All Aboard! Exploring the Newfoundland Railway

Railway / Coastal History

Newfoundland Railway

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The Railway Settlement Act

R.G. Reid, and his sons after him, was all too aware of this situation. Unfortunately, the profits they expected to make from their 5,000 square miles of real estate, intended to offset the railway operating expenses, never materialized. After a post-war depression and a need to upgrade after years of deferred maintenance, the Reids reported over $1 million in losses. H.D. Reid informed the government in 1920 that his company could no longer continue to operate the Railway.

In 1922, the Squires government, plagued by unemployment, paid the Reid company $2 million to settle all claims and cancelled the 1898 and 1901 contracts. Effective July 1, 1923, it reclaimed the railway, the dockyard and the steamships. In 1926 the railway was officially renamed the Newfoundland Railway.

Initially, the government and the company appointed a Railway Commission to operate the railway for one year, raising $1.5 million for repairs and upgrading. However, it quickly became apparent that more capital was needed. Drastic measures, such as cutting of wages and schedules, as well as keeping capital expenditures to a bare minimum and closing several branch lines in 1921-22 were implemented. The winter operation over the Gaff Topsail ceased, cutting the main line in two. In April 1922, Reid advised the government that even this curtailed, shared-risk operation was unacceptable. From May 16 to 23 the railway was shut down completely. The Railway Settlement Act came into effect in 1923.

The Branch Lines

Although the main railway line across the Island was itself a major feat of engineering and political optimism, branch lines were also integral to the Newfoundland railway.

From 1880 it was recognized that a trunk line across the unpopulated interior required branch lines, particularly to connect populous Conception Bay with St. John's. The Blackman contract of 1881 provided for the branch line to Harbour Grace, which was in operation for 13 years before the main line was complete. Another one went to Brigus.

Newfoundland Railway Animation
Click the image to see a Flash animation"
Newfoundland Railway insignia. known as the
Recognizing that no benefit could come from the name 'Newfoundland Government Railway', Superintendent Herbert Russell requested the change to 'Newfoundland Railway'. To replace the initials 'N.G.R.' he adopted a symbol in the style of other railway systems throughout North America known as the 'tilted wafer'. Railway insignia of the Newfoundland Railway. H.J. Russell Collection.
The poem - The Rhyme of a Railway
Click on the above image to see the poem 'The Rhymne of a Railroad' by H.G. Ogden