On Track to Adventure: Our VIA Rail Canada Experience

We have travelled on VIA Rail numerous times and it has been a while since we shared our experience on board this Canadian train. So I figured it was time to share our VIA Rail tips and tell you about the new fleet of trains that are rolling out across select routes. If you’re a long time reader, you’ll recall that our baby on VIA Rail business class article got circulated a fair bit and many felt that babies do not belong in Business… I obviously disagree. No one bats an eye when we roll in with our tweens these day  but I swear they’re louder and more rambunctious now than when they were toddlers! Luckily access to Wi-Fi and screens keeps them quiet! At the end of day, we will always opt to take the train over driving (occasionally flying too) when timings align because it’s less stressful and we enjoy it more. Also, let’s not forget that you can roll up 15 minutes before departure and not have to deal with stressful airport security! 



Our VIA Rail Review and Experience

Boy holding VIA Rail safety manual

VIA Rail Canada was established in 1977 and they have an extensive network of train routes across Canada. I have only taken the train within Ontario and to Quebec, although I one day hope to do the Toronto to Halifax route. In the last year I’ve done the Toronto to Montreal route twice and the Toronto to Ottawa and Cornwall return trips, once each. So I have some observations that might be helpful if you’re looking to travel on VIA Rail this summer. 




The Deets About the NEW Trains

New via rail trains

The new trains are not only more comfortable but also better for the environment! I think the biggest change for me in the new trains is that it’s fully accessible and barrier-free, which is very important when travelling with the elderly and those with mobility challenges. I noticed touchless automatic interior doors and large accessible washrooms. There was also braille signage and wider aisles for easier navigation for all.
The new VIA Rail trains are also environmentally friendlier. They have advanced diesel engines that meet Environmental Protection Agency Tier 4 emission standards and is more energy efficient (even using LED lighting onboard).
Of course if you’re a window watcher like I am… (you’re weird if you don’t enjoy watching the scenery as you roll through  various stations) then you’ll enjoy the panoramic windows. The seats in both economy and business are more ergonomic on the new trains as well. Another important feature of the new trains is that there’s more Business Class seats available, which is fabulous because many of see value in VIA Rail’s Business Class seats. 
Not all routes have the new trains and even on routes that do, it depends on the time of day. I like to use this website (look at the “New trains in operation by day, number and route” section) to see if the new trains are an option before I book our tickets. 

VIA Rail Business Class Review

Kids eating on board VIA Rail

I always look for Business Class deals when we’re planning a Canadian train adventure because I absolutely find the Business Class offerings to provide great value.

If you’ve purchased Business Class fares then you have access to a lounge area stocked with coffee, tea and juices. They also occasionally have some fruit and a selection of magazines and newspapers around as well. I will give you a heads up – based on my experiences at the Toronto and Montreal lounges, the lounge coffee machines don’t really produce great coffee so I’d buy coffee elsewhere even though it’s free in the lounges. The lounge is most useful for those who arrive at the station well before their trains. If you’re a bit last minute like me, just head straight to the boarding gate because there’s a priority boarding line for Business Class passengers and yes, they will weight your suitcase.

Business Class passengers can bring a personal item and two carry on items (including one large item)  but remember that all your bags will be weighed and it cannot be more than 23KGs each. The staff have been very diligent in weighing everyone on each and every trip I’ve been on.

Now comes the best part. You get fed!!!! VIA Rail Business Class passengers have access to unlimited drinks (alcoholic beverages, tea, coffee, soft drinks and juice – we even got milk when the kids were younger). You also get a hot meal, some snacks and chocolate. To me this is a relaxing holiday vibe and the main reason to book. Especially true when travelling with kids who are always hungry! 


VIA Rail Economy Class Review

kids on board via rail train

So sometimes the ‘other’ class is sold out or the cost of tickets have skyrocketed so we end up in economy. To be honest, we get the same friendly service but the special perks are missing. You still have access to Wi-Fi so that’s helpful with the kids! 
On Economy Class you have to pay for everything, including drinks. We’ve purchased a few items but mostly bring our own when we travel economy because the selection isn’t as great as in Business. You baggage allowance in Economy is one personal item and one medium sized carry on (also with a 23kg max weight). 

Can I Bring My Own Food on VIA Rail?

Yes you can bring whatever food you want! Just don’t plan to drink any alcoholic beverages you may bring on board because that is illegal! You get them at no extra cost on Business and can purchase them in Economy. Bring water, coffee, pop and juice – no issues there! 

Are there VIA Rail Discount Codes? 

via rail train bag

This is a question I get asked often on Instagram. Your best best is to sign up for the VIA Rail newsletter because they email all their deals on a regular basis. Also, every Tuesday they have a discount Tuesday offer for train rides that are two weeks out. Personally I use the CAA discount website more often than not. I also know that VIA Rail has a special offer for families with kids under 13 years of age this summer! And as always, kids under 2 years of age travel for free with an adult (as a lap child). 

Best VIA Rail Seats for Families

kids playing on Via train

This will depend on each family but we prefer to book the 4 seats with a big table between us. I find it a good way to keep tabs on the kids and we get to play cards and pass time together (when we aren’t on our screens). 


My VIA Rail Tips

kids in Via rail lounge

  • Pack your electrical cords within easy reach because each seat has an outlet to juice up those devices
  • Sign up for VIA Preference – this is their loyalty program and points add up quickly! 
  • The Wi-Fi can be a bit spotty in parts so download some shows for the kids as a back up
  • Know that you may encounter steps when boarding some trains – we find this happens a lot at Union Station in Toronto. I say this because you will have to drag your luggage up those steps so pack wisely! 
  • Bring a reusable water bottle – many trains have a potable water source 
  • There can be construction and random delays so if need to be at  your destination for a specific time, know that you need a 10-60  minute buffer because there can be delays

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