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Almost from the beginning of railway construction in Canada, the use of different track gauges was a problem. Many of the early lines, including the Grand Trunk Railway, were built with tracks at 5' 6" apart, known as the "broad gauge". Other lines used the "narrow gauge," which was 36" or sometimes, 42" apart. Narrow gauge tracks were often more cheaply made and were fine for small lines that were not meant to link with any others. However, they did not permit the interchanging of lines within the country or with the Americans, who used the "standard gauge", or 4' 8.5". In the 1880s, the standard gauge became the norm and many existing lines had to be refitted to conform.
Newfoundland Government Railway, 1923. The Newfoundland Railway was built as a narrow gauge railway
Canadian Pacific Railway, 1893
Excerpt of an interview with 94-year-old Dan Watson, recounting his first trip to Meaford, Ont. in 1879
(running time: 1 m, 25 s; in English)
A later, major technological advance, which made the operation of trains more economical and efficient, was the change from steam powered trains to diesel. This change signaled the end of an era for certain members of the train crew. Firemen, for example, whose job it was to keep the fire going for steam, lost those jobs. The work of the engineers was perhaps made easier, but their responsibilities changed because the new complex engines demanded special maintenance.
In 1950, because it had only one relatively small railway and could be used as a "test" province, Canadian National converted the railway line on Prince Edward Island (PEI) to diesel power. The other provinces quickly followed suit. Despite the improvement, train service was on the demise because of the rise in automobiles and airplanes.
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