All aboard the Rocky Mountaineer for the adventure of a lifetime. And a picket line.

Published on 5 September 2011 in , , , ,

Two of the Rocky Mountaineer locomotives

“The Best Train Experience in the World” proclaims a quote on the website, attributed to the Society of American Travel Writers. “One of the World’s Ultimate Experiences” says the Lonely Planet. Even the Daily Mail is gushing. Yep, they all see to agree, a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer is something you need to do. This should be a train trip of a lifetime.

Everything looks good. Their website promises everything will be amazing on our journey to Canadian Rocky Mountains.

There’s just the matter of the picket line to cross first.

Yes, the picket line. Our taxi driver had warned us that there was an industrial dispute as we got into his cab at 6:30am and sure enough as we get to just outside Rocky Mountaineer’s dedicated station a few miles from the centre of Vancouver, the Rocky Mountaineer experience begins.

Locked out Rocky Mountaineer workers

People are shouting, placards are being waved. Those on the line take great pains to emphasise this is not a strike. This is a lockout. Long serving employees were being prevented from working by management due to a contractual dispute that had. The lockout had, by all accounts, been going on for over a month.

As those locked out wave and demand their jobs back, a few, no-doubt thick skinned, non-striking staff scuttle back and forth over the line, whisking luggage from taxis, escorting passengers to the terminal building a short way away. Normally taxis would take people straight up to the door but our driver, like many that morning, was reluctant to cross the picket line. Not that I’d blame him, but it was something necessary to do. As I glumly note, my travel insurance doesn’t cover industrial disputes.

Besides which, the Rocky Mountaineer is an integral part of our holiday and, without doubt, one of the most expensive parts. Over two days it will take us from Vancouver to Jasper, via stunning scenery and amazing views. Our hotel and hire car await us 800km away.

Rocky Mountaineer Station, Vancouver

Over on the other side we check in and our luggage is whisked away and we’re left to sup coffee until its time to board. The station is simple but grand. An old locomotive repair shed, it was refurbished as a station and opened in 2005 after the success of the Rocky Mountaineer as a tourist train saw it outgrow its old home at the Pacific Central Station.

Large displays on one side tell the story of how the Rocky Mountaineer grew and grew. Other displays proclaim how customer service is the most important thing. It’s hard to tarry up with the concept of locking out those same staff and creating a bitter sounding industrial dispute. It doesn’t exactly mean that the passengers journey starts off very well. As we wait to board, we can only hope that things get a little better…

Tomorrow in part 2 it’s all aboard and we’re on our way on the Rocky Mountaineer.

You can read a letter from lockout staff to passengers at the Rocky Mountain Train Lockout blog. In the interest of balance I would link to a viewpoint of the Rocky Mountaineer management. But I have yet to find one.


  • Jim says:

    Thank you for taking the time to educate yourself on this situation and share it with others.
    Sorry you had to go though this experience, a pretty bad way to start you journey and one that could be avoided if the the company actually took the time to negotiate with the union.
    The lock-out has been going on for 75 days now and during this time the company has met Teamsters 31 once (over 40 days ago). The meeting basically consisted of a lecture to the union reps then the company walking out after 11 mins.
    Recently the media rep for Rocky Mountaineer, Ian Robertson, has said there has been saying there have been two offers since then. I have no hesitation in saying this is a lie. There has been no other offers from the company, and both the attendants and union would like to this this resolves asap.
    The attendants have had a wage freeze for 3 years and the most recent offer from the company was for a 2% wage decrease and sharing rooms (considered by many to be a saftey issue when days can be over 16 hours long and sleep is essential). The major issue was fair overtime, with the union asking for overtime after 11 hours.
    For many people being an Onboard Attendant was a career, and they were exceptionally good at what they did. The longest serving Onboard Attandant (22yrs) has just been evicted from her home and is going into emergency shelter with her kids.
    Further information can be found by watching this short video

  • rob says:

    Thank you so much for posting the other side of the story. Such a sad story. A company that has locked out it service workers WOW!!Low blow. It takes all people to build a company but it is it’s front line workers that make sure the product is delivered and delivered well. In reading about this trip it seems that it is these service worker that really help make the trip go from good to amazing.How can a replacement worker do that considering their lack of expertise?

  • onboard1 says:

    Thank you for taking the time to report your experience. Many of the guests travelling since June 22 have been dismayed to cross our picket line and frankly, we are dismayed to be there.
    A guest approached us this morning in tears, having only heard about the dispute from the bus host who was very dismissive, and vague. When the guest asked for more clarification, the host claimed to not know what we are protesting which was infuriating to the guest. The company spokesperson, Ian Robertson has been bold faced lying to any media that contacts him. He claims that 7 offers have been made. 5 have been offered, and as we go along the poor offers get worse. The last meeting was July 8th, and the company offered a 2% roll-back and room-sharing. They ignore guest complaints, refuse to refund or speak the truth of this matter to their guests. No one can understand how this draconian management style can lead to long term success… if you can crack the code, please do share it with us.

  • I travelled with Andrew, the author of this post. We had no idea about the dispute until about fifteen minutes before arriving and on hearing there was a picket line we fully supported the taxi driver in respecting it. We were absolutely mortified to cross the line, as the trip was part of our overall package holiday and we had no other method of travel and did not know what else we could do. I spoke to a couple of locked out staff and expressed my support and they were very polite, telling me ‘we understand’. As you can see we took some pictures and have now blogged about it to help with letting people know this is going on. I felt so sorry to hear that some of the staff have worked for the company for decades and were now locked out. I can imagine it is the kind of job where you put your heart and soul into it and to be locked out must be terrible.
    I feel the company should do everything possible to resolve this situation, as it is a very sad situation and reflects extremely badly on the company. We had a fantastic holiday in Canada and this was the only sour note for us. I hope it is resolved as soon as possible.

  • MARIE BYRNE says:

    We only found out 15mts before we got on train that there was a strike but we were assured that the new staff were very capable.This we found not to be the case the staff we had were very young not alot of customer service and very little knowledge of the surroundings. The food was not a standard for the Gold class we were travelling in it was served very late with not a great selection and not enough. We were more than disappointed with our trip and I am sure this experience would have been different if the regular staff were on board.The Rockymountaineer is not doing itself afavour by employing untrained staff and I would never recommend this this journey to anyone as long as the strike continues