- In 2022, I took business-class trains on Via Rail in Canada and Trenitalia in Italy.
- My $216 Via Rail ticket included meals and station lounge access. The $100 Trenitalia fare didn’t.
- After comparing both trains, I thought my business-class ride in Italy was more comfortable overall.
I’ve spent more than 150 hours on train rides over the last year and a half, ranging from 3 to 30 hours long while exploring the US, Canada, and Europe by rail. And I’ve found that the more time I spend on trains, the more I value being comfortable. Having enough space, a cushy seat, and a clean bathroom are are now necessities, and that’s why I started upgrading to business class on my most recent trips.
In August 2022, I took a business-class Amtrak train to Niagara Falls, New York, where I crossed the border into the Canadian province of Ontario. Later that week, I took a 6-hour Via Rail business-class ride in Canada from Toronto to Montréal.
Two months later, I took a 4-hour Trenitalia business-class ride in Italy from Venice to Rome during a two-week train trip through Europe.
Overall, I decided that my rides in Canada and Italy were far better business-class experiences than in the US, where the price did not feel worth it for the journey I had.
So, I decided to compare my train trips in Canada and Italy to figure out which country offered the best business-class experience.
Canada’s main railroad system, Via Rail, is one of the most accessible and popular ways to travel by train in Canada, serving more than 400 stations in eight provinces across Canada with economy seating, business class, and sleeper accommodation, according to its website.
Via Rail runs 10 fleets of passenger trains that go up to 100 miles per hour, according to the Via Rail corporate website. Business-class Via Rail cars are typically marked by a blue and yellow stripe at the top, according to the same source.
Trenitalia is the main train operator in Italy that is owned by the Italian government, and serves more than half a billion travelers each year, according to its website. The trains stop at 64 stations in Italy, according to Moovit, which finds routes and transportation options around the world.
Trenitalia runs several series of trains, from high-speed rides to inner city connections, according to the train ticketing site, Italia Rail. I rode a train from the Frecciarossa series, which is the second-fastest series after Alta Velocità that reaches 250 miles per hour, according to Italia Rail.
This was my first time on both Via Rail and Trenitalia, so I was excited to see how the train rides compared, especially in a premium setting such as business class.
In Canada, my Via Rail ride cost $216. Based on my research, standard coach tickets start at around $100.
To travel by train in Europe, I bought a Eurail pass for $477, which gives access to most European trains for a set number of days. Some trains and classes only require a Eurail pass to ride, while others incur an additional discounted price.
For my business-class Trenitalia trip, I paid an additional $10 to upgrade my ticket to business class on top of the Eurail pass fee. But without the Eurail pass, business-class tickets on this route typically cost around $100, according to a search on Trainline I made looking at dates that are three months ahead.
I arrived at Toronto’s Union Station at 7:30 a.m. for my 8:30 a.m. train to Montréal because I knew my business-class ticket came with access to an exclusive lounge at the station with plenty of seating and free refreshments.
The lounge was mostly empty on a Friday morning. I thought it was a quiet and peaceful place to enjoy a coffee and get some work done. According to their website, Via Rail’s lounges are available to passengers traveling in business class, sleeper plus, prestige, and VIA Rail Premier members traveling in economy inside major train stations in Canada.
For my 1:38 p.m. Trenitalia ride to Rome, I arrived at Venice’s Mestre Station just after 1 p.m. because I knew my ticket didn’t include access to a lounge.
When I arrived, I went straight to my designated platform upon arrival and waited for my train on a bench. It was a sunny day in Venice, and the outdoor platform wasn’t crowded, so I didn’t mind waiting outside.
Although I didn’t visit a lounge as part of this ride, Frecciarossa has these exclusive areas at select stations, too, called FRECCIALounges. They’re only free to access for passengers traveling in executive class, Gold or Platinum FRECCIA credit card holders, and groups of 10 with business-class tickets, according to Trenitalia. These lounges are also only available in five stations in Italy: Roma Termini, Milano Central, Bologna Central, Firenze Santa Maria Novella, and Napoli Centrale, according to the same source.
