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Review : Via Rail MLL @ YBZ

Review : Via Rail MLL @ YBZ

Old Sep 8, 18, 4:21 pm
  #1  
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Review : Via Rail MLL @ YBZ

Just thought I'd share some info and my experience at the business lounge at Union Station.
  • Where : In corridor Ontario Tourism corridor, near information desk. Adjacent to Gate 3 (I think?)
  • Access Policy : Passengers departing from or arriving at (subject to availability) Union Station on a Via Rail or AC rail ticket travelling in Business, Prestige, Sleeper Plus, or if Premier Member and travelling on Economy BizPak or Economy Plus Fare.
  • Hours :
    • Monday, Wednesday and Friday - from 6 AM to 7:15 PM
    • Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 6 AM to 10 PM
    • Sunday - 7 AM to 7:15 PM
Overall the lounge is quite spacious, plenty of comfy chairs, chesterfields, desks, to work on. The lounge also features a Business Centre with desktops and printers (should you need to print something out) and its own restroom (so you don't have to use those disgusting restrooms at Union!). Wifi is available in the lounge but was pretty weak when I was there. Good news is that there's free wifi offered by TD that seems to be quite quick. There are no snacks in this lounge. However, there's a selection of light beverages (i.e. Coke) and coffees/teas.

N.B. having been to several lounges on the Via Rail network they're roughly the same in terms of facilities. The main difference with Union is that it's considered their flagship lounge and is more spacious and classy than some of the other ones I have been to **cough** Montreal **cough**.

If snacks were out of the question, I'd place this lounge ahead of a Domestic United Club any day in terms of roominess and classiness. That being said, a crowded MLL will always be better than this lounge on account of the shower

Here are some photos from my most recent trip there:




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Old Sep 9, 18, 3:01 am
  #2  
 
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Interesting. Although VIA and Air Canada (the operators of the contemporary MLLs) both have common historical origins, starting life as divisions of Canadian National Railways, the title of this post was a bit confusing. And I think most would consider Union Station to more approximate the YTZ ICAO code, rather than YBZ.


How are the business class meals on the train these days? I've eaten in the Dining car out west a few times, absolutely fabulous meals if you ask me.
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Old Sep 12, 18, 5:52 am
  #3  
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Originally Posted by pitz View Post
Interesting. Although VIA and Air Canada (the operators of the contemporary MLLs) both have common historical origins, starting life as divisions of Canadian National Railways, the title of this post was a bit confusing. And I think most would consider Union Station to more approximate the YTZ ICAO code, rather than YBZ.


How are the business class meals on the train these days? I've eaten in the Dining car out west a few times, absolutely fabulous meals if you ask me.
I consider this lounge a MLL on account that when AC flights go IRROPs you can often rebook the domestic sector on Via Rail metal due to a re-protection agreement AC has with Via Rail. Hence the lounge in YBZ would be a substitute for the MLL at YYZ/YUL

I've been a Via Rail customer since 2016 and regularly travel in business. I completely agree with you on the meals bit, the quantity and quality of the food is superb, certainly better than anything I would get on a UA or AC. Also the all you can drink menu is something you won't see on most airlines Here's a photo of a meal I had a while ago in business:

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Old Sep 13, 18, 8:05 am
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Originally Posted by j2simpso View Post
N.B. having been to several lounges on the Via Rail network they're roughly the same in terms of facilities. The main difference with Union is that it's considered their flagship lounge and is more spacious and classy than some of the other ones I have been to **cough** Montreal **cough**.
The first-class waiting rooms (I think calling them "lounges" is a bit over the top) in Montreal and Ottawa are so tiny and poky and get so crowded at busy times that you're actually better off finding somewhere to sit in the main part of the station. I literally only walk in there to use the washroom and get a newspaper and a can of soda water and walk back out again.

Originally Posted by j2simpso View Post
I've been a Via Rail customer since 2016 and regularly travel in business. I completely agree with you on the meals bit, the quantity and quality of the food is superb, certainly better than anything I would get on a UA or AC. Also the all you can drink menu is something you won't see on most airlines
I realize I'm going to sound like a cranky old man who is living in the past (like those people who occasionally pop up in the airline forums to reminisce about how they used to carve the roast beef at your seat on a silver platter), but I'm afraid all I can think of is how badly the first class/VIA1/"business class" service has declined over the last ten years, during which period I have spent far, far more time on Montreal/Ottawa/Toronto trains than I would like.

- Hot main course used to be served separately, now everything is on one tray
- No more menu cards
- Tablecloths disappeared, cloth napkins replaced by paper
- Overall quality of the food has suffered a marked decline, though I guess that's somewhat subjective
- But I would like to single out the desserts as having become particularly cheap and nasty, the sort of gooey caramel-besmeared things you might see "reduced for quick sale" in the bakery section at Loblaw (vide j2simpso's photo)
- "Appetizer" is now always either some weird grain salad or a couple of hunks of cheese with 2 grapes and a sad little tomato
- Inept menu planning (e.g. if one of the main course options is cheese and tomato pasta, then maybe the appetizer shouldn't also be cheese and tomato...)
- The little chocolate cups which used to be served with coffee and were IMO the best part of the whole thing are long gone. Now you get chintzy packaged chocolates that taste mostly of wax (or on some trains you actually get a little sachet of Tic Tacs instead)

As for the "all you can drink" bar service, they can pretty easily afford that when the only wine they serve is Wayne Gretzky or something equivalent.

Fortunately most of these cutbacks happened circa 2012-2015 (just before you came along) and there have been no more since, so maybe they've hit bottom. But in short, the "first class" meal service on VIA is more or less equivalent to what you get on an airline in long-haul Y except that they are more generous with the booze and the plates aren't made of plastic. It's not like it was ever fine dining to begin with, but at least I used to feel like the meal service added something to the value of the product, whereas now I'd honestly be just as happy bringing my own sandwich.

