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by Ted and Sylvia Blishak

HighOnAdventure.com   August 1, 2012



With 3,000 horsepower engines, each FP40-2 locomotive weighs about 265,000 pounds. Rocky Mountaineer owns nine of them, acquired from Canadian National Railway. Their new paint scheme sports a personal touch, with the autograph of the railroad's founder, Peter Armstrong, appearing on the side of each one.

  FP40-2 locomotive  
FP40-2 locomotive


In 1990, entrepreneur Peter Armstrong acquired a train of Daynighter coaches (later called RedLeaf Coaches) to operate a rail route over the most scenic pass through the Canadian Rockies. It ran between Calgary/Banff, Alberta and Vancouver, BC over Kicking Horse Pass and through the engineering marvel called Spiral Tunnels. Armstrong had no prior experience with railroads. But he realized that the Canadian Rockies scenery looked much better from a train than it did through the windows of an automobile or a motorcoach.

Armstrong approached running a railroad from a hospitality, rather than a transportation, viewpoint. Thus car attendants are "hosts", while passengers are "guests". RMV was much more than a trip from A to B. It was all about vacationers enjoying the scenery during the all-daylight schedule and being delivered to a comfortable hotel at the halfway point. It was about having an upscale, educational onboard experience.

While many private rail enterprises with scheduled service in North America have come—and all save one, Royal Canadian Pacific, have gone—since 1990, Rocky Mountaineer has not just survived, but thrived. The company gradually expanded by adding new specially-designed GoldLeaf full-length, double-level domes with open-air platforms.



  Rocky Mountaineer dome car  
Gold-leaf dome cars

New stations and eventually more routes were added: North Vancouver to Whistler, Whistler through Quesnel to Jasper, and Vancouver to Jasper.

May 13, 2012

Instead of writing our column for the last issue, we were learning about the current state of trains in the Canadian Rockies. Rocky Mountaineer has added a third class of service, new to us, called SilverLeaf, in a single-level dome car. SilverLeaf represents a price category that falls between RedLeaf and GoldLeaf.

Rocky Mountaineer Vacation's 13-car train glides into Banff on this blue-sky morning, headed for Vancouver. The train's innovative new exterior, painted shiny dark blue and gold with white sweeping diagonal lines, visually hooks each car to its adjacent carriage. This gives the consist the illusion of forward motion, even while it's standing still.

  Rocky Mountaineer menus aboard the Silver Leaf  
SilverLeaf service menus
  The railroad introduced its new SilverLeaf single-level domes towards the end of the 2011 season. Rocky Mountaineer owns two of these cars, operating regularly on two weekly departures between Vancouver and Banff/Calgary. Future plans include adding more cars like this on the Vancouver to Jasper route.  


  Rocky Mountaineer SilverLeaf Car  
FP40-2 locomotive

The SilverLeaf car is the same height as the RedLeaf coaches. But its side windows are half again as high as RedLeaf windows, and topped with a second set of curved glass panes blending into the roof.

Inside, the SilverLeaf car is superior in some respects to the more expensive, double-decked GoldLeaf dome cars. The view is great, even from the inside seats.



  Rocky Mountaineer dome car view  
View through the dome window

Top-of-the-line GoldLeaf cars have uninterrupted curved glass all the way into the roof, which results in slight visual distortion. The heavyweight, smoother-riding SilverLeaf car provides more overhead airspace and thus a cooler, and more open feel.

The SilverLeaf car carries 56 passengers. The front row has built-in work tables available for the onboard hosts, or, if available, for guests desiring temporary work space. Luxurious high-backed seats recline slightly. With two-and-two seating, and pull-down trays, the seats have plenty of legroom.



  Rocky Mountaineer SilverLeaf seats  
SilverLeaf seats
  Rocky Mountaineer SilverLeaf windows   This car was originally designed with the same framework as the RedLeaf coaches. Both began as 1950s-era Canadian National Daynighter passenger equipment. The SilverLeaf cars were gutted and redesigned in Eastern Canada. All electric facilities and original windows were replaced. Huge, flat, plate-glass windows start at elbow level and rise to about four feet. Then a few inches further up, separate panes of glass curve partway into the ceiling.  
SilverLeaf windows

A galley in the front (with real oven heat, not microwaves) cost $100,000 to build into the carriage and delivers hot meals, which are served at the guest's seats.

Coach meals in Redleaf are cold, served picnic-style at one's seat, while GoldLeaf has its own downstairs dining area, with china, silver, and gourmet food prepared in that car's galley.

Dumbfounded by the surreal-looking peaks and crags of the surrounding Canadian Rockies, we began to move westward out of Banff. Two engines pull two power cars, two crew cars, four RedLeaf Coaches, one SilverLeaf coach, and four GoldLeaf Domes. There is no baggage car, so passengers need not wait for bags in Kamloops, the overnight stop. GoldLeaf and SilverLeaf passengers will be happy to find that their suitcases have arrived by truck. With a typical RMV flourish, they've been placed in the proper hotel rooms before the train arrives.

While the GoldLeaf cars have spacious open platforms on the back, which work well for photography and sightseeing, Red and SilverLeaf do not. Instead, there is a small open vestibule between the cars, which is big enough for four people.

While cocktails (complimentary in GoldLeaf) are not available, fine British Columbia wine can be purchased. There is no separate dining area or large outdoor platform, as in GoldLeaf, yet the comfortable SilverLeaf cars provide excellent viewing, right up to the mountain tops.



  Rocky Mountaineer mountain view  
View through the window

And that is what the trip through the Canadian Rockies is all about.

Rocky Mountaineer Vacation's independent packages can be customized, or combined with extra hotel nights, Alaska cruises, motor coach sightseeing, and some VIA Rail segments.

Our bare-bones package from Banff to Vancouver included three hotel nights, two days aboard the SilverLeaf car, and four meals. The cost varies between $1695 and $2013 plus tax per person, depending upon the dates of travel.

These seasonal trips start in April and end in early October. Your travel agent can book the vacations, and, unlike RMV, add air or Amtrak segments.

Visit www.rockymountaineer.com or call 1-800-665-7245 for details.



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