Mo & Terry Smedley
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Ontario Wilderness Rail

Stay tuned to this page for photos and trip details as we travel!

Part 1 - Home to Toronto on Amtrak
Part 2 - Cruising Lake Muskoka on the RMS Segwun
Part 3 - VIA Rail "Lake Superior" from Sudbury to White River
Part 4 - White River to Sault Ste. Marie, Soo Locks
Part 5 - Mackinac Island
Part 6 - Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst and Cochrane
Part 7 - "Polar Bear Express" to Moosonee & Moose Factory Island
Part 8 - New York City
Last Part - Home Again, Home Again

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This August. we are planning another cross-country rail adventure.  We'll be following Rail Travel Center's "Ontario Wilderness Trains" tour, that will take us on several interesting trains in the lightly populated areas of Northern Ontario.  We'll ride the Ontario Northland Railway's "Polar Bear Express" as far North as Moosonee on James Bay, and we'll travel through the Agawa Canyon on the Algoma Central Railway.  We'll also visit Mackinac  Island and the locks at Sault St. Marie.   The starting point for the tour is Toronto, and to round out our vacation we'll be traveling by train to Toronto and home again, via New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.   This will be our first venture into New York City, where we have tickets to see Usher take the stage in "Chicago" on Broadway.    If trains are close to schedule, we'll have a little time for exploration on foot in Chicago and Washington, D.C.   We're stopping near Philadelphia to meet up with a dear friend whom we met on a previous rail journey.

Click here for our travelogue from another Rail Travel Center tour, our winter trip across Canada in 2004.

Some of the rail routes we'll travel in Ontario cater specifically to tourists, while others represent lifelines of passenger transportation for the very rural areas they serve.   We'll travel East and West via Amtrak's Empire Builder, Lakeshore Limited, and Capitol Limited.  The Empire Builder is a perennial favorite, and generally operates very close to schedule.  The Lakeshore and Capitol trains are typically several hours late, but our connections allow for that.  As with last year's trip, I've been tracking the on-time performance on all of our routes for the past month or so and we have a very good idea of what to expect.  


August 10   "Empire Builder" to Chicago
August 11  Onboard the "Empire Builder"
August 12   Chicago, board "Lakeshore Limited" to Toronto
August 13 Arrive Toronto
August 14 Steamboat cruise, bus trip to Sudbury
August 15 VIA Rail RDC (Budd car!) to White River
August 16 Bus to Sault Ste. Marie, cruise the Soo Locks
August 17 Mackinac Island
August 18 Algoma Central Railway through Agawa Canyon
August 19 Polar Bear Conservation Center at Cochrane
August 20 Ontario Northland "Polar Bear Express" to Moosonee 
August 21 Ontario Northland "Northlander" to Toronto
August 22 "Maple Leaf" to New York City
August 23 Touring New York City (our 31st Wedding Anniversary!)
August 24 Exton, Pennsylvania
August 25 to Washington, D.C., board "Capitol Limited" to Chicago
August 26 Chicago, board "Empire Builder" to Portland
August 27 Onboard the "Empire Builder"
August 28 Arrive Portland, to Centralia on the Talgo train, then home

Part of the planning process for any domestic train trip is preparing for late arrivals.  To get an idea of realistic expectations, I've recorded actual arrival times for each train we'll be taking using information available on Amtrak's web site.  The least reliable trains on our trip are those operating over the CSX railway (Lake Shore Limited, Capitol Limited, and Maple Leaf).  The star performer of the long-distance group is the Empire Builder, operating mostly on Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks, which is almost always on time or even early into Seattle and Portland.   The corridor routes serving New York-Philadelphia-Washington are typically close to schedule.

In the table below, I've listed the scheduled, average, latest, and 80% confidence arrival times for each train.  The "80% confidence" value is the time by which 80% of trains arrive (and consequently, 20% of trains arrive later than this time).   



Empire Builder
No. 8

Lakeshore Limited
No. 48

Maple Leaf
No. 63

Maple Leaf
No. 64

Capitol Limited
No. 29

Empire Builder
No. 27


3:55 PM

9:26 AM

7:44 PM

9:45 PM

8:30 AM

10:25 AM


5:11 PM

12:09 PM

8:48 PM

11:01 PM

11:29 AM

10:43 AM


1:32 AM

6:00 PM

11:10 PM

1:43 AM

7:33 PM

2:11 PM

80% Confidence

6:10 PM

1:30 PM

9:40 PM

11:40 PM

12:20 PM

11:10 AM

Our arrival time