The Trans Canada Railway

The railway, with its ability to transport both goods and passengers, transformed the country into a major economic force. New towns and cities sprouted up along the lines, and a whole new way of life was developed for people who had never before ventured from their home provinces.

In 1880, a syndicate led by Montreal businessmen signed a contract with the federal government to build the Trans Canada railway. Construction began in earnest in 1881 and, with the final driving of the “Last Spike” on 7 November 1885, the line was completed. It was one of the great engineering feats of the day and a testament to the indefatigable supervision of CPR General Manager William Van Horne and the determination of Prime Minister John A. Macdonald to see the project through.

After the railway was built, new opportunities opened up for farming and other businesses, which accelerated the growth of the new country. As a result, the population exploded. New towns sprang up along the railway from Winnipeg to Vancouver. Thousands of workers were employed building the railway, including a large number from China who helped to construct the western sections of the line.

From its earliest days, the railway was an economic powerhouse and a symbol of Canadian nationhood. In addition to providing work for thousands of men and women, the exploitation of natural resources and transportation of goods and commodities allowed for the development and expansion of cities and towns that were far removed from the largest urban centres in the country.

Today, CN operates more than 22,000 miles of track in seven provinces and the United States. Its freight rail service carries grain and fertilizers, potash, coal, oil and other petroleum products, steel, automobiles, chemicals, forest products and other commodities to ports across the continent.

CN also offers passenger services through its subsidiary, Grand Trunk Pacific. Its most popular train is The Canadian, which travels from Vancouver to Toronto. Its five-day trip provides passengers with an opportunity to experience the beautiful landscapes of western Canada, rocked to sleep by the rhythm of the rails and savouring made to order meals as they glide through mountain ranges and lakes.

Despite the fact that CN and CP are the largest freight railways in the world, they continue to prioritize passenger trains over their own operations. Prioritizing passenger over freight could be seen as the tail wagging the dog, as the railways, their customers and Canadians in general are subsidizing those who ride Via trips. This may help to explain why trip times are slipping in some cities and that the railways have been reluctant to invest in improvements.

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