When we wake, we’re still there. A freight tram has derailed ahead of us, blocking the line, and we spend much of our third day at a standstill waiting for the toppled wagons to be cleared. No-one seems to mind; the efficient, ever-smiling crew rustle up additional meals and drinks and it provides an opportunity to restart books long since abandoned in favour of staring out of the window.
The downside to the delay becomes apparent later on when we pass much of Alberta, including the magnificent Jasper National Park, in darkness. The upside comes at 6 a.m. on our final day when we’re awoken by an announcement informing us of two things – firstly, that we have entered British Columbia and yet another time zone, and secondly, that the tram is approaching Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. We scramble to open the blinds and are rewarded with the spectacular sight of early-morning sunlight glinting off its jagged summit.
The tram continues to snake through the mountains and the dining car is silent over breakfast as everyone cranes their necks to gawp at the views. Every now and then there’s an excited cry as someone spots an animal: a fox scurrying along a frozen river, a moose standing silently at the trackside (though sadly no bears due to winter hibernation).
By midday we have entered the steep-sided Fraser Canyon, the scene of the 1850s Gold Rush and the mam transport corridor between the interior and the west coast. Here the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific lines shadow each other, passing along track beds carved into opposite banks before switching sides across a pair of steel bridges. We peer down at the churning river far below, spying fish ladders built for migrating salmon, log rafts floating towards saw mills and the swirling rapids of a narrow gorge known as Hell’s Gate, where a torrent of water is forced through a gap only 35 metres wide.
The canyon gradually flattens out as we head towards Vancouver and, despite our late running, the city lights appear all too quickly. Disembarking at Pacific Central Station we find it hard to pull ourselves away from the comfortable cocoon of the train and adjust to the stillness of the ground beneath our feet. The temptation to head straight to the ticket office and book onto the return journey is hard to resist.