29 June 2009

The Confederation Trail - Prince Edward Island

In 1871 The Province of PEI began building the railway system which, though no one knew it then, would very soon compel the Island to lose its independence. The costs of the ambitious project quickly spiralled out of control. At one point there was apparently one railway station for every 2.5 miles of track. Construction contractors were paid by the mile which may explain the railway's meandering path.

A mere two years later, in 1873, with crippling debts, PEI joined the Canadian Federation. As part of the deal, Federal Government took over the railway project completely - land and finances. The Railway's growth was rapid and colourful. The Island was soon covered from tip to tip with main and branch lines. In the golden age of steam the track was upgraded from narrow gauge to full gauge to accommodate locomotives arriving on the Ice-Breaker Ferry from Nova Scotia and control of the railways was vested in the nationalised Canadian National Railway (CN).

In the 1950s and 1960s Provincial Government began paving the major highways to cater for the ever growing popularity of the automobile. As a result, passenger use of the railway declined sharply and the final passenger service ran in 1968. After that freight wagons were still hauled but the rising use of trucks on the roads began to steal that business in the 1970s. The end of the line was in sight, quite literally.

CN abandoned the PEI railway in 1989 and the last operational rail cars and locomotives were taken off Prince Edward Island by sea. Salvage crews worked throughout the early 1990s removing tracks, cross-ties, and other railway facilities.

In 1994, before the routes became completely overgrown with disuse, the Island Government purchased back the entire right of way from CN and began creating the Confederation Trail. Today over 75% of the former railway network on the island can be enjoyed as recreational trails by walkers and cyclists.

Yesterday I rode from our home on the outskirts of Charlottetown along a thirteen mile section of the trail and back, stopping to take these photographs. One puncture but that was quickly repaired and couldn't spoil the ride.