VIA's Money Back Guarantee
During May and June 1987, VIA offered a plan that would allow for a credit of half of your ticket price if you arrived more than fifteen minutes late at your destination. Now that was a sure fire way of getting a cheap trip to Toronto if I knew one. I have hardly ever been on time, what with LRC's breaking down and even the Ottawa-Toronto overnight train died at Guildwood on my last trip. I decided to take overnight Train 49 to Toronto on Thursday, May 14, and return on the LRC Train 46, on Victoria Day. Bound to be delays!
As usual, the overnight left on time. In boarding I walked right past the sleeping car attendant in his new VIA uniform. Even the ticket agents now wear shirts with brown shoulder flashes. This regimentation smacks of a para-military organization.
Of course the overnight arrived early and for one horrible moment I wondered if I owed VIA anything! The sleeping car "ELGIN" rode well and I had a good night's sleep.
What about the LRC on the holiday Monday? Plenty of crowds but great dismay when they start boarding the club car forty minutes before train time. By the time we get there the only double non-smoking seats available are back to the engine. The VIA gestapo forbid us to take a space with four seats together. Fuming, I get out to inspect the train. 6913 at the front and 6901 at the rear of five cars. Both sound disgustingly healthy (for LRC's that is) and the thought of a cheap trip begins to recede in my mind.
Back in the club car my companion has sweet talked her way into the prized seats facing the front. The Kamp Kommandant muttered something about no shows. I turn on the scanner.
Damn! The train crew are carrying out the pre-departure check and the brakes are working fine. Double damn! The conductor gives us the highball on the advertised at 1730. Even the doors close properly! But we don't go! Then the engineer gives John Street Tower a call to ask for the road. John Street says that we have the road. The engineer denies this. It takes the yard foreman to sort out this pantomime. We are on track 13 but John Street thought we were on track 7. Jubilation as we wait for the timing circuits to operate and help that cheap trip.
We leave five minutes late and then great news. The train is climbing the grade towards Danforth and the engineer calls Union to the effect that he can only get 50 amps out of 6913; and 6901 has a continuous wheel slip indication. We stop while they decide what to do. They even let the Macmillan Yard Dispatcher in on the secret. They decide to isolate the front unit and proceed on to Guildwood.
"If we isolate the front unit will you lose hotel power?"
"I'll try it and we'll find out".
There's no blackout so we overcome this hurdle and we creep towards Guildwood. The VIA train manager has no idea what is happening and is glad to listen in on my scanner which soon attracts a small knot of VIA people.
There's great activity at Guildwood. The dispatcher tells the engineer to jiggle one of the printed circuit boards but the engineer is still worried about the wheel slip on the rear unit. One of the trainmen is stationed on the platform as the train is run slowly past just to check that all of the wheels are turning on the rear locomotive. This is real high tech stuff! I thought that all the trainmen had to do was to hold the conductor's hand while he collected tickets!
We leave Guildwood very late but unfortunately everything is working as it should. It's a pity that engineers don't make train announcements to passengers:
"Good evening ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of VIA, I would like to welcome you on board train 46 on our trip to Ottawa. Our journey time tonight is a little uncertain but I have every confidence that we will eventually get there. We had some problems earlier but my mate Fred here has jiggled a few of the doohickies back there and we have verified that all of the wheels are turning. Everything is now fine!"
The rest of the trip was an anticlimax. At Smiths Falls there was still a chance that CP would co-operate by putting a freight across our bows. No such luck! On approaching Ottawa the train manager announced that we were only thirteen minutes late. Although I lost it's a lot more fun travelling on VIA these days. It's like buying a lottery ticket!
Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, July/August 1987.