The Service Manager | Conversations on the Train

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The Canadian. Miles of cool, densely corrugated steel encasing sleeper, economy, dining and activity cars. It is gorgeous – If a train can be said to be gorgeous.

© Maurice Li Photography

Fabien, the Service Manager (and, I find out later, union rep), is in the back activity car playing his guitar in the moments he doesn’t have to appease anyone.

I look at the gold name badge that announces his role and ask, “What’s a service manager?”

“The person in charge of the safety and security of the passengers. I’m the guy who makes sure everything that’s supposed to be on board is here. The one who makes sure it’s all running right.”

“How long have you been doing it?”

He tunes his guitar.

“Since 1998. I started as a Red Cap in 1984 in Montreal, handling baggage. I transferred in the Western region in 1996.”

He’s French Canadian and I like the impact this has on the way he phrases things.

“Do you like it?”

He grins, “Yeah! It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle. Jobs are 8am – 4pm. Over here it’s well… you get on the train and the family, it’s your crew. We stay together, very close, and we go forward.”

He launches into a rendition of Puddle of Mudd’s Blurry. I’m not sure what the words other than ‘blurry’ and, ‘can you take it all the way… when you shove it in my face,’ are, so wait until he moves on to Green Day’s Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) before I join in. Then a static voice says something through his walkie talkie. He talks to it briefly, and I use the break to speak.

“What’s the best story from the time you’ve been working?”

“There is no best story, it’s all the best story.”

I give him a look.

“A story, a story… there are many. We meet lot’s of good people, I’ve met John Cleese, Sylvester Stallone, Sting – these are nice people, they love the train. And I’ve collected a lot of addresses from people I can go and visit when I retire.”

“That’s lovely.”

He grins again.

“The New Year’s Eve train is the most fun. We take away the tables and create a dancefloor and have the best champagne. In 2000 we were on the Y2K train, but with so many time changes nobody even cared what time it was.”

He sings a song in French before sipping his tea.

“I guess my story is music. I’ve always played music on the train. The head of the company came on board and liked what I was doing. We talked about it, and I was given the go-ahead to start a music programme. It gives access to musicians. Now we have them performing twice a day on board. We give them a bedroom and a meal in return. So yeah, that’s something that when I retire will be my legacy.”


Until 20th June, if you’re based in the UK, US or Canada, you could win a trip across Canada with VIA Rail. For a chance to win, retweet the following message on Twitter: ‘I RT’d for a chance to win 2 tix across Canada on @Via_Rail #ExploreCanada! #Tbex @ExploreCanada {CAD/US/UK:18+}’

We were hosted by the Canadian Tourism Commission and VIA Rail. More about the trip can be found on the CTC blog. An upper berth is cheaper than a lower berth. If you book well in advance, a discounted fare upper berth costs around $400 (£250) for the Vancouver to Jasper leg of the trip. A lower berth costs around $475 (£300).

From the UK, you can book seats through International Rail by phone on: (0)781 231 0790.

Sophie Collard on Google+

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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Randy

    I rode the CANADIAN with “Fab” out of Toronto Christmas night. Can’t say enough good things about he and the people he was working with – Mickey, Dave, Dawn, Jen, Tannis and others. He really cares about the passengers and his co-workers.

    1. Sophie

      Must have been exciting at Christmas!

      1. Randy

        Sophie – There were only 80 or so passengers out of Toronto, which surprised me considering the train was 22 cars that night. However Fabien advised they would be picking up a lot of people as the trip went on. True to his word, we added more than 400 passengers at Winnipeg and Edmonton combined, not to mention people coming and going at other stations. A broken rail delayed us the first night and while we made up some time, we never did gain all of it back. However, this allowed me to see a few things in daylight I wouldn’t have otherwise, most notably the Fraser River Canyon. I had reading material along with me but never so much as cracked a book open. I was more than satisfied looking out the window, meeting other passengers and getting to know some of the train crew, and enjoying the fantastic meals Dave and Dawn were preparing. After arriving in Vancouver, I dropped down to Seattle, rented an SUV, and spent a week exploring B.C. and western AB. I then headed down to Portland, OR for a visit with friends before flying from Seattle back to Philadelphia. A fantastic 13 days all told. Can’t wait to do it again.

        Some of my photos:

  2. Sophie

    Wow, thanks! Really lovely to hear about the experiences of others as well as from people who plan to ride the train for the first time, or again.

    1. Randy

      This was my fourth adventure on the CANADIAN but it was my first time riding the entire route at once. This train belongs on everyone’s bucket list. In spite of the short days (my other rides were in April/May) I heartily endorse the winter scenery.

      Glad VIA reposted your blog. I really enjoyed it. Great tribute to Fab also.

      1. Sophie

        I’m glad they did too 🙂 and happy you enjoyed it. Got a bunch of other stuff to write about the trip too.

  3. Lyne Bisson Chartier

    He is a good man , I know he is my baby brother , je m’ennui beaucoup de ta musique Fabien love you

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