All aboard! Recently, I travelled to Montreal from Toronto for vacation. Something I wanted to do differently was try the VIA Rail train in business class. This would be from Toronto Union Station to Gare Centrale de Montréal or Montreal Central Station. Both stations are downtown in their respective cities, making it rather convenient if you live or need to get downtown.
The train ride is about 5 hours and 30 minutes, though there are also routes from Toronto to Ottawa to Montreal, which takes about 7 hours and 30 minutes. Some shorter and longer routes are available depending on the departure time and layover.
Although going by train takes longer than flying, travelling by rail is a different experience. I chose a train departing before lunch as I wanted to have some time to explore Toronto Union Station, the VIA Rail business lounge and, separately, the TD Visa Infinite Credit Card Lounge.
As I began the trip, I was excited to satisfy my curiosity about travelling on VIA Rail in business class. How would the experience compare to flying in business class? Would the seat be as comfortable as on airlines? What would the meal service be like? What amenities and services would I have to look forward to?
Toronto Union Station VIA Business Lounge
The VIA Rail business lounge is on ground level on the northwest side of Union Station. There aren’t many storefronts on the north side, so it’s not difficult to find. Just look for the large VIA Rail business lounge sign outside its doors.
Inside, you turn left and check in by showing your boarding pass. There’s a glass cabinet with VIA Rail branded items possibly available for sale. I didn’t see any price tags, and the cabinet was locked.
Looking out at the long room from the entrance on your right are seats of various couches and individual chairs, the walkway down the middle and on your left, the self-serve beverages counter and some bar seating. Further towards the back is more seating, including individual cubicles and washrooms. My first impression was that I wouldn’t call the lounge cozy, and I thought I may have stepped into a retail bank from the 1950s. There was some old charm in that, though.
The seating was plenty, though personally, I would’ve liked more individual seats than the couches. There were a lot of people, but it didn’t feel busy. As I explored the lounge, I realized why. There were barebones snacks and only limited drinks.
We all know that one of the primary reasons we go to these lounges is for the food and drinks. Here, VIA Rail had apples. No other snacks. I won’t pretend that I wasn’t disappointed. For the drinks, there were two Keurig machines brewing Van Houtte coffee and espresso drinks, including lattes and mochas. Take-out cups were available, so that was appreciated. No napkins though. Cans of soda pop and bottles of juice were in the fridge for self-serve.
Toronto Union Sation Platform
Boarding began 30 minutes ahead of departure, which was 10 minutes earlier than the schedule board was indicating. This being my first time, I headed back out into the station to find my gate. The VIA Rail staff here were very well organized, and I was impressed throughout. While I saw signs for the various gates, there was no distinction between business and economy, unlike the boarding zones I’m so used to at airports.
I only had to look towards the staff, and he quickly approached, scanned my ticket and let me know that business could proceed immediately to the front. It was like he read my mind of the questions I had.
Now, at the front of the lines at the gate, another staff member verified my ticket again and sent me up the escalator to the train platforms. Staff greeted me at the top and let me know that my train was all the way to the front.
VIA Rail Toronto to Montreal Business Review Cabin
Upon entering VIA Rail’s LRC car in business class, I saw a section to store any large baggage. Past that was the galley where the car’s meals would be prepared. Then the passenger seats and at the rear were the washrooms. The windows are large and easy to look out from, even if you don’t have a window seat.
VIA Rail Toronto to Montreal Business Seats
In business, the seats are in a 1-2 configuration. There’s a lot of personal space even if you get a seat with a neighbour.
Next to every seat is a sort of small table. I put my drink here to use the full space of the back seat tray. The width of the business seat here was comparable to any business class flight, but there wasn’t much recline.
Something I really didn’t anticipate was how much shaking there was on the train. Comparably it’s like experiencing turbulence during a flight. During faster speeds, the shaking was seemingly non-stop and very obvious.
VIA Rail Toronto to Montreal Business Facilities
The most obvious feature of the train car, and I’m comparing this to planes, is the large windows. When I found myself gazing out at the Ontario countryside from my aisle seat, it never felt awkward with my neighbour having the window seat. The open space allowed my field of vision to be filled by the windows and not my neighbour.
VIA Rail Business Washroom
The door to the washroom slides open. You’re supposed to lock it closed when in use so an occupied light will turn on outside. Many people didn’t do that. As an accessible washroom, there was plenty of space, or as much as a public washroom on a train could have.
VIA Rail Toronto to Montreal Business Meals
A meal is included with business fare with three options to choose from. This is what we’re really comparing travelling by rail versus by air. My trip was over lunch, with the choices being chicken salad, cod and lentils or a pasta dish. Carrot masala as the side and a spiced carrot cake for dessert were included with all options. To drink were options for wine, soda pop and juice. My cod was fine. Nothing great, nothing awful. I’d rank it better than any airline’s economy meal, but far from business class quality.
Other snacks during the trip included a small bag of snack mix shortly after departure and a small packaged chocolate after lunch. I emphasize small size for both. Drinks, including wine, coffee, soda pop, juice and water, were offered throughout.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, I’m glad I tried VIA Rail and the train. My goal was to experience something different and to compare it to if I had taken a flight to make the same trip. The lounge experience was, well, not much to experience. The seat was quite spacious and comfortable. I really liked the large windows and often found myself putting down my iPad to gaze at the countryside to my right and Lake Ontario to my left. The lunch meal was fine, but that was more because I like cod fish. The snacks could’ve been better, though. All the shaking on the train wasn’t great.
VIA Rail Toronto to Monreal Business Cost
The regular price for this journey is typically about CA $320 one-way. However, since I purchased this in advance and during a sale, it only cost me about $195. That’s comparable to an economy class seat when flying on Air Canada or Porter. That said, even though I arrived in downtown Montreal, the extra commute time was considerable. All in, the journey was close to seven hours. Even factoring in the extra time to get to the airport and downtown after, flying is a faster and often cheaper solution.
About Toronto’s Union Station
Toronto Union Station is the city’s central railway station and transportation hub. The station underwent a multi-year revitalization project, which increased its gross floor area and commuter capacity and saw enhancements as one of Toronto’s iconic buildings. Union Station is the hub for VIA Rail and Amtrak’s inter-city train services and Go Transit’s commuter rail service and coach buses. The station is connected to the Toronto Transit Commission’s (TTC) subway and streetcar systems. There’s also the Union Pearson Express, which is an airport rail link connecting downtown Toronto to Toronto Pearson Internal Airport (YYZ).
About VIA Rail
VIA Rail operates passenger rail services across eight of Canada’s 10 provinces. There are about 460 trains per week. The 12,500-kilometre network connects 450 communities. Four million passengers per year ride VIA Rail trains. My journey would be along VIA Rail’s most popular route, “The Corridor,” which covers southern Ontario and southern Quebec.