Rail Line Abandonment

The process of abandoning rail branch lines began in Saskatchewan almost as soon as the last line was completed. By the early 1960s, Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific (CP) railways were claiming that the operation of many grain-dependent branch lines was a money-losing proposition; under the transportation legislation of that time, the federal government would provide funding to subsidize these losses. Concerns over branch line abandonment caused the federal government to set up the Hall Commission in 1975. The Commission recommended the closure of some branch lines and the inclusion of others in a permanent network. However, in the mid-1990s the railways were still unable to abandon all of the highest-cost branch lines. The federal government set up the Robson Committee, which gave permission to the railways to abandon all 525 miles (845 km) of high-cost branch lines. The Canada Transportation Act of 1996 streamlined the abandonment process, and branch line abandonment accelerated. In the next five years the railways abandoned over 1,450 (2,333 km) miles of prairie branch lines, half of this process taking place in Saskatchewan. Branch line abandonment was accompanied by closure of much of the vast network of country grain elevators. This brought an increase in hauling distances for farmers, with resulting negative effects on Saskatchewan’s network of secondary highways.

Paul Beingessner