Saturday, May 2, 2020

VIA's Canadian Rockies by Daylight

In 1987, VIA Rail Canada under President Lawrence Hanigan became increasingly aware of a need to try new things, in light of continuing subsidy decreases and an unimpressive 46% occupancy rate. A modernization program "Value for Money" included new locomotives, planning for the Head End Power car program, a First Class program, and additional marketing. The goal was to attract tourists, not just attract intercity passengers.


An experimental new service was  proposed - Canadian Rockies by Daylight - a daylight-only two-day trip between Vancouver and Jasper on CN, and Vancouver and Banff/Calgary on CP. Both routes overnighted and split/joined at Kamloops, BC. The old CN station there, close by CP's station was to be used, and VIA added a 10-pole power line to bring power to the new terminus. Hotels in Kamloops would, and still do, see additional business due to an influx of overnighting passengers. VIA would therefore not need sleeping cars, instead using Dayniters and their new 6400-series locomotives.

CP was growing increasingly intolerant of VIA trains on its rails in the mountains, and though VIA accounted for 10% of CP's traffic there, the remuneration CP received was poor. VIA believed there was enough demand for at least one provider, with Sam Blyth's Toronto-Vancouver, Harry Home's CNR 6060-led trains out of Jasper, and Paul Sveinson's Edmonton/Calgary-Vancouver services publicizing their proposals.

A formal launch of the program took place at VIA's Vancouver station and the Four Seasons Hotel in Edmonton on September 30, 1987. VIA pre-sold half of the first season's 18,000 trips in the six months prior to the operation of the first train. The first season's passenger count was over 10,000, - over 60% occupancy. Forty-five percent of tour bookings were tourists from Asian countries, with bilingual onboard staff being sought.

Fares were pegged at $275 per person Vancouver-Banff/Jasper $275 double occupancy, with a round trip priced at $495, including deluxe box lunches, transfers and overnight accommodation in Kamloops.  Passengers could bring one suitcase on board, as there was no checked baggage car. VIA's employee newsletter touted the pending service. Click for larger images:

Power for the train was two 6400’s and two SGU’s, and up to ten Dayniters on the combined consist, drawn from a pool of eleven cars: 5709, 5713, 5715, 5717, 5721, 5722, 5732, 5733, 5736, 5745 and 5749, with one kept as a spare. The locomotives were serviced in Vancouver.


A pilot train, carrying mostly vacationing VIA employees departed Vancouver on May 20/88. The consist: VIA 6423-6427-15409-5709-5717-5721-5722-5745-5713-15442. Part of the train continued from Kamloops to Jasper: 6427-15442-5713-5745 with the remaining cars heading to Calgary. The westbound departed on May 23, with VIA 5732 added to the Calgary consist.

VIA began the new service's planned 19 departures on June 5, 1988 between Vancouver and Jasper/Banff, Alberta.  The first revenue run of 19 planned departures on June 5 was led by VIA 6427-6428. Train No 104 operated between Vancouver and Kamloops BC, with Train 102 splitting there to continue east to Banff and Calgary, and 104 continuing to Jasper.  Westward, train No 101 operated from Calgary (led by VIA 6428, at Glacier BC - top photo from a calendar), combining with No 103 from Jasper at Kamloops and continuing west to Vancouver.  

The train would be renamed Rocky Mountaineer for the 1989 season. The first two seasons' operations did not generate expected profits. By 1990, the train would be operated privately, under the ownership of Mountain Vistas Railtour Services but still retaining the Rocky Mountaineer name.

Since the service began in 1988 after issuance of the May timetable, this scan from the October 30, 1988 system timetable shows an advertisement, not an actual schedule, with "The Canadian Rockies by Daylight" name debuting:

VIA's account of the first run. Click for larger images:

A season-end review by VIA: 


The 'Rocky Mountaineer' name emerges in the April 30, 1989 schedule advertisement (below). Improvements for the sophomore season included public address system, adding an additional car and modifications to accommodations in Kamloops. Foreshadowing the future, passenger reviews already identified the need for a dining car and a dome car!


