45-Hour Train from Winnipeg to Churchill in Winter – What it Looks Like?
THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. PLEASE READ MY DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.
This early March, I made a 45-hour train trip from Winnipeg to Churchill.
For many years, Churchill, a small town in northern Manitoba on the edge of Hudson Bay, has been a place of my dreams.
It has 800 inhabitants. Despite its small population size, the Aurora Borealis is visible 300 days out of the year. Churchill is also regarded as the polar bear capital of the world. In the fall season, groups of tourists flock there to watch polar bears hunting seals on the Hudson Bay. It also offers an opportunity for you to watch beluga whales in the summer.
Churchill appears to be a rough place to live and travel in the winter. The temperature often plummets below -40 degrees Celsius. There are no roads connecting this town to other places. Train and airplane are the only ways to get there.
Considering the airfare is astronomically high, travel to Churchill by train was my best option. A one-way train from Winnipeg to Churchill takes 45 hours. The train runs through Manitoba, passes through northern Saskatchewan, and stops by Thompson and Gilliam, where the road ends. From there, the train travels on the tracks that are built on the permafrost.
Tickets and the price
A one-way ticket from Winnipeg to Churchill costs $230. I booked the tickets in Toronto Union Station a month before the trip. However, I found that you can also purchase the ticket on a walk-in basis in the low season. There are no huge differences in prices whether you book it early or at the last minute. You can also purchase the tickets online here.
There are no assigned seats in the economy class, so I was able to choose my own seats. I found a quad with two rows facing each other and slept there for two nights.
Winnipeg Train Station
Winnipeg train station is in close proximity to the Forks and was built in a grand Beaux-Arts style. There is a railway museum inside the station for you to visit.
The station is easy to navigate. There is only one boarding area. The attendants were friendly. They casually chatted with us and happily answered any questions we had.
There is a whiteboard in the boarding area showing the actual time of departure. It turned out that the train that left from Churchill two days before was running 17 hours behind. Our boarding time was also delayed from 12:05 pm to 1:40 pm.
I ordered lunch at the only café inside the station. There, you can select anything from burgers to sandwiches to soups and a variety of beverages. This was the last time I ate a proper meal until I arrived in Churchill.
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- Frozen River and Ice: A Walk on the Churchill River in the Winter
- 8 Days in Churchill Manitoba: A Photo Journey
The Ride from Winnipeg to Churchill in Winter
When I got on the economy car, I was surprised there was only another passenger there. It was more like a private car to us. We enjoyed our companionship in silence until she got off at Dauphin. Then I had the whole car to myself. At midnight, two native Indians got on the train from northern Saskatchewan.
I walked on the train, checking out the facilities and dining options. There was a bathroom at each end of the car. The dining car was open. They hired a chef who cooked fresh meals, which is rare in the winter. The meals were free for those in the sleeping berth but cost extra for the economy passengers.
There is a takeout café on board where you can order snacks, light meals, and drinks. I ordered tea in the afternoons and was pleasantly surprised when it came with free dessert. They also had a selection of hot meals, sandwiches, burgers, and pizza. The food was microwaved and tasted average.
We were scheduled to stop for five hours in Thompson, where I planned to get fresh meals in town. However, the train was already seven hours late, so the crew decided to stop there for only 10 minutes. We were allowed to get off the train and stretch a little bit.
By midnight on the second day, we were on the tundra, spending 10 hours traveling the last 271 kilometers.
By this time, I frequently woke up from sleep. The tracks were not stable. The train was moving from side to side, as if we were on a boat constantly hit by small waves. The further we went, the fewer trees we saw, and the landscapes became exceptionally barren and flat. Hydro poles run parallel to the train tracks, generating electricity to Churchill and the rest of Canada. As we approached Gillam, more passengers got on. It made a peaceful journey all of a sudden come alive.
The scenery on the train
The dome-window seating area offered us a 360-degree view of the harsh winter landscape of northern Manitoba. Hudson Bay was a mixture of snow and ice, and only the pine trees and toughest mammoths survived.
After the train left Winnipeg, there were only small towns after small towns. Skyscrapers and the fast-paced life of metropolis disappeared. Quiet neighborhoods and local shops appeared, with hidden cabins in the forest, families going snowboarding in the afternoons, and couples strolling along the streets. Few station buildings were made by a small house and the structure had been deteriorating over the years. There, nobody got on or got off.
I was fortunate to witness a gorgeous sunset on my first night, when the sky turned pink and the sun was setting behind the mountain. We were in a remote area that few people got access to. It felt so peaceful, and I was able to enjoy it without the disturbance of the crowds.
The snow was too deep to the point that the train tracks were no longer visible until the train passed through to clear it. I could imagine how difficult it is to operate a train under that climate. Because the trips are long, engineers are only allowed to work for a certain amount of time and take eight hours mandatory break. When this happens, delays are unavoidable.
When the train made a stop in the day, we did not mind getting off, breathing in the fresh air, and checking out the nearby infrastructure. The train staff was in the usual relaxing mood, sharing stories and their knowledge about the region with us.
The train trip from Winnipeg to Churchill was a unique experience. The scenery in the winter was flat and most parts were blanketed out by the snow. However, even in this frigid cold weather, life still goes on and locals have learned to adapt. The staff always looked happy and friendly and provided the best service they could. I was able to talk to native Indians and working professionals and learned a great deal about the area.
However, the ride was too long. When I got off the train, I felt like the world was still turning around. It took me a while to get back down to earth. I relaxed in my hotel IceBerg Inn for a bit and was able to go out and explore Churchill. My experience there proved that it was worth every second of a 45-hour trip.
Tips for taking this train
Do not plan anything significant until a day after this trip. The delay can be up to 17 hours, so be flexible with your itinerary, and relax and enjoy the ride. Northern Manitoba is completely a different world, so take in all the remote wilderness it offers.
If you travel on a budget, bring your own tea and coffee, and ask for hot water. It is a lot cheaper this way than keep buying coffee and tea on the train.
If you are a light sleeper, bring noise-canceling headphones.
Bring your own movies, music, and books. It is not unusual for the train to get delayed, and sometimes it can get stuck in the middle of nowhere for hours. There are no places to just hop off, so you will need to find a way to entertain yourself.
Talk to the locals on the train, especially those getting on from northern Saskatchewan and Gilliam. You will be astonished about the world they are living in.
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