4 things you might not know about Canada’s railways

by | May 14, 2024 | Travel and Leisure

At some point, most Canadians have taken a train trip somewhere. Maybe, it was to a different province to visit friends or family, or maybe it was sightseeing on a historic tourist train. Maybe it was simply heading downtown on a daily commute to work.

Many of us may take for granted how important railways are in our lives. Here are four things you might not know about them.

Historic significance
In the late 1800s, the drive to create a cross-country railroad was at the core of creating the nation known today as Canada. In fact, its completion was essential for British Columbia to join Confederation as Canada’s sixth province.

The famous “last spike” of this railway was driven into a railroad tie on November 7, 1885, near Eagle Pass in the B.C. interior, connecting the country from coast to coast. It was just one of about 30 million iron spikes used to complete the line.

Countless new communities developed along railway lines across the continent, and the tracks opened up access to farmland, forests and other natural resources that literally helped build the country.

Economic impact
The fleet of freight trains traversing Canada is one of the economic engines driving the national economy. There are more than 2,000 locomotives that haul 50,000 freight cars across more than 40,000 km of railroad track in Canada. Trains carry nearly $400 billion in goods to and from ports, trucking yards and major manufacturers and distribution outlets every year.

Canada’s rail network is also closely connected with our North American free-trade partners, carrying goods back and forth between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

Plus, every year, millions of passengers travel on regional and interprovincial rail networks to get to work, visit family or go on holiday in Canada.

Various options
While shipping freight is by far the most common use of railways in Canada, there are other important and entertaining uses for Canadian tracks.

Many of Canada’s historic steam trains are still in operation, taking tourists on scenic outings through forests, canyons and mountain passes. There are also modern luxury trains that take passengers through remote parts of the country you couldn’t otherwise see.

And we can’t overlook the many municipal commuter rail cars that people use daily, including subways, streetcars and light rapid rail lines.

Safety first
Given the significant role railways play in so many aspects of the economy, keeping the lines and equipment secure is a top priority for operators. Freight train companies employ their own private police services that have similar powers to other peace officers, such as local municipal or provincial forces.

There are also strict laws against trespassing on railway property, including around tracks and marshalling yards, or tampering with rail equipment. If you do see someone who shouldn’t be on or near train tracks or railway equipment, contact the authorities immediately.

Learn more about the security of Canada’s railways at tc.canada.ca/en/rail-transportation

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