Railway Pages Index

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 amorous advances.

On a single day in downtown Jasper, we saw the arrival of three great trains: the 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.



Inside the deluxe suite                       Dining car interior             

      Upstairs in the dome car                     Golden suite interior

In the Grand-sleeper                           In the lounge car                    

       Observation car                                  Parlour suite

Single sleeper                              Grand single sleeper                     Pullman sleeper

Presidential suite