Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Prince Edward Island Railway
Located wholly within the province of Prince Edward Island, construction of the PEIR started in 1871, financed by the United Kingdom. Initially built to 42 inch (1067 mm) Cape Gauge, the line was frequently criticized for its meandering nature, caused by construction contractors who were paid by the mile. At one point there was on average one railway station for every 2.5 miles (4 km) of track. The main line connected the northwestern village of Tignish with the Northumberland Strait ports of Summerside, Charlottetown, Georgetown , and Souris . By 1872, construction debts threatened to bankrupt the colony.
The United Kingdom had consistently encouraged the small colony to enter into Canadian Confederation, something which it had been avoiding since playing host to the Charlottetown Conference a decade earlier. The railway construction debts pushed the colony into reconsidering Confederation, and following further negotiations, Prince Edward Island became a province of Canada on July 1, 1873.
The understated provision in the Prince Edward Island Terms of Union reads as follows:
That the railways under contract and in course of construction for the Government of the Island, shall be the property of Canada;
Canadian Government Railways
Thus the Government of Canada came to inherit the PEIR in 1873 at the same time as construction was progressing on the Intercolonial Railway of Canada (IRC), which would link the strategic winter ports of the Canadian Maritimes with Central Canada. New locomotives were purchased from the United Kingdom and from Canadian manufacturers along with new rail cars. In 1885, a new line was built connecting the Charlottetown-Summerside main line at Emerald Junction with another Northumberland Strait port at Cape Traverse . From Cape Traverse, iceboats would cross the Abegweit Passage to Cape Tormentine, New Brunswick during the winter months. Another new line was built east from Charlottetown to Murray Harbour , with a used IRC bridge being brought from Newcastle, New Brunswick to carry the line over the Hillsborough River. Branches were also constructed at this time off PEIR lines to Vernon Bridge , Montague , and Elmira .
From 1915-1918, the PEIR and the IRC would come to be known collectively as the Canadian Government Railways (CGR), although each company would maintain its separate corporate identity and management. Also in 1915 a new icebreaking railcar ferry called Prince Edward Island was ordered by the federal government, arriving from the United Kingdom with a capacity of 12 rail cars, however it would not be until 1917 that the port facilities at Port Borden and Cape Tormentine would be ready to handle the vessel. In the meantime, the Prince Edward Island continued to operate the service to the port of Pictou, Nova Scotia for the next two years. The new ferry port at Borden required the Cape Traverse-Emerald Junction line be modified, and a line was constructed to Borden, along with marshalling yards and other facilities. The Cape Traverse line would only last a few more years before being abandoned following the move to Borden. Up until this point, the PEIR was a completely captive system, having no need for interchange with mainland North American railways. Following the start of railcar service in 1917, the lines to Charlottetown and Summerside from Borden were dual-gauged, capable of handling mainland cars with the standard gauge of 4 ft 8.5 in (1435 mm) and the PEIR's narrow gauge of 3 ft 6 in (1067 m).
Canadian National Railways
In 1918, management of the CGR (including the PEIR) was transferred to the newly nationalized Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR). These companies were assumed by a new Crown corporation established by the federal government in 1919, called Canadian National Railways (CNR). By 1923 all corporate entities ceased to exist under CNR.
Soon after CNR took over, it was decided to standard gauge all narrow gauge trackage on Prince Edward Island. This was completed from Tignish to Charlottetown by 1924, and remaining lines in the east end of the province were completed by 1926 except for the Murray Harbour line which was standard gauged by September, 1930.
The last significant railway construction on Prince Edward Island occurred during the early 1930s when the bridge carrying the Murray Harbour line over the Hillsborough River was unable to handle the heavier standard gauge cars, thus a 10 mile connecting track called the Short Line was built from a point at Maple Hill Junction on the Mount Stewart Jct.-Georgetown line, to connect with the Murray Harbour track at Lake Verde Junction . In 1951, the Hillsborough River bridge was deemed too weak to carry even the lightest engines and cars, thus the trackage was removed and trains trying to reach Southport on the opposite side of Charlottetown Harbour would have to run over 30 miles via Mount Stewart Junction and the Short Line.
