Railcan’s 100th Anniversary

Celebrating Our Centennial

As the Railway Association of Canada celebrates its 100th anniversary – the same year that Canada marks its 150th – the industry is celebrating its place in our country’s past, and taking stock of its contributions now and into the future. Browse this interactive timeline to learn about the historical events and innovations that have made Canada’s railway industry what it is today.

1917

1917

Shortly after the beginning of the First World War, Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) organized the first battalion of Canadian Overseas Railway Construction Corps (CORCC) volunteers. Between 1915 and 1918, the CORCC constructed, operated, repaired and maintained thousands of kilometres of track in France in an effort to keep Allied troops mobile and supply lines open. Shortly after the beginning of the First World War, Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) organized the first battalion of Canadian Overseas Railway Construction Corps (CORCC) volunteers. Between 1915 and...
A 10-person detachment of the Canadian Overseas Railway Construction Corps replaced this wrecked railway bridge in France in just 20 hours.
Credit: Exporail
1917

1917

The Railway Association of Canada (RAC) was first established as the Special Committee on War and National Defence at a meeting of rail executives on Oct. 23, 1917. The purpose of the committee was to ensure the efficient movement of troops and supplies during the First World War. The committee was renamed the Railway Association of Canada in 1919, and was formally incorporated in 1953. The Railway Association of Canada (RAC) was first established as the Special Committee on War and National Defence at a meeting of rail executives on Oct. 23, 1917. The purpose of the committee...
The inaugural meeting of the Special Committee on War and National Defence, the predecessor of the Railway Association of Canada, in Montreal on Oct. 23, 1917.
Credit: Exporail
1917

1917

Two ships collided in Halifax harbour in December 1917, destroying part of the city, and killing and injuring thousands of people. The resulting rescue and rebuilding effort placed a tremendous strain on the railways of Eastern Canada, including the Intercolonial Railway, which directly served the city and port. Two ships collided in Halifax harbour in December 1917, destroying part of the city, and killing and injuring thousands of people. The resulting rescue and rebuilding effort placed a tremendous...
The aftermath of the explosion in Halifax harbour in December 1917.
Credit: Library and Archives Canada
1918

1918

The name Canadian National Railways (CN) first appeared on Dec. 20, 1918, when the federal government authorized its use to describe the various rail properties that it owned — principally, Canadian Northern, National Transcontinental and the Intercolonial. CN was incorporated on June 6, 1919, at which time it included the previously mentioned railways, as well as several bankrupt rail lines that had been absorbed by the government. The name Canadian National Railways (CN) first appeared on Dec. 20, 1918, when the federal government authorized its use to describe the various rail properties that it owned — principally,...
Canadian National Railways’ logo, December 1918.
Credit: CN
1923

1923

The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, which had connected vast sections of the northern Prairies between Winnipeg, Edmonton and Prince Rupert, B.C., joined the CN system following a government takeover three years earlier. Acquisitions such as this one by CN ensured ongoing rail service for those living in Canada’s more remote areas. The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, which had connected vast sections of the northern Prairies between Winnipeg, Edmonton and Prince Rupert, B.C., joined the CN system following a government takeover...
Four men load logs onto a Grand Trunk Pacific Railway railcar in Terrace, B.C. in March 1923.
Credit: Jack R. Wrathall / Library and Archives Canada
1923

1923

Between 1923 and 1931, CP and CN added close to 6,700 kilometres of branchlines to their networks, enhancing the transportation of grain and other natural resources. These additions also facilitated immigration and settlement, which contributed to the growth of the Canadian economy. Between 1923 and 1931, CP and CN added close to 6,700 kilometres of branchlines to their networks, enhancing the transportation of grain and other natural resources. These additions also...
An archival photo of a grain station and elevators in Stenen, Sask. in 1923
Credit: Canada. Dept. of Mines and Technical Surveys / Library and Archives Canada
1925

1925

In 1925, CN's experimental self-propelled diesel car – No. 15820 – travelled from Montreal to Vancouver in a record-setting 68½ hours. Recognizing the power, economy and reliability of emerging diesel technology, CN placed No. 9000, the first diesel locomotive in North America, into trial service three years later. In 1925, CN's experimental self-propelled diesel car – No. 15820 – travelled from Montreal to Vancouver in a record-setting 68½ hours. Recognizing the power, economy and reliability of emerging...
CN’s diesel-oil electric car No. 15820.
Credit: Library and Archives Canada / Canadian National Railways
1932

1932

The Ontario Northland Railway, built to serve the communities of northern Ontario and their rich mining and forest-product industries, was completed from North Bay to James Bay. The Ontario Northland Railway, built to serve the communities of northern Ontario and their rich mining and forest-product industries, was completed from North Bay to James Bay.
Ontario Northland Railway diesel locomotive No. 1300 in North Bay, Ont.
Credit: Ontario Northland Railway Historical & Technical Society
1939

