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History of Railways

R. L. Kennedy

Private and government owned railways across Canada were all part of Canada's unique railway history. In many countries railways were owned by the federal government, in the United States uniquely there were only private railroads. In Canada there was a unique combination of government and private railways working side-by-side and from sea to sea. It wasn't necessarily intended to be this way, it just happened. This came about since as a young country there simply wasn't always the private capital to finance the building of railways especially ones covering large distances and in particular, ones that travelled through great areas of uninhabited country such as existed in British North America. This required the government to build most railways in the beginning.

Most of Canada's earliest settlements were along rivers or lakes and they provided the easiest form of transportation. Railways would change all that and open vast areas of land. Railways were so superior to existing land transportation which was only provided by horses (or walking!), that their construction was desired very soon after the invention of the steam locomotive in England, birthplace of public railways. It crossed the ocean soon afterwards and following years of talk from 1824, a start was made.

Where and When it All Began

James Watt (Link) Scottish inventor of the steam engine (1781) and Robert Stephenson (Link) English engineer and inventor of the first successful, practical steam locomotive, the Rocket, in 1829.

Note: Like most inventors and inventions, the one most often mentioned as the "inventor" was often not in fact the real inventor but rather the one who invented the first "practical" or "successful" device. So too, was it with the steam engine and the steam locomotive. Two other British inventors preceded Watt and Stephenson. Thomas Newcomen a blacksmith in 1706 built a primitive stationary steam engine (and in 1712 an improved type) and Richard Trevithick built a small steam locomotive in 1796 that failed to work. He rebuilt it in 1804 and it did work. Stephenson saw it and went about building several steam locomotives, including the Locomotion in September 1825, however it wasn't until he built the Rocket in 1829 that it could be said to be truly successful when it won the famous Rainhill Trials October 6, 1829 against other locomotives, Braithwaite and Erickson's Novelty; Timothy Hackworth's Sanspareil and Burstall's Perseverance.

200th. Anniversary Trevithick coin British Royal Mint

Public Transportation in Canada

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