Definitely a different experience, training it from Montreal to Ottawa versus Halifax to Montreal via Campbellton. The first big difference is the way they rush you onto the train. I’d no sooner stepped on board the Ottawa-bound train at Montreal’s Central Station than someone actually gave me a push from behind, slammed the door shut behind me, and the train started moving. I’d been waiting in line, too, not running to catch the train. Schedules must be adhered to, to the nano-second, and bugger the passengers getting in the way of that. No standing on ceremony here, and no standing on elevators, either. I had to get an attendant to help me up and down the escalators to and from the platforms, as elevators are strictly for passengers in wheelchairs.
In a related aside, the bathrooms are relatively and surprisingly clean in the Montreal station, but nothing is automated except the hand dryers; you still have to push down – hard – on the old-fashioned lever at the very back of the toilet to flush, and judging by the number of unflushed toilets, I’m guessing that most people either don’t how to do that or just can’t be bothered. You also have to manually turn the taps on and off to wash your hands. Looks like the Montreal station is stuck in pre-automated and pre-elevator technology, but it partially makes up for it by being very clean and having an amazing food court with actual wooden tables and chairs, and a dollar store that is independently owned (which means all kinds of cool cheap junk that you can’t find at the chain dollar stores! WOO HOO!)
Another major difference between short-haul and long-haul trains is comfort level. The short-haul trains are not built for comfort. I don’t think they’re built for speed, either. I think they were just built to move people around. The seats are much smaller than the long-haul trains and not as cushy. The ride is nowhere near as smooth – it’s actually quite jolting at times; typing is OK, but handwriting and doing your lipstick would be impossible unless you intended to look like this:
The service is also more perfunctory, but that might just be the ‘BIG CITY’ effect. Not having been in a big city for awhile, I forgot how rushed and impersonal people can be.
And then there’s the talking. That’s one thing I’ve notice during my train trips over the past few days – people really like to talk and talk and talk and talk, generally saying nothing of very much importance or even interest. And it’s not just the women (although they easily take the talkative prize). Last night, when I boarded the Campellton-to-Montreal train at 11:15 p.m., an attendant, while apologizing, seated me next to an older man because the train was full. No sooner had I sat down then he started telling me all about his trip to Campbellton and that he’d been there to visit his family and he had been living in Brampton for the past 46 years and he’d worked as a steel worker for 41 years before suffering a brain injury and having to retire, and look at my new jacket and new pants and new shirt my daughter bought me and said it was an early Christmas present and on and on and on and on…. At midnight, I finally had to tell him that I needed to sleep and couldn’t listen anymore, and he actually got miffed at me. But in general, because the train cars are just like one big bus (instead of being compartments, like in the GOOD OLD DAYS), you don’t have much choice but to listen to dozens of conversations all at once, even if you don’t want to. So I’ve started jumping into conversations a few rows up or a few rows back; I figure if people are talking loud enough for me to hear them (and I’m hard of hearing), then I have a right to get in on the action. Of course, most people don’t appreciate what they consider to be my interruption, just as I don’t appreciate their interrupting my peace and quiet. Talk, talk, talk, talk. Given that the seats are closer together on the short-haul trains, you especially can’t avoid overhearing the noise. Unless maybe if you sit on the toilet for the whole trip.
***NEWSFLASH*** I just discovered that the seats RECLINE on the short-haul trains, which they don’t do in economy class on the long-haul trains, so I take everything back I said about these trains and the chatty people, and I’m going to put my in earplugs, stretch out, and have a good long nap.
The deboarding at Ottawa was somewhat more leisurely than the boarding at Montreal, except that the train was 9 minutes late arriving (yes, a shocking 9 minutes) and the VIA attendant apologized profusely for the delay. However, just like at the Montreal station, there were no generally accessible elevators at the Ottawa station. An elderly lady and I were stuck on the platform at the top of the escalator, waiting for our respective knights in shining armor to appear, and thank God, right on cue, they did. Down we all went on one escalator, and then up we all went on the other. I chatted a bit with my “knight” about the lack of elevators, and he said that the VIA station in Montreal was a rented facility; VIA didn’t actually own it, so VIA couldn’t make any structural changes to it. He didn’t mention why the station in Ottawa, which was quite a modern facility, didn’t have any (or perhaps better said – didn’t have any that were accessible to the general public; just for people in wheelchairs), but I’m going back there in a few days, so I’ll find out then.
A note about the Ottawa station – if I had the chance to design it with regards to public transportation accessibility, I would not have changed a thing. All you have to do is walk out the front door and either step into one of the dozens of cabs waiting immediately in front (literally 10 feet from the door) or walk a few feet further and hop on a public transit bus, one of which rolls by every 5 to 10 minutes. Now THAT’s how to make transportation options logical and accessible. EVERY OTHER CITY IN THE WORLD, TAKE NOTE.