1939

With the imminent threat of war, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth embarked on a month-long, relationship-building tour of Canada. CN and CP jointly operated a special train that allowed the royal couple to greet thousands of Canadians across the country. With the imminent threat of war, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth embarked on a month-long, relationship-building tour of Canada. CN and CP jointly operated a special train that allowed the...
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth wave from the rear platform of a train during their royal tour of Canada in the spring of 1939.
Credit: William Lyon Mackenzie King / Library and Archives Canada
1939

1939

At the outbreak of the Second World War, both CN and CP placed their people, resources and expertise at the disposal of the Canadian government, and became a vital link in the Allied war effort. The railways immediately ordered new locomotives and rolling stock to handle the expected increase in traffic, resulting in a much-needed boost to the economy. At the outbreak of the Second World War, both CN and CP placed their people, resources and expertise at the disposal of the Canadian government, and became a vital link in the Allied war effort....
Four men load 25-tonne Valentine tanks, destined for the Soviet Union, onto Canadian Pacific Railway flatbed cars on Dec. 29, 1941 in Montreal.
Credit: National Film Board of Canada / Library and Archives Canada
1954

1954

In 1954, CN was the first company to introduce continuous welded rail (CWR) in Canada. With fewer joints, CWR reduced wear and tear on equipment, and resulted in fewer track maintenance issues. In 1954, CN was the first company to introduce continuous welded rail (CWR) in Canada. With fewer joints, CWR reduced wear and tear on equipment, and resulted in fewer track maintenance issues.
A CN worker welds rail at Turcot Yard in Montreal in 1942.
Credit: Canada Science and Technology Museum
1960

1960

By 1960, CN and CP’s entire locomotive fleets were running on diesel. By 1960, CN and CP’s entire locomotive fleets were running on diesel.
Canadian National Railways’ diesel locomotive No. 7206.
Credit: City of Vancouver Archives / Walter E. Frost
1965

1965

In 1965, CN extended Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) – a technology, which allows a train dispatcher to remotely control signals and switches – from coast to coast. This expansion greatly enhanced the safety and efficiency the Canadian rail network. In 1965, CN extended Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) – a technology, which allows a train dispatcher to remotely control signals and switches – from coast to coast. This expansion greatly...
A dispatcher remotely controls rail operations in Ottawa from a Centralized Traffic Control panel.
Credit: Canada Science and Technology Museum
1967

1967

In 1967, Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation created GO Transit, the Greater Toronto Area’s commuter rail service. Montreal’s Agence métropolitaine de transport and Vancouver’s West Coast Express followed several years later. In 1967, Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation created GO Transit, the Greater Toronto Area’s commuter rail service. Montreal’s Agence métropolitaine de transport and Vancouver’s West Coast Express...
A GO train in front of the Toronto skyline in 1967.
Credit: Metrolinx
1970

1970

CP's first official coal unit-train arrived at Roberts Bank, near Vancouver, with 9,000 tonnes of coking coal from Sparwood, B.C. The train – which consisted of 88 “bathtub” gondola cars – made use of what was called “robot technology­­”; in addition to a head-end locomotive, a radio-controlled locomotive was placed elsewhere on the train to better distribute power. CP's first official coal unit-train arrived at Roberts Bank, near Vancouver, with 9,000 tonnes of coking coal from Sparwood, B.C. The train – which consisted of 88 “bathtub” gondola cars – made...
People watch as the first shipment of coal from the Kootenay region arrives at the Roberts Bank Superport in Delta, B.C.
Credit: City of Vancouver Archives / Vancouver Express / Pugstem Publications
1977

1977

The federal government, under then-prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, created VIA Rail in 1977. Within two years, the new Crown corporation combined CN and CP’s passenger rail operations into a cohesive nationwide network, which ensured sustainable passenger rail service through reduced costs. The federal government, under then-prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, created VIA Rail in 1977. Within two years, the new Crown corporation combined CN and CP’s passenger rail operations into...
Former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau (third from the left) stands in front of a model of an LRC (light, rapid, comfortable) train. In January 1978, VIA Rail announced that it had ordered 10 LRC trains from Bombardier.
Credit: VIA Rail
1980

1980

Operation Lifesaver (OL), an organization jointly funded by the Railway Association of Canada and Transport Canada, was founded in 1981. To this day, OL’s mission is to teach Canadians about rail crossing safety, and to raise awareness about the dangers of trespassing on railway property. Operation Lifesaver (OL), an organization jointly funded by the Railway Association of Canada and Transport Canada, was founded in 1981. To this day, OL’s mission is to teach Canadians about rail...
Operation Lifesaver’s logo, circa 1990.
Credit: Operation Lifesaver
1986

