The Rocky Mountaineer tourist train is a privately-owned rail service through the heart of the Canadian Rockies. Its original main routes were Vancouver-Banff-Calgary and Vancouver-Jasper. A third route between Whistler and Jasper was added in 2006. On these routes, each trip is two days long with an overnight stay at a hotel en route because the Rocky Mountaineer does not travel at night.
Additional routes have been added over the years, including circle tours and connections to Seattle. In a 2011 labour dispute, this company locked out its train attendants, replacing them with strikebreakers; the dispute ended more than a year later, in September 2012.
As a tourist train, Rocky Mountaineer tends to be more expensive than federally-owned VIA Rail on routes (such as Vancouver-Jasper) where both services are available. This is unfortunate, as cutbacks to VIA service have left this private, seasonal tourist train (and the limited, $8000/person Royal Canadian Pacific tourist train) as the only intercity passenger rail providers to Calgary, one of the five largest cities in Canada.
This train takes you through the heart of the Canadian Rockies, offering two levels of service - redleaf and goldleaf.
The first day from Vancouver through the Fraser Valley and Fraser Canyon leads into fairly pastoral country with a lot of lakes, which changes to a much drier desert-type region approaching Kamloops. During this second day's travel, the scenery rapidly becomes mountainous and the train travels along the Bow River Gorge and into the Rockies. The trip runs in both directions, departing Vancouver, Banff, Jasper and Calgary each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday from the beginning of April until the middle of October.
Trains depart Whistler and Jasper on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday but not as frequently.
Classes of service
The Rocky Mountaineer offers a wide range of tourist packages, from a one-way trip to Jasper or Banff to a circuit of the Rockies with stays at Lake Louise and the Banff Springs Hotel.
Redleaf includes a seat in a standard train carriage and cold meals served at your seat. Goldleaf passengers travel in an elevated domed car, with a special dining room for each carriage where you are served gourmet meals (such as scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, and lobster eggs benedict for breakfast.) Access to the GoldLeaf dome seating is by way of a spiral staircase or an elevator for people who might have trouble with the stairs.
GoldLeaf Service also includes an observation platform at the end of each car so you can stand outside and enjoy the scenery and take pictures without worrying about the glare from the windows.
On the Vancouver-Jasper run, the Rocky Mountaineer travels only during daylight hours while the competing VIA Rail service is an overnight train running three times weekly (depart Vancouver 5:30PM, arrive Jasper 11AM; depart Jasper 3:30PM, arrive Vancouver at 7:50AM). This usually means tourist train passengers see a whole lot more, but at the expense of an extra night's hotel stay. During the summer, days are 16 hours long and one can actually see a lot of scenery on the VIA train. If you have your heart set on sleeping on the train, VIA Rail is the way to go.