eight minutes -- no wonder it's so tough to get things done.
With my to-do list growing, and a trip to B.C. on the schedule for mid-August, I decided to grab some quiet time for work by taking Via Rail's The Canadian from Winnipeg to Vancouver.
On the day of my trip, I went to work in the morning and then walked to the train station from my downtown office, arriving 30 minutes before the 11:45 a.m. departure. As I stowed my things, Richard, the attendant in my car, came by to welcome me and take my reservation for lunch and supper. Then it was "all aboard" and off to Vancouver, two days and two nights away.
For some, that's a lot of time to be away from the office. But I had my "office" with me on my laptop, and the train provided great office space with wonderful views from the dome or panorama cars. Best of all, there were no interruptions in this mobile office -- unless you count the calls for mealtimes, or the opportunity to gaze out the window and watch the country pass by.
That includes virtually no calls or emails; cellphone service can be spotty between towns, and non-existent in parts of the mountains. Wifi is offered at stations in Saskatoon, Edmonton and Jasper. But much of the time there is only blissful, uninterrupted silence.
Meals provided a welcome break, and a chance to get to know other travellers. Most other passengers are tourists, with many coming from Europe. I was able to enjoy meals with people from Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy, as well as from other parts of Canada.
The meals on the train offer a variety of great options. In addition to various options for breakfast, lunch choices included cobb salad, shrimp and scallops, hummus and pita bread or a turkey sandwich with brie, bacon, apple and spinach; dinner choices included rack of lamb, trout, prime rib of beef, pan-seared tuna or duck. Meals include beverages and dessert, and are included in the ticket price. Wine or beer is extra.
Along with good food, passengers were offered champagne and hor d'oeuvres when leaving Jasper, beer tasting of local craft beers and movies and presentations by knowledgeable Via Rail staff about points of interest along the way.
My trip also featured live music, in this case Rachel Capon and Eli Bender of the folk duo Hale & Hearty. The two string players were taking part in Via's Artists Onboard program, which offers free or reduced-cost travel for musicians. In return, they played three times each day on the train, and once each in the Winnipeg and Jasper stations.
By the time we arrived in Edmonton, we were about three hours late due to a procession of freight trains from the other direction. But we made up most of the time west of the city, arrived in Vancouver's Pacific Central Station only an hour behind the scheduled 9:42 a.m. arrival.
As we rolled into Vancouver, I could look back on time well-spent. I had caught up on lots of work and was also able to prepare for upcoming meetings. At the same time, I had quiet time to think and plan ahead -- something that is tough to find in the daily bump and crush of a typical workday.
Best of all, I arrived relaxed, rested and well-fed, and with a heightened appreciation for the size and beauty of this country.
Of course, taking the train for business travel isn't suitable for everyone. With only three departures between Winnipeg, Toronto and Vancouver in spring and summer, and twice a week in fall and winter, it may not be convenient for many. And travel by train is more expensive than flying for those who want sleeping accommodation. Special express deals are available; full fare for my trip with a lower berth in mid-August was more than $1,000, but I paid $599 (one way). Regular prices fall in mid-October, during the off-peak season.
In business, time is money. But employers who want to help staff cope with increasing workloads and stress levels may find the extra cost to be money well-spent. And for those concerned about climate change, travel by train has another benefit -- it produces less carbon than airplanes.
For the return trip to Winnipeg, I took the plane. As we were boarding in Vancouver, another passenger leaned over my aisle seat to push his too-big carry-on bag into the overhead bin. As his stomach inched closer to my face, I closed my eyes and thought back to the pleasant, spacious and relaxed train trip to B.C. -- and looked ahead to the time when I could do it again.
To book your travel on Via Rail, go to www.viarail.ca
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.