Going to Cuba Using the LRC

Four of us from Ottawa decided to take the Rail Study Tour to see mainline Cuban railroading from April 10 to April 18, 1982. We were to catch our flight to Havana from Miami. This necessitated getting to Miami. Air Canada had cheap fares and sufficient room, so we booked a flight from Ottawa to Miami, via Dorval.

Family business took me to Toronto the day before the flight, thereby opening up the possibility of an LRC trip the entire distance between Union Station and Dorval. I phoned for reservations late on the evening before and was warned - "Make sure you pick up these reservations one hour BEFORE train time! "

Arriving fourty-five minutes before train time, I found that the RESERVIA computer had cancelled my reservations and resold my space. Fortunately the computer was also aware of a few seats left in CLUB/SNACK space. I seized the opportunity to try VIA 1.

Typical of train travel these days, I heard the attendent muttering to his supervisor that he was tired of passengers' complaints, I wondered what he meant until I tried to find a seat. First of all, the current LRCs do not have a club car. Ordinary coach accommodation is being used. Secondly, seating in a LRC is fixed, so half of the people must ride backwards. No wonder there were lots of complaints.   

Settling into my seat I could see why one rail fan referred to the LRC interior as a DC9 on wheels. The neat overhead storage bins look much more like Air Canada's refitted DC9s than an old Pullman Standard coach; however, a DC9 does allow you to get a cooling stream of fresh air. The LRC insists that everyone be at the same temperature.

The fixed seating reminded me of a GO train. Thus I was startled when the familiar GO call "Stand clear of the doors" rang through the train before the scheduled departure time.

I cannot say that the start was smooth. The hotel power went off and on about ten times before deciding to remain on. Either the brakes were sticking or it is uphill out of Union Station but we literally lurched away from the platform - but once under way everything was magnificent.

Train number 66 powered by 6911 on the front and an unknown unit on the rear shot up Danforth Hill (the steepest grade on the CN) with no trouble at all. What a contrast to my first trip on the TURBO when it was down to 20 kilometers per hour by the top.   

After a brief stop at Guildwood and a no problem start we settled down to enjoy a comfortable ride. Drinks were served at the seat, as was a quite respectable roast beef snack.

Tours of the train at various times showed that we were full to Kingston, but half empty beyond. One disquieting note was the fact that we were "rocked" by vandals just outside Toronto. The outer window was shattered into opaqueness but the inner window prevented injuries. One can sec why Amtrak  choose small windows and Lexan.

Some other brief observations are as follows. There is no window sill on which to put a scanner. (Tough luck, Colin) The tables seem to be much more substantial than the one in the travelling car last summer which my wife broke. The toilet is quite something - a very spacious unit with holding tank. The unisex nature of it, though, caused me a chuckle as there is a slot with a female symbol above it into which a quarter may be put. I remarked to my seat companion that it looked as if you could purchase a woman for 25 cents in the toilet.

We were on time into Dorval, and the flight to Miami from there was uneventful. 

You'won't see any slides of Cubas though. The American government closed down the charter company with which we were to fly to Cuba the day before we were to travel. The trip was rescheduled using another carrier, but circumstances prohibited rejoining the trip.

Still, the LRC trip was great.

Bytown Railway Society,  Branchline, April 1982, page 12.

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