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Travel Canada by train

Almost 15 years ago, Michelle Cooper from Toronto wanted to see her country by train. Passing through five provinces and four time zones from Toronto to Vancouver, Cooper got more than a sense of Canada's size; not only did it take a day to get out of Ontario, the four-day trip made Canada feel exotic.

"I met people from all over the world on that trip and I think that because we all chose to travel by train it made for a different experience," she says.

Travelling by train isn't just for tourists. For many commuters, the train is also a more civilized way to get from point A to B. Writing instructor Kathryn Mockler takes the two-hour train from Toronto to London, Ont., once a week to teach at Western University.

"I don't drive, so my only other option is the bus, which is much cheaper and the times are more convenient, but is not as comfortable." She can also work online using the train's free wireless.

From the short commute to legendary trips, the train can be an economical and beautiful way to see Canada -- close up.

Class system
Operating in every province, except Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island, Via Rail carries about 4.1-million passengers every year.

The busiest routes are the Quebec to Windsor corridor. On most routes, Via Rail has three tiers of travel: economy, business and first class. Not all travellers think it's worth the extra cost -- often double -- to upgrade from economy to business or first class.

Travelling the two-hour London-Toronto route cost my parents about $100 each. The extra room was nice, but it wasn't good value: "We were served typical airplane-type food -- very mediocre -- and were offered a glass of wine," says Sylvana Chambers.

It's a different story for Brenda Cooper when she travels from London, Ont., to Montreal to visit her sister; having travelled economy and business class, the upgrade is worth it, she says. With seat sales found online, she pays $360 for business class; economy is $130 less. (Regular fare $680 and $440 respectively.)

Business class includes waiting lounges with free beverages, Wi-Fi and newspapers.

"It's also away from the hustle and bustle of the main areas and sometimes an oasis of quiet is what you want," she says.

Business class also means no line-ups to get on board: your seat is reserved. And once you're on the train, business class includes meals, beverages and even showers to arrive fresh.

For overnight travel, there are also sleeper cabins available on longer routes, but these cost twice as much as a regular economy ticket. (Sleeper Plus includes meals.)

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-- Posted August 1, 2012
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