When I entered each business-class train, one of the first things I noticed was the space provided to store luggage.
On both trains, I was able to store luggage under the seats in front of me and in overhead bins. I tend to travel with just a backpack, so there was enough room for it on both trains above my seat.
In Canada, my backpack didn’t fit underneath the seat in front of me, so I slid it into an overhead bin, which was challenging for me to reach since I’m 5-foot-3.
But in Italy, I felt like I had enough space underneath the seat in front of me for more than just my backpack. I thought that I would have been able to fit a whole duffel bag or carry-on suitcase beneath the Trenitalia seats if I needed, in addition to the area provided above.
The seating configuration onboard business class trains in Canada and Italy was very similar.
In Canada, I was traveling by myself, so I booked a seat in a single row, and was happy to have my own space.
In Italy, I traveled with my partner. Most of the single-row seats faced each other with a shared table in between, which is what we booked. The double-row seats faced another row of two seats, which I thought made it ideal for groups of four.
When I have to sit on a train for hours, I want to feel like I’m relaxing. So a cushy, spacious seat is what I look forward to most in premium cabins like business class.
In Canada, right away, I thought that my Via Rail seat was one of the most comfortable I’d ever experienced on a train. I attributed this to the fact that the top of my seat was curved, and I was able to rest my head in a comfortable position for lounging.
The Toronto Star reported that Via Rail business-class seats are 18.5 inches wide, which felt large enough for me. It also reclined, giving me a chance to relax more during the long journey.
Two months later in Italy, I was surprised to find that the Trenitalia seats were even more comfortable than the Via Rail seats. Trenitalia’s seats are about 25 inches wide, according to the train booking site ACP Rail International. It also had a curved headrest and reclined.
While both seats reclined and had curved headrests and outlets to charge my devices, I thought the Trenitalia seats looked noticeably wider and thicker than on Via Rail. When I sat down, I found that they felt even cushier, like a small couch or loveseat, which gave it the edge for me over Via Rail.
Since I’m only 5-foot-3, having a lot of legroom isn’t totally necessary for my comfort on long trips, but I do prefer to have enough space to stretch a little.
The Toronto Star reported that Via Rail business-class seats have a 39-inch seat pitch. I also noticed that the seat had a foot rest, which I used to extend my legs when they started to feel stiff.
Trenitalia’s seats are about 63 inches apart, according to the train booking site ACP Rail International. So my partner and I each had 31.5 inches of legroom. I thought it was enough room for people traveling together who don’t mind sharing the space, but if I didn’t know the person sitting in front of me, I would have felt cramped.
I think having a table on a train ride makes it easier to eat, work, read, and play games. I had one on each ride, though they differed slightly.
In Canada, I had a seatback tray table, which is typical of most train rides I’ve taken. There was a cup holder in the top right corner to keep my drinks from spilling while the train was moving.
In Italy, our seats came with a table in the middle that folded out on both sides for additional space. It was large enough for us to play cards, which excited me. I’ve always loved card games. When I took trains as a kid, I played with my brother while sitting on the floor using our seats as a table. So, dealing out a hand comfortably on a train without making a mess was not only comfortable, but a memorable experience.
In Canada, I was surprised to find that I had a side table in addition to a tray table that pulled out in front of me, since no other train I’ve ever been on offered two tables per passenger.
Throughout the trip, I used the side table to hold my coffee while working and to store my laptop while taking breaks. I thought the side table gave me the advantage of putting my tray table up so I could have more space in front of me.
In Italy, there was no additional side table at my seat, but since the table provided was larger, I thought it served the same function. When I wasn’t using the table, I folded it back up to give myself more space, just like the tray table in Canada.
Ultimately, I found that with both Canada’s two small tables and Italy’s larger shared table, I had adequate room for eating, drinking, and working on my laptop on both rides.
