Stop the train!

My mother grew up in Cochrane, Ontario, a town built at the junction of two railways, the National Transcontinental and the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario. So you might say that I have train whistles in my blood.

We visited Cochrane many times when I was a child, and once we took the Polar Bear Express train up to Moosonee for the day. One of the things I found remarkable about that trip is that the train would stop at places that looked like the middle of nowhere: no station, no sign, just a patch of forest between Cochrane and Moosonee. “The middle of nowhere” is relative, of course: for many people those patches of forest were home, or the start of a canoe journey (you were allowed to check canoes in the baggage car).

It turns out the VIA Rail will stop anywhere you like on certain trains:

On some VIA Rail routes, you can get off and on the train exactly where you want — even in places where there is no scheduled stop! The ideal solution for outdoor activities — at that little lake deep in the forest, or that wild river you’ve been dreaming of for so long!

To use this service, you must purchase your ticket at least 48 hours in advance and tell us the exact spot where you want the train to stop by specifying the exact mile marker at which you would like the train to stop.

This is such a compelling offer that I only wish that I had a mile marker to call home so I could try it out.


Ton Zijlstra's picture
Ton Zijlstra on June 26, 2017 - 16:02 Permalink

Is there an overview of the geographic positions of all the available mile markers, as data? Then you could at least scout out which mile markers would be more interesting than others on a map.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on June 27, 2017 - 08:11 Permalink

Not a direct answer to your (good) question, but I did come across this slippy map of the CN rail network (VIA Rail only operates trains; it doesn’t own the tracks). Among other things, it was helpful in showing me how our train from Montreal to Sackville managed to stop at Ste. Foy, Quebec, even though we were traveling on the other side of the St. Lawrence River.

I also found the Canadian Railway Atlas, although it’s not clear from the sample maps whether it includes mile markers or not.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on June 27, 2017 - 08:23 Permalink

This is a rabbit hole I need to climb out of soon. But before I do:

The train hijacking scene in the 1984 film Martin’s Day was filmed at mile marker 10/ Peterborough County Rd. #44 crossing of the Nepthon Subdivision north of Havelock, Ontario.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on June 27, 2017 - 11:35 Permalink

Federal open data for the win. I asked my friend Chris Mears, a railway enthusiast, whether he knew of such data. He, in turn, asked a friend of his, and the reply came back quickly and helpfully:

Yes this is available through the federal government’s Open Data portal.

The National Railway Network (NRN) is a GIS dataset maintained by Natural Resources Canada.   The data is likely provided by a combination of  federal, provincial, territorial, and railway industry sources, where available.

You can download it in SHP, GML, KMZ and KML.   It is organized by province / territory.

Mileposts are included in the layer entitled MarkerPost.

These are all the items included in the dataset:

Crossing (point)
Junction (point)
LinearStructure (line)
MarkerPost (point)
PointStructure (point)
Station (point)
Track (line)

This is exactly what you were looking for, Ton.

Last week, for example, I was sketching on the train and drew the mile posts on our train north of Moncton:

I grabbed the KML of the National Rail Network for New Brunswick and there, sure enough, was Mile Post 10:

Mile Post 10 north of Moncton

Ton Zijlstra's picture
Ton Zijlstra on June 27, 2017 - 15:11 Permalink