So last week we made our train trip out to the Ottawa area to visit some friends. To get there and back from Toronto we took the Via Train. This is a little report on how the train was and what you need to know about it’s accessible features.
As I've written about before the tie-down spot for wheelchair is in the business class section. In the end I decided I was going to be more comfortable in my wheelchair for the almost 4 hours trip. So we purchased an extra seat in business class and we all sat together there. This was of course more expensive but came with some nice perks. For starters you get to make use of the business lounge in Toronto if you’re early and need a nice place to wait around. There you’ll find wifi magazines / newspapers ,free coffee and soft drinks, all your standard fare for a business lounge really. Once it was time to board someone from Via visited and escorted us to the train which was really nice.
Up at track level I had to use a manual lift to make it up to train level. It’s a low tech solution but it works really well and most importantly to them I’m sure it reasonably quick to do. The tie down spot for the wheelchair is decent all things considered. Opposite from the tie down is two seats for those traveling with you. There is a fair bit of room and you can sit as close or as far from the table between you and the seats you’d like. There are a couple of plugs next to you so you can charge you laptop or phone.
There is also an wheelchair accessible washroom on the train right next to where you’ll be sitting. This washroom was kind of a pleasant surprise to be honest. For one I could fit my chair inside without having to transfer unlike I would have to on an airplane. There is a fold out transfer seat in there if you need that as well. Now of course using the washroom on a moving rocking train isn’t going to be easy at the best of times. Still though I think the setup was quite well thought through and worked well for me.
Not accessibility related but perhaps still of interest for those considering taking the train was the food options. Again being in business class there was an included meal, in this case lunch. We had three options, two warm and one cold. I had a pasta which was fine but of course nothing special. Better than your average airplane food though I think. We were also offered drinks alcoholic and not and some various snacks here and there.
Train Vs. Plane
So what about the other obvious option which is flying. The main difference here is price of course. You’re playing for the fact that the flight is a total of an hour minus check in and boarding. Also there are a lot more options for flight times that there are train times. There are often sales on Porter however at the moment full price is approximately $875 including taxes. Checking Air Canada at the moment shows basically the same price. This compared to the $330 we paid to take the train and you can see the difference.
In all taking the Via was a pleasant experience all around. One could argue that this was because we paid extra to travel in business class. It’s true in economy we would not have gotten a meal or included drink or access to the lounge. However I feel that even if that was the case the Via staff would have done everything they could to make the trip as enjoyable as possible. We would have packed our own lunch and things would have been just fine.