Via Rail : How I saved $240 by taking the train
I recently took VIA Rail to Montreal and back for a reunion with five McGill friends. The train was much cheaper than the lowest air fare I could find and the most comfortable and productive trip I have taken in years.
Since I am over 60, the economy fare including taxes was $155.94. I ordered the ticket online about a month before and picked it up at Union Station on a day when I had other errands in the area. I got a numbered aisle seat as I requested, and arrived by subway from my home at 4:30 for a 5:00 PM train that reached Central Station in downtown Montreal at about 9:30 PM.
The last time I traveled this route by train many years ago I went first class, and even then the ride was anything but smooth as the cars rattled across the tracks and the seats didn’t appear to have any shock absorbers. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised to discover that even in economy class, the new cars have modular seats similar to an airplane with drop down tables and tons of leg room.
At first I wasn’t thrilled that I had to check my bag, as memories of plane trips past made me think waiting for my luggage in either Montreal or Toronto would add another half hour each way. In fact, the baggage carousel was only a short walk from where I disembarked in both cities and my overstuffed suitcase appeared in two minutes.
Via Rail vs Flying
I didn’t keep a record of the plane fares I found when I did my original air fare/ train price comparison in September, so as research for this blog I priced both Air Canada and Porter tickets leaving from the Toronto City Airport in the afternoon on Thursday November 17th and returning at about the same time on Sunday November 20th.
With taxes and fees for the round trip, Air Canada’s price was $313.97 (including a 20 per cent seat sale discount) and the Porter quote was $365.50. My transportation costs to and from the island airport and train station in Toronto would have been similar. However because the Montreal flights land in and leave from Dorval, it would have cost me at least an additional $40 in cab fare each way to get from the airport to downtown and back.So my total savings including ground transportation was about $240.
The train took 4½ hours as opposed to a plane ride of around an hour. However, I saved some time because I did not have to get to the airport super early, go through security or wait for my bag. In addition, VIA offers free wifi even in economy class, so I could get in four hours of work in each direction.
Nevertheless, I do have several suggestions that would make the great VIA service even better.
If tickets are ordered online, it should be possible to print the tickets instead of having to pick them up before or on the day of travel. Also, my budget-priced fare was non-refundable and could not be exchanged. Therefore, if I had wanted to return earlier on Sunday, I would have had to pay an additional $155.94 for a new one-way ticket. That seems excessive if there are seats available on the other train.
But to give the airlines a run for their money, what what we really need are high speed trains in the Windsor to Quebec City corridor like the TGV in France. When we travelled from Lyon to Paris in September (464 km), the trip only took 2 ½ hours, as compared to 4 ½ hours on VIA for the Toronto-Montreal run (499 km).
For additional details on train travel, visit the Via Rail website.