Border Crossing and Home


…Is this the “Maritime Sailors Cathedral” mentioned in Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald, I wonder?

Anyway, until 2004, it was pretty easy to start out on a train trip from Kitchener, go some distance, and return from the other direction, all by rail. A journey where you don’t double back feels lime more of a perfect journey, in some ways. You see something new throughout the entire length of your trip.

From Kitchener, you could go to Toronto. From Toronto, you could go to Montreal. From Montreal, you could go to New York. And from New York, you had multiple ways to head to Chicago.

The missing link, of course, is Amtrak’s International, the Chicago-Toronto train that disappeared due to dwindling ridership, a frustrating border crossing (which no doubt contributed to the dwindling ridership) and a Michigan State government that wanted to pay Amtrak decent money to let their passengers go to Chicago and arrive at a decent hour in the morning. And, fair’s fair: if they’re ponying up the funds, who is Amtrak to say ‘no’?

So, sadly, without the Chicago to Toronto train, getting back across the border into Canada can be difficult, but there is a way that you can try. Amtrak has since upgraded its Chicago-to-Detroit trains, speeding up travel speeds to over 100 miles per hour. You arrive in Detroit with (hopefully) four hours to get across the border to VIA’s Windsor station, where a VIA Train can take you the rest of the way. In between is the newly opened Detroit Streetcar, and Windsor Transit’s Tunnel Bus — a municipal transit operation that recalls long-forgotten cross-border operations that used to run between Niagara Falls, Ontario and Niagara Falls, New York, or the El Paso PCC streetcars that crossed the Rio Grande to Juarez, New Mexico.

It was a bit of a risk, however. Amtrak’s Wolverine is scheduled to arrive in Detroit at 1:40 p.m. VIA Rail’s train from Windsor to Kitchener (via a connection in London) is scheduled to depart its station at 5:45 p.m. That gave me exactly four hours and five minutes to get across Detroit, get through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, clear Canadian Customs and get across Windsor to the VIA station in order to board my train.

You would think that four hours and five minutes is plenty of time, but then we encountered problems that delayed the Wolverine’s arrival in Detroit by an hour. Then I got out of the station to see a Detroit streetcar passing by and, even though service operates at every ten minutes, I still had to wait thirty minutes to get aboard the next streetcar. Finally, the Tunnel Bus was half an hour late.

Fortunately, there was no serious line-up of cars in the Detroit Windsor Tunnel. And Canadian Customs took the passengers on board the Tunnel Bus and whipped us quickly through security. And Windsor Transit’s one route between the border and the VIA station operated at ten minute intervals and was a straight line. I ended up arriving at the station with 30 minutes to spare. Not a problem, but a lot closer than I would have liked it.

Still, I did get to ride the Detroit Streetcar and the city’s People Mover (the original Scarborough RT cars are still functioning quite well, there), and the Tunnel Bus was interesting. And now I’m on the final leg home.

The last big train trip had many great memories for me, but was pushing it for being too long at 11 days. Six days of travel seems like enough for me. I’ve had good memories, and good pictures. And nearly 5000 words added to The Sun Runners.

Pictures of my last day’s journey can be found here.


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