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Rocky Mountaineer Celebrates 25 Years

It hardly seems possible that it has been 25 years since our friends at the Rocky Mountaineer initiated passenger rail service from Vancouver with two routes featuring the scenic splendor of the Canadian Rockies. Both of the original two-day journeys operated together as far as Kamloops, where passengers overnighted, and then the train was split into two sections: the northern Journey Through the Clouds branch heading for Jasper and the southern First Passage to the West branch traveling on to Lake Louise, Banff and Calgary. Either itinerary could be booked eastbound or westbound, allowing travelers the opportunity to stay in Canada’s famed mountain resort hotels and travel the awe-inspiring Icefields Parkway through the hearts of Jasper and Banff National Parks by motorcoach and then return to Vancouver via the alternate route.

Although these trains still constitute the piece de resistance and the most extensively scheduled of the company’s offerings, Rocky Mountaineer now markets more than 65 different vacation packages featuring four primary rail routes. The company’s products are not inexpensive; the most affordable is its day excursion train from Vancouver along the shores of Howe Sound to the year-round resort community of Whistler and back, which operates Thursdays through Mondays, from May 15 to September 21 in 2015. But if great scenery and first-class rail travel appeal to your group, you can’t go wrong with any of the Rocky Mountaineer programs.

The company has identified several landmarks in its growth over the past quarter-century. In 1995, luxury Gold Leaf Service was added, using new bilevel dome coaches. By 1999, the company’s trains traveling between Vancouver and Kamloops had expanded in number to 41 coaches, the most in Canadian history. In 2002, its programs made the list of the “10 Best Rail Experiences in the World,” compiled by International Railway Traveler magazine, and the following year, BBC Television identified Rocky Mountaineer as a “must do” for travelers worldwide. In 2006, two new routes were added, the one-day Whistler Sea to Sky Climb excursion from Vancouver noted above, plus the splendid Rainforest to Gold Rush trip connecting Whistler and Jasper via Quesnel.

In 2008, Rocky Mountaineer boarded its millionth guest. 2012 saw the launch of Silver Leaf Service, offering travelers panoramic views from new single-level, domed coaches. And in 2013, Coastal Passage transborder service was added from Seattle, connecting that city with the Canadian Rockies via Vancouver. In conjunction with VIA Rail, Rocky Mountaineer also offers 12-16-day trans-Canada journeys from Vancouver, through the spectacular Rockies, and continuing all the way to Toronto, Montreal or Halifax. And with Holland America Line, the company markets a wide variety of programs, from 12 to 24 days, that combine a rail adventure in the Canadian Rockies with an Inside Passage cruise and land arrangements in Alaska.

There are many interesting sidelights of Rocky Mountaineer’s 25 years in business. Its trains have traveled some 6 million kilometers, equal to more than 150 times around the globe. Aboard, more than 1 million eggs and half a million croissants have been served. Its fleet consists of some 75 locomotives and coaches, which travel through seven magnificent mountain ranges in western Canada.

The line has received 55 prestigious national and international awards and served almost 2 million guests. It counts among its top five wildlife sightings bears, bighorn sheep, elk, bald eagles and Sasquatch. It has received a 2014 Certificate of Excellence and 1,218 “five star” ratings on Trip Advisor, a number that continues to increase. Finally, and most unusually, it plants a tree on each employee’s yearly service anniversary, more than 6,000 to date.

Now that the value of the Canadian dollar has slipped somewhat in relation to its U.S. counterpart, north-of-the-border vacations are becoming more and more financially attractive, adding to the enticements of exploring one of the most beautiful countries in the world.