|Elevators in Beiseker, circa 1970s.|
Farmers would sometimes donate land - or sell it below its value - to rail companies so that tracks might be built into their area. Passenger service was daily, along with mail and goods delivery. Cream was shipped to far off dairies. Railways really opened up the West!
Oh, have the times changed! For most Alberta rural communities, the railway has become a nuisance to be endured rather than an asset. The grain elevators have mostly gone, and most of the sidings have been ripped out. Farmers have to drive long distances to deliver their produce. For the most part, now, the trains just roar through town without even slowing down.
Freight trains passing through at speed become hazardous to traffic and local residents, requiring better signals to ensure safety. But it is my understanding that a municipality must pick up most of the cost of installing flashing lights, barriers, etc. at controlled level crossings. Villages like Beiseker can't afford that! So the train blows its horn at all hours of the night, as it roars through town.
Now the stations are gone, and the section crews with their little yellow scooters are gone. These folks were an important part of their communities! I seriously doubt that an industry could convince a rail company to stop and pick up or deliver to these small centers anymore, either. Even a service crossing for a water line costs money; the municipality must pay the railway!
tragic disaster at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, last year is still in our thoughts as trains continue to whistle through our communities carrying huge quantities of who-knows-what! Getting information from the railways on what those black tank cars are carrying, is like pushing a string.
Passenger service is now a distant memory, even though the tracks end up in the center of the big cities, and commuters could use trains and cut down on automobile pollution and traffic. In the dying days of rail passenger service about 40 years ago, it was a joke. The "Dayliner" left and arrived at very inconvenient hours at both ends, and was less than reliable.
Years ago, many abandoned rail lines were donated to societies to build biking and hiking trails on. From my viewpoint, most are just growing weeds. When Alberta Trail-net is asked to clean-up their abandoned trackway, they say they expect volunteers from the nearby municipalities to do it! In Beiseker, the abandoned CPR line is leased by the Beiseker Rail Museum. It's fast turning into the Land That Time Forgot running right through the middle of the village. That has to change!
I believe it's time the railway companies cracked open their own history books and rediscover where they came from, and where they made their millions. They must reconnect with the communities they pass through and are so much a part of, whether they like it or not!