I also hate the refurbished carriages with the gaping abyss between you and the non-extendable meal tray for food to fall into (unless you're extremely obese). And the new seats are uncomfortable as hell.

Anyhow, that's my cold Camembert whine for today - I've been meaning to post a good VIA rant for the last couple of years but never got round to it, so this was it. It's gotten so bad I'm actually beginning to wonder what things are like in all those other cars they have tacked on to the back of car 1...
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Old Sep 13, 18, 8:14 am
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Originally Posted by pitz View Post
I've eaten in the Dining car out west a few times, absolutely fabulous meals if you ask me.
The above diatribe about corridor service meals is without prejudice to the dining car on the Canadian, which is still very good.
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Old Sep 16, 18, 2:08 am
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Originally Posted by nolens volans View Post
The above diatribe about corridor service meals is without prejudice to the dining car on the Canadian, which is still very good.
Good. I've never done Corridor business class, but yes, the proper Canadian dining car is still fabulous.
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Old Sep 16, 18, 2:39 am
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Originally Posted by nolens volans View Post
I realize I'm going to sound like a cranky old man who is living in the past (like those people who occasionally pop up in the airline forums to reminisce about how they used to carve the roast beef at your seat on a silver platter), but I'm afraid all I can think of is how badly the first class/VIA1/"business class" service has declined over the last ten years, during which period I have spent far, far more time on Montreal/Ottawa/Toronto trains than I would like.

- Hot main course used to be served separately, now everything is on one tray
- No more menu cards
- Tablecloths disappeared, cloth napkins replaced by paper
- Overall quality of the food has suffered a marked decline, though I guess that's somewhat subjective
- But I would like to single out the desserts as having become particularly cheap and nasty, the sort of gooey caramel-besmeared things you might see "reduced for quick sale" in the bakery section at Loblaw (vide j2simpso's photo)
- "Appetizer" is now always either some weird grain salad or a couple of hunks of cheese with 2 grapes and a sad little tomato
- Inept menu planning (e.g. if one of the main course options is cheese and tomato pasta, then maybe the appetizer shouldn't also be cheese and tomato...)
- The little chocolate cups which used to be served with coffee and were IMO the best part of the whole thing are long gone. Now you get chintzy packaged chocolates that taste mostly of wax (or on some trains you actually get a little sachet of Tic Tacs instead)

As for the "all you can drink" bar service, they can pretty easily afford that when the only wine they serve is Wayne Gretzky or something equivalent.

Fortunately most of these cutbacks happened circa 2012-2015 (just before you came along) and there have been no more since, so maybe they've hit bottom. But in short, the "first class" meal service on VIA is more or less equivalent to what you get on an airline in long-haul Y except that they are more generous with the booze and the plates aren't made of plastic. It's not like it was ever fine dining to begin with, but at least I used to feel like the meal service added something to the value of the product, whereas now I'd honestly be just as happy bringing my own sandwich.
I have noticed a bit of a scale back on the meal service also in terms of the quantity of food (maybe it's just me). I used to remember feeling absolutely stuffed back in '16 on my treks between Toronto and Montreal in business class. Now I'm just "satisfied" after the meal. I also recall there being table cloth early on in my business class adventures. For me that's not a big deal. That being said, I'll take a Via 1 business class meal over an AC or WS front of cabin meal any day! If memory serves me correct those meals on AC consisted of a fruit/cheese platter and the occasional drink. I'd argue that it's un-fare to call Via 1's premium product First. I don't believe they every referred or represented it as being First or Executive class (to use AC's language). If we were to compare it with business class on most global regional rail/air services I would argue Via's doing a good job here.

As for the all you can drink booze service, I think that's another quality that really stands out for Via. Last time I checked AC doesn't serve Dom on-board to J passengers, even on long haul international flights! Sure the booze selection on Via Rail is far from the top shelf but to quote the great one, "skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been" and aside from UA F I haven't such excellent booze service, which lets face it is an important aspect of the long haul travel experience. I know every time I travel with Via in business, I'll get my gin & tonic when I board, have a glass of red during meal service, and finish it off with another spirit or beer post meal (after having the coffee of course!). We can bicker all we want about the quality of the booze but the fact that they are deploying their resources effectively for passenger comfort is what's key. I can't count the number of times where asking for a second booze on an international flight with AC was met with friction!

Originally Posted by nolens volans View Post
I also hate the refurbished carriages with the gaping abyss between you and the non-extendable meal tray for food to fall into (unless you're extremely obese). And the new seats are uncomfortable as hell.
Agree with you on the seating situation, not as plush as I would like, certainly. However, it's better than the 13+ hour Ricaro slimline seats I had to suffer through on a recent TPAC with UA. More than enough for a 5 hour journey IMHO. I would argue the best seats Via ever had on that route were the ones they were using 2 generations ago, the recline on those was so great that you could sneak in a quality nap on the train. I'm unsure if the extra recline is due to design or disrepair but I certainly appreciated it!

Originally Posted by nolens volans View Post
Anyhow, that's my cold Camembert whine for today - I've been meaning to post a good VIA rant for the last couple of years but never got round to it, so this was it. It's gotten so bad I'm actually beginning to wonder what things are like in all those other cars they have tacked on to the back of car 1...
Let's not go there... please no! Having taken Economy in the instances where Business was too pricey it was very much hit or miss. If I could secure the Table d'Haute (i.e. Business Class meal) for $15 then it was certainly better than what you would get in AC Y. OTOH, if that wasn't available your only options were limited to a flimsy sandwich or Kitkat bar which makes the AC On Board Bistro look like front cabin meal service on SQ!
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