A deal to sell the service to Mountain Vista Rail Tours was completed in March, 1990. The undisclosed sale price included purchase of cars, money for their maintenance, repair and storage and that of the locomotives, fees for station access and a percentage of gross sales through 1995 (!). At the time of the sale, the 1990 season was sold out.

An introductory promotional trip from Vancouver to Jasper/Banff operated on April 21, 1990: VIA 6400-6405-15451-601-5713-5716-5721-5715-5709-5720-5718-5701-5717.

The first Vancouver-Banff MVRS train on May 27, 1990: 7488-15445-9488-5720-5718-5701-5709-5706.

June 3, 1990 at Vancouver: 7488*-7498-9488-5720-5718-5701-5706-5709-5713*-5715*-5716* (*Kamloops-Jasper, others to Banff and Calgary.

By the May 27, 1990 timetable, the same schedule block was shown, with Mountain Vistas Rail Tours shown centrally in tiny lettering and their MVRS mountain/maple leaf logo at top right:
Assigned to the service in early 1990 were Dayniters 5701, 5706, 5709, 5713, 5715-5718, 5720-5722 and 5749.

Ironically, this June 23, 1990 news story included a photo of the last run of the Canadian while the caption notes that the new owner will be using "VIA Rail cars"!

MVRS would soon paint its own ex-AT&SF B36-7 locomotives and morph into the current high-end Rocky Mountaineer premium service. I must admit that I have little interest in profiling the current operation - it's glitzy but expensive. And it has excellent advertising outreach already. Riding east on the Canadian last summer, several of our fellow passengers had just transferred over from the Rocky Mountaineer. Blog partner Michael Hammond has a nice photo of the 1991 season's train. In 1990, the units still wore patched AT&SF paint and the cars were still VIA blue & yellow also with patched logos. Blog partner Steve Boyko profiled the more modern Rocky Mountaineer.

Thanks to a faithful, unnamed Trackside Treasure reader and fellow uberVIAphile for assistance with this post.

Running extra...

Fellow Kingston railfan Paul Hunter fortuitously fotographed VIA 8109 at Kingston on April 25. This is one of two ex-CP Budd cars that have emerged in the "D&H"-like scheme, the other being 8100, from CAD in Lachine, QC.

This past week, I've been trying to find some positivity in this pandemic. Success! Here are a few activities that have kept us occupied. In the coming week, I'm going to try to see if there's any wisdom out there that I can distill. Stay tuned. Stay safe!


  1. Mulroney's great giveaway to his friend and supporter Peter Armstrong. Wonder what stack of cash Mulroney got in return?

  2. Not the first time we've heard such political intrigue, Auntie!

  3. I don't think Rocky Mountaineer owned the ex-ATSF GE's, as they operated on other railways in the off season. After the GE's came a series of GP40-2's which had leasing company reporting marks. Because both the GE's and the later EMD's were painted in RM colours, they returned each operating season to Rocky Mountaineer, sometimes in need of repair. When the units leased by Rocky were not available, units were leased on a short term basis from CP and CN which I am told was very expensive. Finally Rocky Mountaineer purchased the units it is operating today.

  4. Thanks for that additional information, Phil!

  5. Thanks for the link and for this great article, Eric! I'm grateful that you took the time to gather the back story of the Rocky Mountaineer in one place.

    Where was the lead photo (of 6428) taken? It looks familiar.

  6. Glad you enjoyed it, Steve. You've had greater exposure to the current iteration of the train than I have - I did see it streak through a couple of times, though I famously missed it at Banff 'by that much!'.

    The location is buried in the post - it's at Glacier.

    And I'm trying hard to stay out of the Armstrong-Mulroney stuff!

    Thanks for your comment,

  7. Yes, I'd stay out of the Armstrong-Mulroney stuff too. I know a lot of railfans are still steamed, almost 20 years later. I was never a fan of Mr. Mulroney but what's done is done.

  8. Yes, I'll stay out of political discussions. Except for the big issues, like choice of coupler, DC vs DCC, CN vs CP, you know, the important stuff!

    Thanks for your comment, Steve.


Comment and contribute! First name, please!