Having travelled coast to coast to coast on both, with a neon Free Hugs sign no less, I have to say that Amtrak has better coach class seats on long- and short-haul trips, their short-haul routes have better food, there is more frequency and more routes, better access to major cities and the prices tend to be lower. Especially their rail passes. Also, it’s hard to beat the views and wildlife you can observe going through the Rockies, along the Pacific coast, in the Southeast AND Southwest, in the Pacific Northwest and along the Hudson River. And I’m mesmerised by all of the places Amtrak crosses the Mississippi River. Of the two, only Amtrak has high-speed trains as well as sections of high-speed rail used by standard trains. I also like how the passengers from sleeper class and coach class have more opportunities to interact on Amtrak because most trains have only one observation lounge for everyone to share.
That being said, the best things about VIA Rail is the Prestige class on the Canadian (Vancouver-Toronto) and the fact that their long-distance dining cars have real glass, china and cutlery. I also like that they have televisions for movies in the long-distance lounges which Amtrak doesn’t and they also have a dome car which I find offer better views than the Amtrak observation lounges. I like VIA’s short-haul business class more and again their meal service is much nicer than what I’ve seen on Amtrak business class. I find their personnel to be a bit more sociable even if I’ve butted heads with a couple of their employees who work out of Winnipeg. But that can also be because Amtrak crew is more likely to be racialised and have to deal with often entitled and disrespectful passengers (even subtly so) more often than VIA Rail crew do even if only because Canadians tend to be more “nice” and “polite”. I find that VIA’s pet policy is better for long-distance trains as well since the owners are allowed to visit them and walk them during longer breaks but they travel in the baggage car. I also like that all of VIA’s trains are single-level trains (unless you want to go sit under the dome in the dome car. I find that to be far more accessible. Amtrak sequesters those who cannot climb stairs on the bottom of the double-decker trains (ie all of those that don’t enter Penn Station in New York) on the same floor as the luggage racks and bathrooms but totally inaccessible to the observation lounge, the cafe or the dining car. Another important one for coach class passengers is that VIA’s bathrooms tend to be much cleaner than Amtrak’s. I also prefer VIA’s showers (sleeping class only). And VIA also has flash sales which make sleeper class more affordable.
This is just off the top of my head. Does it answer the question?