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Bold: Take a ride on the Budd Car in new TVO documentary

A new installment of TVO’s original documentary series Tripping entitled ‘Train 185’ focusing on the locally famous Budd Car

Anyone who lives or works in downtown Sudbury, Ontario is familiar with the Budd Car. That's the unofficial moniker for what has become something of a legendary train service for railfans in Canada.

The Budd Car is the Via Rail passenger train that runs three times a week out of Sudbury and up the line to White River.

Railfans are also likely going to be pleased to see the latest offering from TVO Original Tripping series which focuses on Train 185, the Via Rail designation for the diesel-powered Budd Car.

The three-hour documentary, fittingly titled ‘Tripping: Train 185’, airs April 7 from 7-10 p.m. on TVO and will be available for streaming at and the TVO YouTube channel. 

The documentary was produced by Good Earth Productions for TVO Ontario. 

For any fans of outdoor adventure, the film immerses viewers in the experience of riding the train through the vast and diverse wilderness north of Sudbury, past aging mine headframes, over rocky outcrops rich with minerals, through blackfly-infested moose swamps and into some of the best canoe-tripping areas of North America. 

It's something of a common sight in the early summer to see canoe enthusiasts gathering at the downtown Sudbury train station, dropping off their canoes, their backpacks and groceries as they get ready to board the northbound Budd. The experience is fully documented in the video that shows the train rolling up to the Elgin Street station where the canoeists help the train staff load up the baggage car. 

Mitch Azaria is the executive producer of Good Earth Productions and might be regarded as something of a railfan himself, given the level of his enthusiasm on this project.

“Train 185 may be the best kept secret in Ontario,” Azaria said. “The route is ever-changing, with lakes, rivers, rock cuts and abandoned towns with rich histories.”

Besides the landscapes it traverses, Azaria said the uniqueness of the Budd Car service is what pleased him the most. It is one of the few flagstop trains still in service, meaning a trapper or prospector or person can stand at trackside and flag down the train, anywhere. Or they can request to be dropped off at a certain point along the line, which stretches for almost 500 kilometres from the Nickel City all the way to White River, home of Winnie The Pooh.

“The other great part of the ride is that we’re on the only Budd cars left in North America. These unique rail cars are straight out of the 1950s,” Azaria said. “But the best part of the trip is that we never know what is coming around each corner. Are we going to be flag-stopped? And who might be getting on or off in the middle of the wilderness?" 

Railfans and other outdoor adventurers can see a preview of the documentary here.

The documentary also explores the Chapleau Crown Game Preserve, regarded as the largest Crown game preserve in the world, at roughly two million acres in size. It was created almost 100 years ago, in 1925, and is still protected land today. 

The documentary also touches on the history of the School Car service that existed back in the 1920s through to 1960s when the Ontario Department of Education worked with Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways to provide specially equipped rail cars where children could attend classes. 

They were the children of railway workers and other remote settlers. The school cars would park at a siding for two or three days at a time, give classroom instruction to the youngsters and then send them on their way with several days of homework.

Another historic event the documentary mentions is the creation of the Sudbury Basin, the result of a meteorite impact some two billion years ago. The documentary highlights this event with footage of the rocky terrain north of Sudbury along with some creative computer animation. 

The footage also brings to mind the fact that this section of railway through Ontario's North was built at a time when Canada was still a young nation. It was the 1880s and it was a time when the builders overcame what might have been impossible odds to push a railroad through hundreds of miles of muskeg, blasting through the Canadian Shield,  over lakes and rivers through freezing winters and scorching hot summers.

The documentary will be broadcast by TVO at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 7.

Len Gillis is a reporter at Bold is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.


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Len Gillis

About the Author: Len Gillis

Graduating from the Journalism program at Canadore College in the 1970s, Gillis has spent most of his career reporting on news events across Northern Ontario with several radio, television and newspaper companies. He also spent time as a hardrock miner.
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