1986

In 1986, the Central Western Railway Corporation, Canada’s first shortline railway, began operating on CN’s former Stettler subdivision between Ferlow Junction and Morrin, Alta. The National Transportation Act, passed in 1987, and the Canada Transportation Act, which became law in 1996, loosened the restrictions on CN and CP for divesting their less-profitable and lower-density lines. Since then, thousands of kilometres of rail lines have been transferred to shortline operators, other companies, and government agencies. Today, there are approximately 50 shortline railway operators in Canada. In 1986, the Central Western Railway Corporation, Canada’s first shortline railway, began operating on CN’s former Stettler subdivision between Ferlow Junction and Morrin, Alta. The National...
Central Western Railway Corporation’s logo, 1986.
Credit: Shawn Smith
1989

1989

In 1989, CP completed its Rogers Pass project, the single largest project since the construction of its original mainline. Started eight years earlier, the $600-million venture was built through some of Canada’s most challenging mountain territory. It included a 14.7-kilometre rail tunnel – the longest in the Western Hemisphere – and a 1,229-metre viaduct. The Rogers Pass project reduced the grade faced by CP’s westbound trains to one per cent (eliminating the need for costly pusher locomotives), and removed significant bottlenecks in the company’s B.C. network. In 1989, CP completed its Rogers Pass project, the single largest project since the construction of its original mainline. Started eight years earlier, the $600-million venture was built through...
A CP freight train travels along the Stoney Creek Viaduct in Rogers Pass, B.C.
Credit: CP
1990

1990

In 1990, Peter Armstrong and a team of like-minded entrepreneurs created the tourist train company Rocky Mountaineer, after VIA Rail cut its daytime tourist service. Now, more than 25 years later, and with routes through the heart of the Canadian Rockies, Rocky Mountaineer has become the largest privately owned luxury tourist train company in the world, and an internationally renowned travel experience. In 1990, Peter Armstrong and a team of like-minded entrepreneurs created the tourist train company Rocky Mountaineer, after VIA Rail cut its daytime tourist service. Now, more than 25 years later,...
Peter Armstrong, founder of Rocky Mountaineer, stands in front of one of the company’s tourist trains in 1990.
Credit: Rocky Mountaineer
1995

1995

In 1995, CN opened its new St. Clair Tunnel between Sarnia, Ont. and Port Huron, Mich., replacing the original tunnel, which had been in operation since the 1890s. The new tunnel allowed for the free movement of high-capacity railcars, as freight traffic increased between Canada, the United States and Mexico following ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement. In 2004, CN announced that the tunnel would be renamed the Paul M. Tellier Tunnel, in honour of the company's retired president, Paul Tellier, who foresaw the positive impact of the project on CN's eastern freight corridor. In 1995, CN opened its new St. Clair Tunnel between Sarnia, Ont. and Port Huron, Mich., replacing the original tunnel, which had been in operation since the 1890s. The new tunnel allowed for the...
CN's Paul M. Tellier Tunnel – formerly the St. Clair Tunnel – between Sarnia, Ont. and Port Huron, Mich.
Credit: CN
2001

2001

In consultation with Canada’s railways, the Railway Association of Canada developed the curriculum for the Railway Conductor Program in 2001. Combining classroom instruction with hands-on learning, the program prepares students for a career in Canada’s railway industry. Today, four Canadian colleges offer the program and RAC continues to work with its members to keep the content current. In consultation with Canada’s railways, the Railway Association of Canada developed the curriculum for the Railway Conductor Program in 2001. Combining classroom instruction with hands-on...
A teacher instructs Railway Conductor Program students at Red River College.
Credit: Red River College
2013

2013

The Railway Association of Canada and Transport Canada established the Locomotive Emissions Monitoring (LEM) Program in 2013. A Memorandum of Understanding between the two parties encourages RAC’s Class 1 freight, shortline and intercity passenger railway members to voluntarily reduce their greenhouse gas emissions intensity. The Railway Association of Canada and Transport Canada established the Locomotive Emissions Monitoring (LEM) Program in 2013. A Memorandum of Understanding between the two parties encourages RAC’s...
Cover page of the 2013 Locomotive Emissions Monitoring Program report.
2015

2015

In collaboration with RAC and the Association of American Railroads, Canada’s railways launched the AskRailTM mobile app, aimed at providing emergency responders with real-time information about railcar contents in the event of an emergency. In collaboration with RAC and the Association of American Railroads, Canada’s railways launched the AskRailTM mobile app, aimed at providing emergency responders with real-time information about...
An emergency responder connects to the AskRail mobile app.
Credit: Association of American Railroads
2017

2017

The Railway Association of Canada marked its 100th anniversary with the launch of the online Canadian Rail Atlas. The Atlas provides a comprehensive, user-friendly, interactive map of the Class 1, shortline, tourist, commuter and intercity passenger railways operating in Canada, as well as mile posts, passenger stations and rail crossings. The Railway Association of Canada marked its 100th anniversary with the launch of the online Canadian Rail Atlas. The Atlas provides a comprehensive, user-friendly, interactive map of the Class 1,...
With the click of a mouse, the Canadian Rail Atlas gives visitors access to a user-friendly, interactive map of Canada’s almost 45,000-kilometre railway network.