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Canada's Hitchhiker Trains

Canada's Skeena rail route may be less known but it's still one of the most beautiful in the world.

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Compared with Canada's more well known routes, the Skeena's is far less known. But it's one of the world's most beautiful rail journeys – and remains crucial for far flung communities.

In between oxbow lakes, banks of yellow snapdragons and feathery fingers of conifer stroking the sides of the train, there are regular signs of the area's industrial past – and present – where gold panners, sternwheelers, farmers and fishermen made up many of the communities dotted along the line. Both The Canadian (a transcontinental passenger train from Vancouver to Toronto) and the luxury Rocky Mountaineer (whose routes include scenic trails in Western Canada and the Canadian Rockies) are a regular feature of the landscape, their carriages dwarfed by peaks gathered like a group of elders.

However, it is First Nations reserves that dominate here between abandoned sawmills, quarries and towns called Penny and Dunster, where double-digit populations reside around little more than a post office and a petrol station.

Skeena is the only source of transportation to get in and out of these remote areas. The engineers and the staff always get a heads-up and look out for regulars who get on and off the train: hermits, remote dwellers and fishermen.

A little past the town of Smithers, after a lull in the journey, Skeena crosses the Highway of Tears – a 725km stretch of road that runs parallel to the tracks. Since the 1950s, a number of young women have gone missing while hitchhiking between Smithers and Prince Rupert, a journey they are forced to undertake on foot due to poverty and a severe lack of public transport along Highway 16, other than a twice-weekly bus.

Indigenous people hop on and off this train to go to gatherings and events; there's no other way but a solitary bus. Official figures suggest that the number of disapperances is around 20, but families and community activists estimate that it's more than 50 women who have disappeared or been found dead.

At one point, the eponymous Skeena River emerges from the north and stays tight to the train, cheering it on to the finish line. Taking its name from the indigenous Gitxsan band, meaning "river of mists", the Skeena River thrashes through canyons and passes through mountains before it finally peels away from the train and pours into the Pacific Ocean, leaving passengers to journey into Prince Rupert alone.

Source: BBC Travel

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