Riding the Agawa Canyon Train

I had the pleasure of riding the Agawa Canyon Tour Train recently. I was working with Rail Travel Tours as a co-guide for almost 50 guests touring railway and other attractions in northern and western Ontario. For me, and I think many of our guests, the Agawa Canyon train was the highlight of the trip.

You board the train at their dedicated station in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, just west of downtown “Soo” and near the historic canal. The station building is quite new and the train backs into the spur to load passengers for the round trip to the Agawa Canyon.

The trip takes about 10 hours in total, including the 90 minute stop in the Canyon. The train makes no stops other than in the canyon and at the start and end of the journey.

Our train was led by three ex Amtrak F40PH locomotives, WAMX 111, 110, and WAMX 112. There were 17 cars on this train. These are the cars on the train that I recorded, starting with the car leading on the way out of Sault Ste Marie: AC 5709, AC 5708, AC 5710, AC 5713, AC ????, AC 5703 (snacks), AC 5707 (diner), AC 5654, AC 5655, AC 5656, AC 5702, AC ????, AC ???? (snacks), AC 5706, AC 5700, AC 5712, and AC 5704. Our tour group was split between 5712 and 5704, which was nice because we had easy access to the end of the train for viewing!

The train left promptly at 8 AM and rolled under the International Bridge (to Michigan and the USA) and through Steelton Yard, past the Algoma Steel mill, and out of the city. Soon we were rolling through glorious fall colours. The trees were at peak colour and people could not stop taking photos and video.

Several people took advantage of being in the last car of the train to photograph and/or video out of the back of the train. There’s a door there – not a platform, sadly – but you can get some great photos through the window in the door.

Here’s the bridge just before mile 20 – not the famed Montreal River trestle but still pretty impressive.

There is an old train station at Searchmont (mile 31.5). This two story station was built in 1902 and featured an outdoor privy. It is recognized as a federal heritage station but it is not in great shape as you’ll see from the photo below. There is a lot of information on the station here and in this PDF.

The Equipment

The Agawa Canyon train is pulled by ex Amtrak F40PH-2 locomotives, numbered WAMX 110, 111 and 112. I don’t know if all three run on every train. This photo from October 2022 shows only two locomotives, one on each end.

Our train had 17 cars. Most rail cars are coaches, with two rows of seats on each side of a central aisle. The majority of the seats are arranged in groups of 4 with two facing the direction of travel and two facing “backwards”. Since the train goes “out and back” without turning, if you keep the same seat, you’ll face forward for half the trip. The seats are reasonably comfortable.

The train has some services on board. At least one car (AC 5655) is handicap accessible with a few spots for wheelchairs. There is a diner car – really, a partial diner car – where you can order a few hot meals and sit and eat them there. The menu is pretty limited.

There were two cars that had snack bars offering a selection of drinks, chips, bars, and so forth.

The train has GPS-triggered announcements that communicate some of the history of the line as you travel toward the canyon. They don’t broadcast again on the way back, thankfully.

One car has a gift shop featuring branded sweatshirts, stuffed animals, pens and so forth.

Not all cars are the same inside – the decor varies considerably. Many of these cars were from a Denver ski train service, acquired by CN in 2009, and refurbished in 2010 and 2011. Chris van der Heide has a lot of information on the train (and the Algoma Central in general) on his site.

There’s no Internet available, nor are there power outlets at the seats. If you look around, you can find a power outlet to charge a phone if you need it.

One very cool feature is the view from the lead locomotive, available on black and white displays in each car. This is very helpful for people like me to spot upcoming scenic attractions, like bridges or lakes. For example, this view told me the train was about to cross the famed Montreal Falls trestle so I could get ready to photograph it!

The Scenery

The scenery from the train is outstanding. We traveled in peak fall colour season and the red, orange, gold and green leaves were just breathtaking.

For me, there were two highlights of the trip – crossing the Montreal Falls bridge, and walking in the Agawa Canyon itself.

Along the way, there are numerous lakes and lots and lots of foliage, beautiful in their own right.

Points on the route are accessible by road, so there are a number of cabins that are visible from the train. The canyon itself is only accessible by train – or walking, I suppose.

At the Canyon, there are several somewhat-marked trails that you can explore while the train waits. The most ambitious is the Lookout Trail, which ascends almost 300 steps (and 76m) to overlook the canyon. I took the Otter Creek Trail to the Bridal Veil falls, which were a little underwhelming at this time of year. The trail entrances could be better marked, in my opinion.

The trail along the river is lovely and easy to walk for all ages and abilities. The Otter Creek Trail was very popular when I was there.

Of course, I was very interested in the train itself. Several minutes after the train arrives, the locomotives detach from one end and run around to the other end of the train.

The best time to take a photo of the entire train is right after they complete the runaround move. There aren’t many people around – they are on the trails. If you wait until near the end of the 90 minute stop, people will be taking selfies with the locomotives and you’ll never get a clear shot.

I was one of two people flying a drone there. Naturally, be cautious when doing so and avoid flying over people. I kept my drone on the far side of the tracks. I would have preferred to be on the river side but that’s where the people were.

Taking the Train

The train runs for a limited time in the fall. In 2023 it ran between August 3 and October 15.

You can book tickets for the train online at Agawa Canyon Tour Train (agawatrain.com). You might also consider booking a package through a tour company like *ahem* Rail Travel Tours, where they take care of everything. I’m not being compensated for that…

Tickets cost up to $155 per person for the round trip. I think it is well worth it!

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