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Friday, November 23, 2012

One Weekend, Two Specials

Coming from Canada, seeing the number of special trains run in the UK, or even the US, is mind boggling.  Hardly a weekend goes by without some special charter.  For the most part, railways in Canada never bother to run such trains and when they do, it is often done secretly.  However, last weekend was a refreshing exception to the rule.

Last Saturday, the Grey Cup Train arrived at Exhibition GO Station in Toronto for the last stop on the 100th Anniversary Grey Cup Tour of Canada.  For those not familiar with the Grey Cup, it is the equivalent of the Superbowl, but for the Canadian Football League.  The CFL is often lauded as the only real pro-league in Canada, despite the fact that a large number of the players and coaches are American.  I have to be honest, I do not like football.  I have never managed to stand more than five minutes of a game and I cannot stand the rowdy partying that accompanies the fans.  It was inevitable that my views would cloud my impression of the Grey Cup Train.

The train, which began its journey in Vancouver, spent most of its time visiting communities in Western Canada.  In terms of the number of actual CFL fans, this move made sense, but it also helped to reinforce how segmented Canada is.  Apart from a last-minute stop in North Bay, the train passed through the entirety of northern Ontario without stopping.  Likewise, northern Quebec never got a visit.  Compared to the plethora of stops made by the CP Holiday Train each year, the Grey Cup Train seems limited.  From a photographer's perspective, the tour was also frustrating because a schedule was only released once the train reached southern Ontario, meaning that fewer people actually got to see the train itself.

I arrived in Toronto just before 10 Saturday morning to be near the front of the line.  I stood and waited as I was penned in with the other people, clearly die-hard CFL nuts, while a remarkable number of CFL staff stood guard.  We listened to countless speeches extolling the virtues of the CFL and its sponsors (please note that the Grey Cup is exclusively broadcast on the subscription-only TSN).  Finally people were allowed to visit the train - no more than eight at a time.  The line crawled forward.  All I really wanted was to be able to photograph the locomotive with the train behind it.  The way to the front of the train was blocked by staff and ropes.  When I asked about my photo idea, I was told that I would have to go through the train first.  By the point, I had been lined up and getting increasingly annoyed for about 40 minutes, so I joined the hyper fans being micromanaged by CFL staff in the train.  The train itself was made of coaches from both VIA and CP and, I must admit, the interior layout was interesting.  The displays meant absolutely nothing to me, but sports memorabilia probably wouldn't.  I weaved through past the overly excited fans and the overly smiley staff until I could see the way out.  I couldn't actually get out though, a elderly woman ahead of me had fallen off the train, it seems that the footstool on the ground was wobbly.  After another delay, I marched to the front, past the ropes and got my shot.  In all, it took about an hour for me to get the one photo I wanted.  Perhaps the tour was appreciated by the CFL and its fans, but it did not endear me to their league, their sport, or their organisation of events. 

Later in the day, I returned to Exhibition station to photograph the train from a different angle.  It was nearly sunset and the train and the Toronto skyline were bathed in a beautiful warm glow.  This made for a lovely composition and it masked the CFL nature of the train nicely.  I like trains, not football.  Different strokes for different folks.

Sunday evening and I was out again for yet another special train.  Pacific had just completed a trip to the Maritimes and was heading from Montreal back to Toronto on VIA 657.  I arrived at Oshawa not knowing exactly when the train would arrive, it was running at least 30 minutes late.  It lost little time beyond that and pulled to a stop at the new island platform.  As usual, a small crowd of passengers gathered at the back to chat to however many railfans (in this case only myself) had assembled.  I think that Pacific had in fact dropped off the radar of most people and it was only by luck that I had decided to check the website a few days before.  Last time I chatted with the people, I got a free tin of coffee (still proudly on display - it's a collectable), this time I got a lovely postcard of Pacific.  I've enjoyed following the tour.  The days of business cars being tacked on the end of trains are long gone, so it has been good to remember.  After a few minutes, the train headed off to Toronto.  According to the on-board chef, this was the last run of the year for the coach.

As far as Canadian standards go, it was one busy weekend of railway happenings.


  1. Great photos, Thomas! Personally I enjoyed the Grey Cup train here in Winnipeg, but I do like football. I'm not a die-hard fan but I watch it on occasion.

    That's a fanatastic photo you have of the Grey Cup train with the CN tower in the background. Well done.

  2. Thanks Steve!

    It's like I said, I'm not a fan. I do think that the fans enjoyed it though.