The original transcontinental line passed through Banff, crossing the Continental Divide at Kicking Horse Pass and continuing to Vancouver via Rogers Pass. But this form of transportation, which opened up the Canadian Rockies to tourists, began to fade with the advent of efficient air services, and the last scheduled services on this line ended in 1991. Government-run VIA Rail provides coast-to-coast rail service using a more northerly route that passes through Jasper National Park. At Jasper, the westbound transcontinental line divides, with one set of tracks continuing west to Prince Rupert via Prince George and the other heading southwest to Vancouver. Another, more luxurious, option is the privately run Rocky Mountaineer, with summer service to Banff and Jasper from Vancouver.
Government-run VIA Rail (416/366-8411 or 888/842-7245, www.viarail.ca) provides passenger-train service right across Canada. The Canadian is a thrice-weekly service between Toronto and Vancouver via Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Jasper, and Kamloops. Service is provided in two classes of travel: Economy features lots of leg room, reading lights, pillows and blankets, and a Skyline Car complete with bar service, while Silver and Blue is more luxurious, featuring sleeping rooms, daytime seating, all meals, a lounge and dining car, and shower kits for all passengers.
At Jasper, the westbound transcontinental line divides, with one set of tracks continuing slightly north to Prince Rupert. Along this route, the Skeena makes three trips per week. It is a daytime-only service, with passengers transferred to Prince George accommodations for an overnight stay. It also offers first-class travel, in Totem Class and Totem Class Deluxe.
If you’re traveling anywhere in western Canada from the eastern provinces, the least-expensive way to travel is on a Canrailpass, which allows unlimited travel anywhere on the VIA Rail system for 12 days within any given 30-day period. During high season (June 1–Oct. 15) the pass is adult $923, senior (over 60) and child $831, with extra days (up to three are allowed) $79 and $71, respectively. The rest of the year the fare is adult $576, senior and child $518, with extra days $49 and $44, respectively.
On regular fares, discounts of 25–40 percent apply to travel in all classes October–June. Those over 60 and under 18, as well as students under 25, receive an additional 10 percent discount that can be combined with other seasonal fares. Check for advance-purchase restrictions on all discount tickets.
Rocky Mountaineer Vacations (604/606-7245 or 877/460-3200, www.rockymountaineer.com) runs a luxurious rail trip between Vancouver and Banff or Jasper, through the spectacular interior mountain ranges of British Columbia. Travel is during daylight hours only so you don’t miss anything. Trains depart in either direction in the morning (every second or third day), overnighting at Kamloops. One-way travel in RedLeaf Service, which includes light meals, nonalcoholic drinks, and Kamloops accommodations, costs $859 per person d from Vancouver to either Banff or Jasper and $959 from Vancouver to Calgary. GoldLeaf Service is the ultimate in luxury. Passengers ride in a two-story glass-domed car, eat in a separate dining area, and stay in Kamloops’s most luxurious accommodations. GoldLeaf costs $1,739 per person d, from Vancouver to Banff or Jasper and $1,889 to Calgary. Outside of high season (mid-Apr.–May and the first two weeks of Oct.), all fares are reduced a few hundred dollars. Trains terminate in Vancouver off Terminal Avenue at 1755 Cottrell Street (behind Pacific Central Station).
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition