Rails Across Canada, By David Cable

Rails Across Canada: A Pictorial Journey From Coast To Coast is a small, coffee-table book written by David Cable featuring his photography across the country taken between 1991 and 2006.  The title was released in 2015 by Pen & Sword Transport, a publishing company based in Britain.  It covers Canada's railroads through 208 pages of all-color photography featuring most of the country's most well-known lines ranging from the two large Class I's to small short lines such as the New Brunswick Southern and Goderich & Exeter.

Since American-Rails.com primarily highlights American railroads and its rich history I most often focus on that particular subject.  However, Canadian lines not only have a fascinating history themselves but are alsointegrally tied to America's operations, owning or controlling several systems in the Lower 48 states such as the Grand Trunk Western; Central Vermont Railway; Soo Line; and Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific among others.  As a result, when the folks at Pen & Sword Transport asked if I would like to review one of their newest titles, Rails Across Canada, I was more than happy to do so.

Canadian railroads closely parallel that of American lines in having largely the same gauge (standard; 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches), similar locomotives (steam and diesel), other equipment, and passenger services.  However, their origins deviate in one notable way; they were constructed as government projects under government rule during the 19th century when Canada was a part of the British Empire.  In contrast, nearly all American lines were originally built with mostly private funding and almost no government oversight or control (leading to abuses that later resulted in agencies and rules created for safer operations).

Most notable of Canada's rail projects included the construction of the Canadian Pacific (CP) and Canadian National (CN) railroads.  Interestingly, CN's old slogan was appropriately titled, "The People's Railway."  In May of 1869 the United States celebrated the completion of its first Transcontinental Railroad when, with government assistance (largely through land grants), the Central Pacific and Union Pacific opened a through route from the Midwest (Omaha, Nebraska) to the Pacific Coast at Sacramento, California.  With the completion of this project Canada eyed its own such artery as early as 1871 although the Canadian Pacific was not formally incorporated until February 16, 1881.

Thanks to financial assistance from the government CP completed its original main line from Bonfield, Ontario to British Columbia in late 1885.  In the succeeding years it continued to grow and expand across its home country and into the U.S.  Its later rival, Canadian National was not formed until 1918, a purely government creation of several smaller systems that totaled some 214 different railroads.  It remained under public control until being sold as a private corporation in 1995.  The histories of CN and CP are well documented in a number of books if you are interested in a more detailed background of each company.

David Cable's book, Rails Across Canada, highlights both roads in great detail during the 1990s and into the mid-2000s; there are scenes of the last holdouts of Alco/Montreal Locomotive Works' power in service on CP Rail in the 1990s, venerable "General Purpose" diesels of Electro-Motive/General Motors Diesel still at work,  Canadian Pacific's classic F units pulling the company business train, and Canadian National's ubiquitous wide cabs it specifically requested on Electro-Motive/General Motors Diesel models before the design became a standard feature in the 1990s. 

Mr. Cable's book takes you from coast to coast highlight BC Rail's electrified operations in British Columbia to the Arnaud Railroad hauling an ore train led by Alco RS18's across the Canadian Shield at Pointe-Noire, Quebec.  There are also a number of smaller operations highlighted such as the Quebec Cartier Railroad, Northern Alberta Railroad, and the Hudson Bay Railway.  Finally, the author features most of Canada's passenger services including the Rocky Mountaineer, Go Transit, and VIA Rail among others.

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Loyd Lowry Photography
Wade Massie
Ron Flanary

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