Search on MTL Blog

The Forgotten Montreal To Toronto Luxury Train

Montreal's high class train no one remembers.
The Forgotten Montreal To Toronto Luxury Train

Fifty years ago, getting to Montreal from Toronto (and vice versa) used to be faster, cheaper, and much more comfortable. Well, by train, at least.

It's hard to wrap your head around that fact that half a century ago, when most travel-tech (and technology in general) was a far cry from what it is today, that taking a train to Toronto would actually take less time.

But it's true, because in the 1960s, the Canadian National Railway Company (or just CN) was using innovative "Turbo trains" to make the Montreal-Toronto trip.

Unseen today, and largely forgotten, the CN's Turbo trains were like a plane on wheels, and were advertised as such. Outfitted to be as luxurious as possible, the trains featured reclining seats, carpeting, soft indoor lighting, folding tables, and a meal service, just like you'd get on a flight.

The Turbo trains even had engines typically found in turboprop planes, allowing them to travel 30% faster than a standard train model. With the Turbo trains, a trip to Toronto took a tiny bit less than 4 hours, a full 45 minutes faster than it takes today.

Created to be the more affordable (but just as comfortable) alternative to flying, tickets for the Turbo train clocked in at $8.20 in 1968 ($55 today using an inflation calculator), decidedly cheaper than the $23 it would cost passengers to fly by plane.

And the Turbo trains were arguably more convenient. A Telegraph article from 1968 cites that while the flight from Montreal to Toronto itself only takes 65 minutes, when you factor in the time it takes to get to the airport, finding your terminal, and dealing with security, the trip would take 2hrs 45mins.

CN's Turbo trains, which were free from many of the hassles involved with flying and landed you directly in the downtown, made the trip in 3hrs 59mins exactly. The trip could go by even quicker, but the trains could never reach their top speed due to safety concerns.

So what happened to these luxury Turbo trains that connected Canada's two largest cities? Why have you never had the chance to be whisked away to Toronto in carpeted train cabins in under 4 hours? And why does no one remember them?

To answer all three questions: the Montreal to Toronto Turbo trains just didn't work all that well.

On its inaugural run on the 539-kilometre stretch between Montreal and Toronto, the CN Turbo train started on a path that would define its tenure as a means of transportation: The train hit a meat truck.

While no one was hurt during the collision, the trip was cut short, with passengers forced to get to Toronto when the next train was sent out.

And the accidents kept on happening. Soot emanating from the engines exhaust would cover windows, the brakes would malfunction during the winter, and tons of other mechanical issues forced the Turbos to be taken out of commission repeatedly, only to reappear years later.

Eventually, by 1982, CN (which has already changed its passenger-service name to Via Rail) must have gotten fed up, as the Turbo trains were replaced altogether with diesel LRCs. And so the luxury Montreal-Toronto Turbo train trip ended forever.

Personally, I think its a pretty huge trip (pun!) that a 50-year-old train could actually make the journey to Toronto faster than what's on the rails today, all while making it more comfortable. It's even stranger that no one seems to remember this train service even existed, because it seemed like a pretty big deal at the time.

And worse still, we'll never get to take a Turbo to Toronto or Montreal, so we'll just have to live vicariously through the promo videos for the train below.

Recommended For You