Innovation and the Modern Railways

When it comes to modern railways, it’s not hard to miss the word innovation in the discussion. After all, when it comes to the subject of transportation, not too many methods can claim the distinction of having been around for more than 100 years. Further, although there has been much improvement to railways in that time, there has also been distinctive drawbacks to the way they are managed and maintained. Of particular note is the fact that virtually all records related to track inventories are in paper form, a holdover from long before the computer age. As a result, when it comes to tracks being effectively operated and maintained, it quickly becomes a matter of what you don’t know can hurt you.

Fortunately, modern railways are benefitting from a relative newcomer to the computer age, a system that records information about tracks and other railroad facilities on computerized maps called a GIS, or a geographic information system. And to make things even more exciting, GPS or global positioning system, that same tool that you use to get you from point A to point B on a family drive, is now being used to keep better track of where railway lines are, their condition, and even the entire maintenance history.

For years, railway managers have understood that the state of their railway records have led them to be deficient in their ability to know exactly where their railways are and what condition they are in. In fact, finding these long lost railways is often a matter of being unaware of their location until they are found by chance. With GIS and GPS technologies, along with concerted efforts to find these tracks and uncover maintenance records, railroad executives can better allocate funds that they can use to ensure that tracks are maintained effectively.

This benefit is not only benefitting the conditions of tracks but also many other assets and facilities of the railways. This includes switches and other a facilities. In fact, virtually anything that can have any sort of geographical connection whatsoever can be mapped and tied to their attributes. These include not only maintenance records but records having to do with property ownership, schedules and much more. After these records are computerized in a GIS, managers who want information about these locations need to simply touch a mouse on a screen to draw up virtually anytihng they want to know. All it takes is the click of a button.

How Abandoned Urban Railways Can Be Recycled- An Overview


Have you ever wondered how life was like over two centuries ago? Well, in the mid-19th century, the U.S. was rapidly expanding westward and at the time, railroad technology was state-of-the-art. Thousands upon thousands of kilometers of track were laid, with locomotives carrying supplies and people to new frontiers.

Before the advent of automobiles and the consequent creation of the interstate highway system, railways were the lifeline of a bygone era, connecting cities across the country. In fact, it would not be remiss to state that without trains, industrialization and settlement of the western part of the U.S. could not have occurred as rapidly as it did. However, over time, vehicles were invented and highways and roads spread across the country at a much faster rate than railways ever did. What used to be primarily transported on trains would eventually be carried on roads by large trucks.

Although railroads remain active and relevant across the U.S., thousands of kilometers of track have been abandoned in the intervening years, with additional sections of railroad falling into disuse every year. So what happens to these abandoned urban railways?

How abandoned urban railways can be recycled

To begin with, the physical parts of old railway tracks are usually recycled. For instance, metal rails can be removed and sold as scrap metal which, in time, gets recycled to form new products. As for wooden railroad ties, these can find new uses, say, as landscaping timbers.

Having done away with the metal rails and wooden railway ties, you are now left with empty corridors representing prime real estate that is long and flat and which connects small towns. While some of the old railway lines may be purchased by adjacent landowners, most old railways are often converted into multi-purpose recreation trails that can be used for among others, cycling and walking.

These rail trails (as they are commonly referred to as) have become quite popular across the U.S., with local governments at the state, county, and city level as well as other private groups and conservative organizations eagerly seeking out abandoned rail lines in order to develop trail projects that will be of benefit to local residents.


The first reported case of recycling abandoned urban railways was the Elroy-Sparta State Trail in Wisconsin which opened in 1965. Currently, the longest developed rail trail is the 240-mile Katy Trail located in Missouri. However, the Cowboy Trail in Nebraska (321 miles) is likely to eclipse the Katy Trail once completed.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC)

Over the past quarter of a century, communities wishing to convert abandoned railroads to trails have received tremendous support from the RTC- a non-profit organization that is dedicated to building a nationwide network of trails from abandoned railways and connecting these corridors to build healthier places aimed at benefiting the locals. Presently, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has overseen the development of over 30,000 miles of trails and is working to add a further 8,000 miles to that total.

Since the entanglement of architecture, industry, and infrastructure highly represents important segments of 20th century urban life, the end of their use cycles raises pertinent questions concerning their local and formal impacts. This is why organizations such as the RTC are pivotal, especially as concerns the recycling of abandoned urban railways.

Some Interesting Facts About Canadian Railways

The Canadian Railway sector began in the 1880s so as to link the highly populated Eastern Canada region and the less populated Western provinces of Canada. Within just four years (1881-1885), thousands of miles of the railway lines had been constructed. Today, the railways play a major role in the transportation of people, agricultural products, and manufactured goods in across the country.

Facts about Canadian railways

The Canadian rail industry is among the safest, most competitive, and highly sustainable railway sectors in the world. It moves a record 75 million people and over 70% of all intercity surface raw materials and manufactured products every year, reducing much of the road congestion and harmful emissions. Read on for more of these facts.

Powering the Canadian economy

The Canadian railway network is the fifth largest in the world. It’s also the fourth largest with regard to goods handled in the world. It moves approximately half of all Canada’s exports (in terms of volume)

Tens of thousands of private investors, including railway employees, directly own private railway companies in Canada. Indirectly, millions of ordinary citizens own the railway companies through savings and pension plans.

In 2014 alone, the railways:

-Paid roughly $1.1 billion of fuel, sales, property and other types of taxes

-Paid over $3 billion wages and benefits

-Invested approximately $1.8 billion in capital programs aimed at supporting service growth and improvements.

Environmental protection

The Canadian railways conserve a lot of fuel and limit harmful emissions by relieving road congestion. This is because they are affordable. They move a tonne of freight at three cents per kilometer. And in addition to moving millions of people and masses of goods annually, the railways produce less than 4% of Canada’s transportation related GHC (greenhouse emissions).

Creates employment

In Canada, more than 32, 000 people are employed in the railway sector with an average annual wage of $92 500 per employee.

Innovative, Safe and Secure

In Canada, rail transport is the safest means of ground transportation. More than $20 billion has been invested in secure railway infrastructure since 1999, including innovative safety technologies such as:

-Light-emitting diode (LED) technology and retro-reflective materials which make railway crossing warning signs and lights more bright and visible from far

-Strobe-lights effects to indicate that a train is using the crossing area

-Internet applications, electronic data interchange (EDI) and wireless communications for customers to check prices, request plant switches, place orders, track cars, check bills, among other real-time functions.

-More advanced security gamma –ray technologies particularly in the borders to allow customs official to inspect train contents.

-Automatic stop-starts and low idle systems to increase fuel efficiency

-Rail lubrication technologies which deposit thin beads of lubricants on the rail as the trains pass. This reduces friction, wear, noise and energy consumption

More than 26 000 Canadian railways employees have been trained on rail transport safety measures by the Railway Association of Canada (RAC) in the last five or more years. This has ensured that 99.999% of dangerous goods are safely transported to their different destinations. So far, only 0.08 accidents per millions of passengers were recorded since 2014.

RAC in association with Transport Canada co-founded an initiative called Operation Lifesaver to create public awareness and educate people on railway crossing and trespassing. And through TRANSCAER (Transportation Community Awareness and Emergency Response) RAC works with emergency responders, municipalities, and residents along rail lines to ensure they are aware of the products moved via their areas and are prepared to respond to potential risks involving dangerous goods.