CNR was extremely busy on Prince Edward Island during the Second World War when a 2-mile spur line was built from St. Eleanors , west of Summerside, to service a new air force base (CFB Summerside), and the railway was pressed into service to supply a radar base in Tignish, as well as a flight training school in Mount Pleasant , mid-way between Summerside and Tignish.
Increased use of diesel locomotives in North America during and after the Second World War saw CNR completely dieselize its operations on Prince Edward Island by the late 1940s as a means to save money on hauling bulk coal to the province. This meant that Prince Edward Island rail lines had diesel locomotives fully one decade before the rest of Canada saw the last of steam.
The rise of automobiles and trucks
The rising popularity of automobiles travelling on government-funded all-weather highways saw passenger rail traffic decline sharply during the 1950s and into the 1960s. The last passenger train on Prince Edward Island operated in 1968, being replaced by buses thereafter.
CN (name change to Canadian National Railway or acronym CN in 1960) was a major presence in Prince Edward Island's economy, from operating the freight and passenger railway (and later bus) services, to a large fleet of company owned and operated ferries. The ferry system was noteworthy by the fact that it was mandated by Prince Edward Island's "Terms of Union" under the British North America Act of Canadian Confederation, to provide "efficient steamship service." This required the use of icebreakers, some of which were the largest of their kind in the world at one time.
Ferries and service years
The following vessels were owned and operated by CNR/CN (1918-1977), CN Marine (CN subsidiary, 1977-1986) or by successor Marine Atlantic (post-1986) on the Northumberland Strait ferry service: Prince Edward Island (1915-1968)*; Charlottetown (1931-1941)*; Abegweit (1947-1982)*; Confederation (1962-1975); John Hamilton Gray (1968-1997)*; Lucy Maude Montgomery (1969-1973); Holiday Island (1971-1997); Vacationland (1971-1997); Abegweit (1982-1997)*; Scotia I (various times 1901-1955)*; Scotia II (various times 1915-1968)*. [* denotes rail car capability]
The decline of rail on P.E.I.
Trucks soon began to take traffic away from freight operations on Prince Edward Island, particularly as CNR improved the ferry system to accept more road vehicles. By the 1970s, critical agricultural cargo such as the potato harvests were increasingly transferring to trucks with each successive season. As a result, CN increasingly began to avoid investing capital into improving railway infrastructure in the province. In a classic "demarketing" strategy, CN's deteriorating track conditions resulted in further loss of service to trucks.
By the early 1980s CN made it clear the days of its railway operations on Prince Edward Island were numbered, however Island politicians at the provincial and federal level managed to dissuade CN from abandoning. The renewed talk of a fixed link in 1985-1986, following aborted attempts at building a highway/railway causeway across Abegweit Passage in 1957 and 1965-1969, saw CN accelerate its attempts to withdraw railway service on Prince Edward Island.
Deregulation and abandonment
Deregulation in the Canadian railway industry in 1987 was all that was required to encourage CN to successfully abandon its rail system. By September, 1988 it had abandoned the money-losing service (see Newfoundland Railway) in Newfoundland, and in July, 1989 abandonment was announced for Prince Edward Island. On December 31, 1989, the John Hamilton Gray carried the last operational rail cars and locomotives off Prince Edward Island.
Salvage crews worked throughout 1990, 1991 and 1992 removing tracks, cross-ties, and other railway facilities. In return for agreeing to not oppose CN's abandonment, the provincial government was given compensation by the federal government in the form of highway subsidies to account for increased wear on provincial roads from trucks.
In 1990, a diesel locomotive donated to Summerside several years earlier, needed to be moved to nearby Kensington . Although now abandoned, the railway's tracks were still intact between both locations, except for several grade crossings at local roads where rails had been removed. The locomotive was towed by construction machinery across temporary tracks built over these roads to its new location, where it remains on display as part of a railway museum. Other railway cars remain on display at Elmira and Borden-Carleton .
- National Transportation Agency (NTA) Decision No. 348-R-1989 Note that NTA was succeeded by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) in 1995.
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