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The Polar Bear Express Excursion. A world famous train ride heaped in history taking riders into the far north where the fur trade and logging were the major sources of income. When the Polar Bear Express was introduced to the train riding public back in 1964, the fact that you could ride a passenger train 93.5 miles past the northernmost road to a remote part of Ontario was alone enough to keep the seats filled. Add to that the fact that you could take a variety of tours and learn all about the far north'a colorful history and endure sights you could only see on the southern coast of the James Bay.

However, 40 years is a long time. Although the whole idea of a sub-Arctic adventure was an interestiing one the passenger numbers were beginning to drop. Something had to be done.

Enter a new Director of Passenger Rail Services Gord Ryan. Hired by the Ontario Northland's Head Offices at North Bay in 2002, Gord's main stomping grounds are Cochrane which made sense since all of ONR's passenger train traffic originated from there.

Gord had plenty of damage to clean up in regards to the Polar Bear Express. Two huge contributions to declining ridership were the steady reports of SARS and West Nile Viruses affecting the Tourism Industry clear across Canada.

It was decided after much deliberation that the 4 hour journey north would have to provide the ticket buying public with more 'experiences' while on the train.

Since pretty much all of North America's Excursion Trains were using vintage passenger equipment to allow passengers to experience the 'glory days' of train travel, it was decided that ONR was gonna go shoppin'. We needed dome cars and some stainless steel...now.

Enter BC Rail. After a failed attempt by the West Coast Railway to enter the North American "Dinner Train" Market and a decision to cease passenger service on BCR by the Railway's new CN owners, a 10 car consist called the "Pacific Starlight Dinner Train" suddenly was put on the market. An announcement was made in 2003 that BC Rail was accepting bids for the consist through a huge silent auction. However, there was a catch. Bids were only accepted for the entire 10 car consist. There was no way BC Rail would allow the sale of only one or two pieces of equipment. This move pretty much ruled out any bids from smaller Excursion Operators. It was all or nothing.

After many meetings in both North Bay and Cochrane, ONR presented a bid to BC Rail. In February 2004 Ontario Northland now owned a complete Dinner Train.

All seemed good until it was time to move them the thousands of miles from Vancouver to North Bay. Gord was back on the phone this time to Contacts at both CN and CP Rail with both major Railways ready to charge ONR astronomical amounts of money to move the equipment. Alas, VIA Rail enters the picture.
 

For a slightly more 'modest' price, the Dinner Train would be coupled onto the tail end of a "Canadian" and shipped from BC to Toronto where it would be coupled to a northbound "Northlander". The big move happened in April 2004 with Railfans chronicling the trip of the Dinner Train every step of the way from Vancouver to North Bay. The journey went pretty much uneventful until the Canadian reached Winnipeg where the Dinner Train's APU, a converted CN Steam Generator was "B.O'd" due to a wheel problem and thus left behind.

In late April 2004 the nine Dinner Train cars were in North Bay Yard. A News conference was immediately called to give the general public a view of the newly acquired consist. It recieved rave reviews by the public and politicians alike.

Once the media spotlights extinguished, it was time to prioritize which of the Dinner Train cars were going to be put into Polar Bear Express service. It was decided that the observation car "Indigo", the full length dome car "Stardust", and the half dome lounge car "Twilight" would be hauled into the Shops and readied for service.

While the work was underway in North Bay, in Cochrane Gord Ryan handed over Dinner Train Bar Car "Rainbow" to the local First Nation's. The plan is to provide a rolling educational display showcasing the contributions & sacrifices of the Northern Cree people in creating the Northeastern Ontario of today through displays, art, and crafts. The Bar will be converted into a First Nation's Crafts Souveneir counter with the car scheduled to be included on the Polar Bear Express consist by 2005 after a few successful test runs during the 2004 season.

The 2004 Polar Bear Express season wound up beginning June 26th, 2004 without the dome cars due to the overhauling required of the Indigo, Stardust, & Twilight.

In July 2004, the Northlander hauled the 3 Dinner Train cars into Cochrane from North Bay. After some final 'tweeking' by Cochrane Shops, the Indigo & Stardust debuted on the Polar Bear July 7 2004. A dome window problem sidetracked the Twilight for another 2 weeks.

But after some elbow grease from Cochrane Shops, The "Twilight" debuted during the 2004 season also.

After a hard season of running over 370 miles a day for six days a week along with the typical T.L.C. required to keep such an elite passenger consist running by Cochrane Shops Crews, the "Indigo", "Rainbow", "Stardust", & "Twilight" performed exceptionally well proving to be a big hit with the year's travelling public.

With the 2004 Excursion season wrapping up with impressive numbers thanks to a combination of hard work and the BC Dinner Train consist mixed in with a heavy "Marketing Boost" for 2004 and 2005 by O.N. Rail's Passenger Rail Marketing Department it's safe to say "The Domes will stay", and Cochrane Yard can now be called ,without a shadow of a doubt, O.N. Rail's "Home of the Dome".

ONT NO.

BC RAIL NO.

CAR TYPE

CAR NAME

900

 152

SUPER DOME LOUNGE

STARDUST (Renamed "Otter Rapids")

901

151

DOME

MOONGLOW

902

153

DOME

TWILIGHT

903

154

DINER

RAINBOW

904

155

DINER

APOLLO

905

157

DINER

CONTINENTAL

906

158

DINER

MANHATTAN

907

156

KITCHEN

SAVOY

908

150

DINER-OBSERVATION

INDIGO

206

159

AUXILIARY POWER UNIT

BOREALIS