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Growth of Canadian Railways

The table below shows the pace at which railways were constructed and used in Canada.  It took 15 years from 1845 when the first railway line in Canada was built to get over the 2,000 mile mark in 1860.  It took another 15 years to 1875 to get the mileage over 4,000 miles. By 1890 railway fever had caught the country and railway mileage had almost doubled to 13,151 miles in operation. 
Year Mileage Train Miles Locos Passengers Tons of Freight
1845      16  - - - -
1850      66 - - - -
1855    877 - - - -
1860  2,065 - - - -
1865  2,240 - - - -
1870  2,617 - 485 - -
1875  4,804  17,680,178 -    5,190,416    5,670,836
1880  7,194  22,427,449 -    6,462,948    9,938,858
1885 10,773  31,623,689 -    9,672,599   14,659,271
1890 13,151  40,849,329 1,771  12,821,272   20,787,469
1895 15,977  40,418,324 2,023  12,520,585   21,524,421
1900 17,657  42,647,684 2,273  17,122,193  35,764,970
1905 20,487  65,934,114 2,906  25,288,723  50,893,957
1910 24,731  85,409,241 4,079  35,894,575  74,482,866
1913 WW I 113,437,208 -  46,230,765 106,992,716
1915 34,882 93,218,479 5,486 46,322,035 87,204,838
1920 38,845 107,053,735 6,030 51,318,422 127,429,154
1925 40,350 109,289,865 5,752 41,458,084 111,251,241
1930  42,047 107,620,076 5,451 34,698,767 115,229,511
1935 42,916 79,452,417 4,795 20,031,839 93,374,494
1940 42,565 94,282,567 4,308 21,969,871 125,167,291
1944 WW II 130,140,335 - 60,335,950 155,326,332
1945 42,352 127,780,196 4,431 53,407,845 147,348,566
1950 42,979 125,141,312 4,655 30,167,145 144,218,319
1955 43,444 124,228,545 4,714 27,229,962 167,862,156
1960 44,029 98,380,182 3,752 19,497,233 158,466,368
1965 43,157 99,132,185 3,323 23,610,374 225,356,167
1969 43,613 99,106,175 3,316 23,694,748 231,217,882

Railway mileage hit its peak in 1930 where it remained relatively constant at about 43,000 miles until 1960 when mileage started to decrease with the abandonment of branch lines.  Excluding the war years of 1914-18 and 1939-45, passenger travel hit a peak of 51 million passengers in 1920 and continued to decline to present day levels. Most of the present-day passenger miles are on commuter lines operated for local governments.
Freight tonnage has continually increased.  However, since 1965, more of Canada's freight has been shipped by other modes of transport such as trucks so that the railways' share of total shipping has decreased.  The advent of "just-in-time" delivery in all sectors of the economy has further eroded the dominant position that railways once held in the transportation business. 
What has changed dramatically has been the number of locomotives on Canadian railway rosters.  From just under 500 locomotives in 1870, the total hit a high of 6,030 in 1920 - all steam locomotives.  The number declined to 3,319 in 1969 - all diesel locomotives.  As the horsepower of diesels has increased, the number of locomotives continues to fall.


4-4-0 #2 "Toronto"Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Union Railroad Co (part of Northern Railway of Canada). This was the first locomotive built in Canada, May 1853, by James Good of Toronto.  Photo courtesy Smiths Falls Railway Museum.  Also National Archives of Canada PA-138688.