One of the main storylines of Canada as a nation has been the love / hate relationship we’ve had with railways for well over a century.
Right now the object of hatred is an outfit called the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic. They operated that train that caused the nightmare in the small Quebec community of Lac-Megantic.
At a time like this, it’s hard to find the love side of the equation about railways, but especially out here on the prairies, railways have been in many ways the most important driving force in the development of our way of life.
We needed rail to bring the settlers from far away lands, and to ship grain and other goods that the land has produced in great abundance. It was said in jest long ago that a typical prairie farmer’s mantra after saying his prayers at night was, “Damn the CPR.”
Today, all prairie communities are still built around rail lines. As Winnipeggers enjoy a baseball game at Shaw Park near the forks of the Red and Assiniboine, they hear at least three freight trains pass by on tracks and bridges that have been there for more than a century. It’s a similar scene when the Roughriders play at Mosaic Stadium.
I’m betting that our heads are filled with more questions now about the tanker cars that rumble by on those tracks. Questions like, “What are they carrying, and how dangerous is it?”
The tragedy in Quebec has sparked renewed calls for moving those tracks away from where people live, but don’t hold your breath. Rail relocation was a huge agenda item for both Regina and Winnipeg, and many other communities, 40 years ago. Relatively little has been done since then.
The costs are enormous, and as much as they and the politicians talk the talk about safety, the number one priority appears to be cost cutting.
Does any of that make sense?
I’m Roger Currie