Thursday, August 20, 2009

Canadians Say "Railway," Americans Say "Railroad." Well, Not Always.

Ah, the good 'ol Burlington Northern Santa Fe 
Railroad—er, Railway.

When it comes to talking about a certain kind of transportation system that uses rails, everyone knows that Canadians say "railway" and Americans say "railroad."


Well, yes, sort of.

It's true that Canadians say "railway," and our two largest rail companies are Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National Railways.

And it's also true that most American rail companies are called "railroads," as in the Union Pacific Railroad, Pennsylvania Railroad, Indiana Railroad, etc.

But, after that, it gets a little more complicated.

When it comes to proper journalistic use in Canada, the Canadian Press prefers “railway,” and the Globe and Mail's Style Book states that “railway is the Canadian term.”

Down south, the U.S.-based Associated Press tells journalists to write “railroad,” but it also advises them to look up the actual names of railroads first.

And good advice that is. Although Canadian rail companies prefer the word “railway,” Americans are not as rigid about what term to use.

A quick check of past and present lines in the U.S. shows that over 175 U.S. rail-related companies use, or used, the word “railway” in their name.

And these aren’t just pint-sized shortlines like the Arizona Eastern, the Central Midland or the Columbus and Greenville.

The big ones use it, too—lines like the Great Northern Railway, the Northern Pacific Railway, Norfolk Southern Railway, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, Kansas City Southern Railway and the Florida East Coast Railway.

And not only that; if you want to know about trains in the U.S., what do you consult?

The Official Railway Guide, which has been published in that country for more than a century by the National Railway Publication Company of New York City.

But Canada isn’t a model of consistency in the railway/railroad debate, either.

The Canadian Railway Museum, south of Montreal, invites people to visit what it calls the largest collection of railway equipment in the country. And who runs it? The Canadian Railroad Historical Association, of course.

Meanwhile, CN provides community grants through its CN Railroaders in the Community Program. And let’s not forget that Canada’s most famous train song is the Canadian Railroad Trilogy, by Gordon Lightfoot.

And what do Canadians who enjoy our train-related hobby call ourselves? Not model railwayers (a term found on some British model railway sites), but model railroaders.

Our layouts aren’t called model railways, either (again, as in Britain), but model railroads. And here in Winnipeg, where I live, I belong to the Winnipeg Model Railroad Club.

At least the only Canadian magazine devoted to our hobby has it right: It’s called Canadian Railway Modeller. ( And our home-grown modelling association (our version of the NMRA), is called the Canadian Association of Railway Modellers. (

When it comes to the railway vs. railroad question, it appears that only Buster Keaton managed to sidestep the issue.

He called his 1965 silent comedy about travelling by speeder across Canada The Railrodder.

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