Just as Via Rail’s now much-reduced Canadian has done for decades, entrepreneur Sam Blyth’s Royal Canadian will shuttle passengers between Toronto and Vancouver. But the similarity ends there. Blyth, 35-year-old founder of Toronto’s Blyth & Co. travel agency—which specializes in packaging and selling exotic vacations—announced in New York City’s plush Plaza Hotel last week that he will spend $14.5 million to launch a carriage-
trade alternative to Via’s service on July 1. But his train will differ dramatically from Via’s collection of well-worn rolling stock. For the well-off passengers that his company hopes to attract, the transcontinental journey will be, he says, “a luxury rail experience.”
It will be expensive to travel on Blyth’s train. The cost of a one-way, three-day trip will be between $1,495 and $3,495, compared with Via’s $363 for a coach seat on its TorontoVancouver route and its top price of $599 for a roomette with its own washroom. But Blyth said that he expects to fill enough of his train’s 188 spaces to make a profit. Among the promised attractions: meals catered by French chefs and served in a deluxe domed dining car. Even basic-rate passengers will sleep in rooms with private bars, videos and telephones. Those who pay the top fare can choose a suite with a private viewing dome and access to an exclusive 12-seat dining room.
The train—a 20-year-old, nine-car Amtrak superliner that operated between Los Angeles and San Francisco—will make four return trips
a month along the Canadian Pacific Railway’s track, making one-hour stops at Calgary, Banff and Lake Louise along the way. It will also make nine return trips a month along the scenic Rockies route between Calgary and Vancouver. Said Blyth: “The train will attract a lot of tourists who wouldn’t otherwise come to Canada.” It will also provide jobs as kitchen staff, waiters and porters for many laid-off Via employees, he added.
But Blyth is not alone in considering privateenterprise replacements for Via’s abandoned routes. In Peterborough, Ont., Paul Pagnuelo, president of a group originally established to try to save a Via commuter service along a spur line northeast of Toronto, told Maclean’s that he expects to raise $25,000 by the end of January to study the feasibility of a private train service. And in Calgary, former Via vice-president of marketing Murray Jackson said that he hoped to launch his own Calgary-Vancouver excursion train through the Rockies.
Still, Blyth’s plans are clearly more advanced. His 13-year-old company now has assets of $30 million and reported profits last year of $2.5 million. Among its other ventures, it has been selling package trips on Europe’s famed Orient Express train since 1982. Now, Blyth clearly hopes to turn that experience to his advantage as he sets out to restore romance to the rails in this country.
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