Retracing Your Route

I get railway-related inquiries every few weeks via email. They found my web site and have a technical question about trains, or a question about railway history, or just want to say “hi”. Most frequently, I get a question like the one from Diane below.

Often people are doing genealogical research and want to know how a relative got from point A to point B by rail. Sometimes it’s an author wanting to inject a little more realism into their book. I like all of these inquiries.

Diane gave me permission to include hers here as an example.

Hello. Can you help me with this question or direct me to an answer?   I am trying to remember the trip I took from PEI to Toronto by train in July 1974.  I know that the bridge wasn’t built until later.  If I got on the bus at Charlottetown, would the bus be transported on a ferry then travel to Moncton for the train?  From where did the ferries leave and land?  I have few photos, few journals and few memories. Thank you for your assistance.

To answer a question like this, you need a library of public railway timetables. Fortunately, I have that! I’m fortunate to have electronic copies of most CN and CP timetables from before VIA Rail, as well as electronic versions of most if not all of VIA’s timetables.

Railways usually issued two timetables per year, in the spring and fall. Typically they were effective on the Daylight Saving Time transitions. In 1974 that wasn’t the case, because the US was trying an energy-saving experiment and daylight saving time transition wasn’t at the usual date. The experiment didn’t work out.

Anyway, in 1974 CN issued a timetable on April 28 and on October 27. Since Diane took her trip in July, the April 28 timetable was the one to check.

Since she started in Charlottetown, I went to the index in the timetable and found that Charlottetown was in two tables – 7 and 8. The index shows table numbers, not page numbers.

Index of Canadian cities served by rail

Table 7 was an overall Maritimes timetable, but table 8 had exactly the information required.

Table 8 – don’t bring human remains on the bus

There were two daily buses between Amherst and Charlottetown. She could have left at 07:10 or 10:00, arriving a little under 4 hours later in Amherst.

The bus took the ferry at Borden, PEI which crossed the Northumberland Strait and landed at Cape Tormentine, NB.

The next question is what train did she catch?

This is where table 7 comes in.

Table 7

This shows the trains running between Halifax and Montreal on CN. The two major passenger trains were the Ocean and the Scotian. The Chaleur was running between Montreal and Matapedia, where it left the main line to run up the Gaspé peninsula.

Let’s zoom into the appropriate section.

Closeup of table 7

Both buses from Charlottetown would work to catch a train. Depending on which one you took, you would arrive in Amherst at 10:50 or 13:50. The first train west out of Amherst was the Ocean at 14:40, followed by the Scotian at 21:00.

You could use the bus/train connection to go east to Nova Scotia too. The eastbound Ocean left Amherst at 12:07 and the eastbound Scotian left at 18:57, so the bus connections would have worked. Intermodal transportation is great when it is coordinated.

This is what I sent Diane.

Hello Diane, the ferries ran on two routes in 1974 – Wood Island PEI to Caribou NS (you probably didn’t take that) or Borden PEI to Cape Tormentine NB (likely this one). You would have boarded a bus in Charlottetown, gone to Borden and got on the ferry. At Cape Tormentine the bus would take you to Amherst – not Moncton – and you would have made a connection to CN there to go to Toronto.

I’ve attached the schedule that was effective on April 28 1974. You could have left Charlottetown at 07:10 or 10:00 in the morning. At Amherst you would catch the Ocean at 14:40 (or the Scotian at 21:00, probably not) to Montreal, and transfer to another train there to go to Toronto.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this example of doing railway timetable lookups. They can be confusing and I’m still learning.

You can view the full timetable here.

2 thoughts on “Retracing Your Route”

  1. Enjoyed that timetable excursion. I have a few timetables but no comprehensive numbers as you obviously have. I imagine such an exercise in Britain in earlier times and to some extent even today would have far more options. Enjoyed this!

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