For train rides that are more than five hours long, I always make a plan for eating, whether its bringing my own food, confirming the train has a cafe car, or booking a ticket that includes a meal.
Some train lines serve complimentary meals to business and first-class guests.
In my case, my 6-hour Via Rail ride in Canada included complimentary meals, which were brought to my seat by a train attendant. For breakfast, I was served a warm bagel with cream cheese. It was no New York bagel, I thought, but it was decent and filled me up.
The lunch menu on the same ride was announced over the loudspeaker. I chose a rigatoni dish with sides of corn salad, bread, and carrot bread for dessert. The meal was better than I expected with an al dente cook on the pasta. I also thought it was much better than pasta I’ve tried on Amtrak trains in the US in the past.
Trenitalia’s ticket didn’t come with a meal, but the attendants came by with complimentary trail mix and drinks. They served me coffee and tangerine juice with my snack. Since it was a shorter ride, I was fine without the meal. But if had gotten hungry, I would have gone to the cafe car to purchase more refreshments.
Trenitalia didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment about if any business-class tickets include meals.
On Via Rail in Canada, I quickly learned that business-class trains here came with a lot of luxury perks like the attendant service that I found to be exceptional.
Shortly after departing, a train attendant came around with complimentary drink service, and then again for refills about an hour later. Between meals, the same attendants came around with snacks and warm hand wipes, as well. Via Rail didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on whether or not these services are offered on all business-class trains.
On the Trenitalia train, I found luxury perks, too, like complimentary snack and beverage services. However, in my experience, the train attendants on the Trenitalia came by with snacks and drinks less frequently than on the Via Rail train. Trenitalia didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment about business-class perks.
Knowing where I am is on my journey when I’m taking trains is really important to me. Even if I know I have hours before my stop, I feel more comfortable and confident as a traveler when I know the train’s route.
Usually, I just use my phone to look up my train’s route and then double-check on Google Maps that I’m headed in the right direction. I did this in Canada, where stops were announced over a loudspeaker, which is typical of most trains I’ve been on.
But in Italy, I didn’t have to use my phone because the Trenitalia train had informative screens around the car. I was able to look in nearly every direction at any time to see when my stop was coming up. I had never seen this inside a train car prior to my trip to Europe, and I thought it was a nice touch that relieved me from having to constantly check my phone.
I’ve come to not expect much from train bathrooms. In many of my experiences, they’ve felt cramped, even in first and business classes.
I didn’t notice anything special about Via Rail’s business-class bathroom compared to other train classes or rides I’ve experienced, but I was impressed by how clean the bathroom appeared to be compared to most train bathrooms I’ve used.
But on the Trenitalia train, I walked into what I thought was the nicest train bathroom I’d ever used. The business-class bathroom felt spacious and clean with blue lighting and a large mirror above the sink.
Usually, I’m rushing to get out of a train bathroom as quickly as I can because it feels cramped, dirty, or both. But on the Trenitalia train, I felt comfortable taking a little bit extra time to look in the mirror.
Deciding which business-class ride was better was a challenge for me. I thought both trains were far more comfortable and luxurious than any rides I’ve booked in the past.
While the Via Rail train in Canada came with additional luxury perks like complimentary meals and lounge access, I ultimately decided that I had a better time on Trenitalia thanks to its ultra-comfy, spacious seats, as well as features that the Via Rail car didn’t offer, like informative screens and an elevated bathroom. I also appreciated that it was priced affordably.
In a statement to Insider, Via Rail said a new fleet of trains on the same route I traveled will soon feature several changes. The new trains will have “wider aisles, automatic touchless interior doors, extendable tray tables, and ergonomic seats,” the statement said.
The statement noted more updates like the addition of business-class pods, high-speed data connection, and redesigned bathrooms. “We will offer garbage collection onboard the train and recycling bins,” the statement also said.
But whether you’re traveling four hours or six, I recommend traveling in business class on both Canada’s and Italy’s trains for a luxury experience where you really can’t go wrong in either location.