May 12, 2020

What happened to train travel after the 1918 Flu?

Michael Gordon writes …

We’re coming across a lot of predictions on how life will change after the current pandemic – such as “The Harsh Future of American Cities: How the pandemic will alter our urban centers, now and maybe forever”.

However, when I read sweeping statements about history, I do like to see some statistical foundation of the statement.  So I thought, let’s have a look at the passenger rail statistics (which admittedly do not account for ‘how people felt about being on a train.’)

In 1920, passenger numbers increased on the Canadian Pacific Railway passenger trains from 14.4 million to 16.9 million*. 

South of the border, the number of rail passengers increased from 1.1 billion in 1918 to 1.27 billion in 1920**.

My grandparents who were in their mid-20’s in 1918 never mentioned the Spanish Flu epidemic or how it changed things. I do recall lots of mentions of having their first car and learning how to drive in the mid-1920’s. But they still traveled and took the train when they were heading back to Ontario from Kamloops.

Travelling on a CPR passenger train in the 1920’s


Cleaning a CPR Passenger Train


*Harold Innes, 1923, History of the CPR, p. 198.

**USA government document (1958) Historical Statistics, Colonial Times to 1957, p. 430.

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