“The only way of catching a train I have ever discovered is to miss the train before.”

― G.K. Chesterton

Track: Surveying, Building, Upkeep

Railway track, as we know it, came from the coal mines of 19th Century England although there were earlier examples of carts on tracks in other parts of Europe. There are examples of wooden wheeled carts running on wooden rails in Germany but it was in England where they used iron tracks until steel was available. It was in England where steel met steel and the long distance railway was born.

Train wheels run on two steel rails fastened to wooden or concrete ties. The ties are held in place with ballast, coarse, angular rock poured in between and tamped underneath the ties. Once poured, it locks together and this holds the ties and supports the rails. The spaces between the rock give the track enough flexibility to absorb the shock of a moving train and encourages water, such as rain or melting snow, to drain away. Underneath the ballast is the heavy roadbed that supports the track and train.

Our Countess of Dufferin came to Winnipeg with Joseph Whitehead who won the contract to build track for the Canadian Pacific Railway in Manitoba. Her first job was building the Pembina Branch south to Emerson.

This became an important line for bringing hardware and supplies up to St. Boniface and Selkirk for rail line construction west to Regina and east to Thunder Bay. The Pembina Branch is now called the Emerson Subdivision. It branches off the Canadian Pacific mainline near the Watt Street Bridge and runs through St. Boniface, Windsor Park and Southdale before it crosses the Perimeter Highway and heads for the US border.

These diesels are pulling a heavy freight train north to Winnipeg over the Winnipeg Floodway bridge on the Emerson Subdivision. In the fall of 1877 this same line was under construction with our Countess of Dufferin pushing flatcars south loaded with rails, ties, spikes and tools, very much like the flatcars in our museum.

We have an extensive collection of artefacts that spent their working lives surveying, building and maintaining track. The spiking maul, lining bar and shovel were the basic tools used for hand building track. Later on the railways developed machines to do the same work, only much faster. We have an old hand car which the section gangs used to inspect the track to make sure it was in proper alignment. We also have an inspection car which carried road masters and track engineers over the line to take a close look at its condition. We have an old Packard automobile, fitted with flanged wheels so it could travel on railway track to carry City of Winnipeg inspectors along the Water District Railway.

Solid track is safe track and it keeps trains on the rails for safe, reliable operation and delivery.