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Railway Scene, 1939
McKee Archives, Brandon University, Lawrence Stuckey Collection.

After WWII, the railway system became the focus of a number of railway reforms that dramatically altered the grain transportation system as a whole. After the war, Canadian railways faced a number of problems. First, they had deferred maintenance on plant and equipment until after the war. Costly upgrades to the track and equipment were necessary.
Railway Scene, 1939

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Country Elevator and Steam Locomotive
Photo provided courtesy of the Canadian Wheat Board

The railways had to make the transition from steam to diesel-electric locomotives. Second, still operating on the over-expanded networks built during the railway “frenzy” before the WWI, operations were over-extended and very expensive. Third, the persistence and growth of truck transport as a major competitor put downward pressure on freight rates in some of their markets – especially in the transport of light weight, high value manufactured goods.


Konrad W. Studnicki-Gizbert, Canadian Transport Policies: A Historical Overview of Issues, 2 Volumes, 1994.
Country Elevator and Steam Locomotive

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Railway Strike, 1958
University of Manitoba, Archives and Special Collections, PC 18-5407-001. Winnipeg Tribune, December 5, 1958, Pickets at CPR Depot.

Fourth, the statutory grain rates, combined with the larger harvests put more pressure on the grain transportation system without providing additional compensation for increased costs. Fifth, post-war inflationary pressures combined with powerful union activity drove labour costs up. Railway management tried to reduce operating costs by laying off workers. Railway unions, with workers facing post-war inflation and fighting to save their jobs, took strike action.

In short, after WWII, the railways took on major capital expenditures that did not, because of union power, translate into lower operating (labour) costs because of powerful union activity. At the same time, statutory grain rates and truck competition prevented them from increasing revenues through freight rate increases.

Pickets read: “We were forced to accept. Where is our freedom? Support free negotiations.” “Are we free men? Or must we be forced to accept what big business dictates?”
Railway Strike, 1958

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