WATCHING IN JASPER, ALBERTA
Variety In Paradise
Jasper, Alberta is only 4 or 5 hours from my home, but we only
get there every 10 years or so. A million or more tourists visit
Jasper and Banff National Parks every year. Once you have seen
the mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, lakes, bears, elk, and moose, you have seen it all --
except of course for the changes of the seasons, the previously
untried hiking trails, and the variety of TRAINS.
On a long weekend in 2003, we stayed at Pine Bungalows with my
family from Ottawa, and toured all the usual sights. During the
evenings, we drank some wine while an elk fell in love with our
little SUV, repeatedly setting off the car alarm with his
On a single
day in downtown Jasper, we saw the arrival of three great
ViaRail Canadian, the
Rocky Mountaineer, and the
American Orient Express.
The Canadian was on its way to Vancouver from Toronto, changed
crews, and moved on after a two hour layover.
Shortly after, the
Mountaineer arrived from Kamloops, disembarked its passengers,
turned on the wye, and prepared for its departure next morning
for Kamloops and Vancouver. This happens 3 days a week in
summer. Freights with 120+ cars are much more frequent, as this
is one of the two mainlines from China and Japan to eastern
Canada. Double stacks of containers and triple deck auto
carriers are pretty common sights.
What was special that day was the arrival of the American Orient
Express, a 20 car luxury train that showed up unexpectedly. It
usually ran in the USA on a few select routes and this trip to
Jasper was probably a one-of-a-kind offering. Unlike the
Mountaineer, in which passengers are housed in hotels overnight,
the AOE has vintage Pullman sleeping cars. Passengers
disembarked into buses for a two day tour of the area, the train
was split in half, turned in two parts on the wye, and parked
for the duration.
The train had very fancy interiors (including
palm trees that could be seen through the windows), with lounge,
diner, and observation cars. In later years, there were dome
observation cars as well.
Sadly, the AOE died in bankruptcy in August 2008 and the
equipment sold by auction in December 2008. The
American Orient Express
website still exists, so there may be hope for the future. The Canadian and
Rocky Mountaineer soldier on still.
There are two static locomotive displays in Jasper: one is a
little 2-foot gauge
0-4-0 mine engine at the Visitor's Center
(was at the CNR station when these photos were taken). The other
is a full-sized 1932 CNR class U-1-a 4-8-2 Mountain type
locomotive #6015 on display at the Jasper station.
Although it runs on cables instead of steel rails, the Jasper
SkyTram is worth the trip. Leaving from its base station just
south of Jasper townsite, it climbs to the top of Whistlers
Mountain in 7 minutes. On a clear day, you can see forever, and
it is windy ALL the time. Boardwalks lead to the observatory and
a short walk on near level ground takes you to the peak of the
mountain. It is named for the whistling marmots that pervade the
place (not for the artist whose mother is so famous).
Some views of
"Old Number 9" in front of Jasper's CNR station.
More views of #9.
CNR #6015 on display at Jasper station.
ViaRail #6444 parked in the Jasper yard.
Miscellaneous equipment in the yard.
Rocky Mountaineer after turning on the Jasper wye, showing the
old paint scheme.
Rocky Mountaineer passenger cars -- old paint scheme.
More old views of the RM.
Amtrak diesels at the head end of the American Orient Express.
These were led by a CNR pilot diesel, seen in the top photo.
That crew provided the local intel needed to travel this
mountain route. Railway security shooed us away, preventing
further photos. Must have been some fancy VIPs on board.
IMAGES FROM THE AOE WEBSITE
Inside the deluxe suite
Dining car interior
Upstairs in the dome car
Golden suite interior
In the Grand-sleeper
In the lounge car
Grand single sleeper