By Quinn Frear
The idea of travelling anywhere during the continuing pandemic causes my inner hamster wheel to start spinning rapidly but—even though I’ve spent the quarantine period happily isolated—when I was asked if I wanted to ride on VIA rails’ first run after the Covid-19 shut down, I jumped at the chance.
There are a few reasons why I like trains so much; the pace is slower and more relaxed, the tickets are more affordable—just $20 plus tax to go from McBride, BC to Dome Creek, BC right now—and, since Greyhound discontinued its service in 2018, rail is also the only way to get to some rural areas.
The only complaint is the waiting—as there is often quite a lot of time spent doing just that for CNR freight trains, or maintenance and repairs. But as I also enjoy filling my time taking photos of BC’s stunning rural scenery, reading, or napping, I’ve found train rides to be a wonderful opportunity to do what I love.
Even on the short jaunt from McBride to Dome Creek, this trip was no exception. It started out late, and with some confusion, with the phone app and website stating that the train had passed through some stations at least twice before it was finally spotted. But at 4:32, only two hours after the scheduled departure time, the train pulled into McBride’s station.
Before we could board, there were a few extra precautions to comply with VIA’s new Covid-19 guidelines.
First up was a questionnaire; had we tested positive for Covid-19, did we have a cough/sore throat, etc? As someone with pre-existing conditions, these are always fun questions to answer! But once that was done, we got to the other new requirements; masks, and hand sanitizer.
The train carries single-layer medical masks for passengers. VIA also supplies the hand sanitizer for the initial cleansing, but I would still recommend carrying your own supply.
Once on the train, passengers are grouped into their “families”—and each grouping has one laminated set of instructions to inform passengers of social distancing guidelines, what that means, and reminders. I’d brought two people along for the adventure and we were placed together, with the aisle between us.
Gone are the times of stretching a person’s legs by talking up and down the train, as well as access to the dome and food cars, though, as passengers are told to stay within their seat groupings. Instead of the food car, it’s recommended that passengers bring their own food, and snacks are given in a paper bag; a bottle of water, a protein bar, a small container of pringles, and a sweet of some sort. All photography is also restricted to the location of the seat you’ve been assigned. I will continue to be saddened by my lack of dome car photos, but c’est la vie.
10 minutes outside of Loos, BC, we stopped for roughly half an hour—but who really bothers to check their watch on the train? We were given the opportunity to disembark early but, with visions of burgers at Dome Creek’s newish food truck dancing in our heads, we politely declined.
After the short interruption, the rest of the trip flew by—and I took my last photo on the train at 7:02 pm.
VIA is making the effort to bring service back to those rural communities hardest hit by an ongoing lack of transportation.
VIA staff have always been some of the most positive, and helpful I’ve encountered, going out of their way to assist their passengers in any way they can. And during this adventure, they clearly demonstrated their new safety precautions, as well as their commitment to keeping themselves—and their passengers—safe.
My inner hamster wheel might continue to spin over the idea of travel—and at being around other people—but it does help to know that VIA continues to service local areas safely.