Reclaiming a place for railways

reclaiming a rightful place for railways in Canada’s awareness …

Today the members of a parliamentary committee studying a bill that affects the railways will be looking at it as they would any other piece of legislation. If they live in the Central Canada Corridor, they’ll travel VIA Rail regularly.

If they live elsewhere, their only personal experience of railways may riding a tourist train on a little-used shortline or in a historic or amusement park.

Many Canadians impressions of the railways is limited to what they see in the news, or in driving beside a freight train or waiting for it at a crossing.

100 years ago our railways claimed in annual reports and advertising that

What’s good for Canadian Pacific or Grand Trunk or Canadian Northern—CN didn’t exist till 1921—is good for Canada.

People accepted that as obvious. The goods they used, including furniture and appliances, came from the manufacturers by rail. Their food supply—milk in cans, cattle to market, meat from the packing plans, vegetables and fruit from growers—traveled by train in refrigerator cars.

People traveled by rail, or by the railway company steamships connecting our coastal islands with the mainland, serving inland lakes or crossing seas to Europe and Asia. Canada’s major airlines began as offshoots of railways: Canadian Pacific and Trans-Canada Airlines (TCA now Air Canada).

The postal service (mail, parcels and Christmas presents) traveled by train. Telegraph and Telex networks, forerunners of the Internet and Wi-Fi, were set up and operated by the rail companies. CBC began as a series of radio stations along CN’s lines to feed news and entertainment to its passengers.

What is different is not only people’s travel patterns but a narrower focus on what affects us. The railways have spun off hotels, telecommunications and other services where people saw their names and formed impressions. Today that impression may be limited to the news coverage of an accident.

Canadian Classroom rebuilds that kind of connection for the promising youth who spend 72% of their 7 weeks exploring the country from the platform of Canada’s rail system. These will include public and business leaders. Some may be future customers. A few will be company directors and MPs reviewing rail legislation. One may even be your future CEO!