An overview of train travel in Canada including major train companies for regular passenger routes. Comparison with other transport options.
What is rail travel like in Canada ? Is it similar to rail travel in Europe or in the UK or the United States? How does it compare to bus or car rental in terms of cost and convenience? You may be asking yourself these questions if you’re planning a vacation in Ontario.
Although trains aren’t as popular in Canada as they are in Europe or the UK (for many reasons), Ontario does have a network of train tracks for both regular long-distance and short (commuter-type) trips on well-travelled routes between popular Ontario travel destinations like Toronto and Ottawa and Niagara Falls.
Here are the regular passenger companies that offer train travel in Canada today.
VIA Rail Canada– www.viarail.ca
This is the major player for train travel in Canada. Between Toronto and Ottawa, VIA Rail service is good, offering several trips a day at a price higher than buses but with a lot more comfort. Other major cities with train stations include Niagara Falls, London, Sarnia, Sudbury, and Kingston. Overall there are approximately 100 stations in the province. However, service is spotty outside of the major Ontario cities. Many towns have lost their train service over the past decades due to service cutbacks by the continually cash-strapped government-owned train system. And some trains still operate between smaller places but only once or twice a day. In other cases, there is service but not where you’d expect it. For one glaring example, there is no VIA Rail passenger train service in Hamilton, a major city (population of more than 500,000), but there IS a train stop in nearby Aldershot, a neighbourhood in Burlington (Burlington’s population of 164,000). There has been talk of restoring service to Hamilton for more than a decade, but nothing has happened so far.
Ontario Northland Rail Services http://www.ontarionorthland.ca
This company operates services in Northern Ontario, including the famous Polar Bear Express which goes all the way up to Moosonee and the shore of James Bay. The Northlander will get you to popular “cottage country” destinations like Gravenhurst (Muskoka region) and Bracebridge (Santa Clause’s Village).
GO Transit - http://www.gotransit.com
The “Government of Ontario train” operates commuter trains in southern Ontario, with most them radiating out from Toronto. You can get to Hamilton, Stouffville and other Southern Ontario towns and cities, for example. GO Transit also offer buses. From outlying cities it serves the major Toronto International airport too.
**FUN FACT about GO Transit: A short-lived television series “Train 48” took place on a GO Train. The show had a bizarre format: it was basically just commuters talking to each other on the train. Oddly enough, it was actually quite entertaining, topical and even addictive once you got to know the different characters and their crazy lives. A soap opera with satire.
If you're looking for tourist railroads, short scenic train rides, or railroad museums, see my story about them here: Tourist Railroads in Ontario.