Monday, March 12, 2007

The Intercolonial Railway: the long trip to Montreal

If you have ever taken the train between Halifax and Montreal, you probably asked: Why so very very long? It takes well over 20 hours! (I can drive it in 12)

The answer is one of my favorite Canadian economic history facts.
The Answer: because we were scared of an American invasion.

In the year of confederation (1867), Sir Standford Flemming was called to designed a rail to connect Halifax with the St. Lawrence at or near Quebec. Looking at a map, you can see that an 'all Canadian route' is a much longer then cutting through the northern U.S. - How much longer? Answer: 400 km (or if you prefer 250 miles). Now, almost 140 years later, we are using the same rail line that cost more to build, run, and use (who ever said political decisions don't matter?).

Why take the long way? Because if we were even attacked by the Americans, we would have an all Canadian route would secure supply lines from Halifax to Central Canada. Back then, there was no such thing as the St. Laurence ice breakers (which is not a hockey team).

Following the construction of the all Canadian route we needed something .... humm, in a very Canadian way, we need an assistance plan!

"... the Intercolonial Railway was designed, among other things, to give Canada in times of national and Imperial need an outlet and inlet on the Atlantic Ocean, and to afford to Maritime merchants, traders, and manufacturers the larger market of the whole Canadian people instead of the restricted market of the Maritimes themselves, also that strategic considerations determined a longer route than was actually necessary, and therefore that to the extent that commercial considerations were subordinated to national, imperial and strategic conditions, the cost of the railway should be borne by the Dominion, and not by the traffic which might pass over the line." Great economic reasoning - everyone is now safer, so everyone helps pay those disadvantaged by the longer route - I love it.

As soon as I said assistance, you know what happened next: this program was reviewed by the Auditor General and terminated in 1995.

Looking Forward
Now that we include the cost to the environment in the cost of transportation, is it time to reinvent of the railway in Canada? Speed trains sound cool.

Related Link
History Buffs may enjoy this book by Jay Underwood:
Built for War: Canada's Intercolonial Railway


Matthew said...

Here is a link to the book that works for me Built for War: Canada's Intercolonial Railway

Canadian Economist said...

It works fine for me ... ?

Matthew said...

I get an Error page every time I try and use your link. Are you logged into chapters as a costumer cause that would change how it works.