The Toronto Railway Museum is open! Please click here for more information.     
Click Here to
join the TRHA
discussion group.

Powered by Blogger


Historical Note: The National Railway Historical Society

One of the leading railfan organizations in the U.S. is the National Railway Historical Society formed in 1935. The NRHS is the largest such group in North America with nearly 13,000 members and over 160 chapters. There is only one Canadian chapter, located in British Columbia and apparently engaged in preservation and sponsoring excursions. Since 1991, the NRHS has provided a half million dollars to rail preservation efforts, through hundreds of grants to NRHS chapters and other organizations not affiliated with NRHS.

Although the focus of the group is on rail preservation, the quarterly NRHS publication, The Bulletin puts less emphasis on the past and more on contemporary railroading than does the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, the other major U.S. railfan group.

Like most railfan groups, the NRHS has been forced to aggressively confront an aging and declining membership and is currently preparing a new business plan to sustain the organization in future years. In response, the NRHS actively promotes the hobby among young people and sponsors the popular RailCamp summer orientation program in partnership with Amtrak and the National Park Service, offering high school youth hands-on experience in the railroad industry.

The NRHS has twice held their annual conventions in Toronto, the first in 1958 and the second in 1980.

The 1958 convention began on August 30 and was based, appropriately, at the Royal York Hotel across the street from Union Station. This was the entry point for the vast majority of conventioneers since there was still an extensive passenger train network across North America in the late 1950s. Toronto was chosen because it was still a busy hive of steam and electric railway operation compared to most American cities where both had been abandoned. Among the excursions planned were a CPR tour of company facilities in the city on Saturday that included a trip to Guelph Junction and Hamilton, a CNR excursion to the Stratford Shops and Niagara Falls on Sunday, and a TTC streetcar charter on Monday.

The second NRHS convention in Toronto, sponsored by the Buffalo chapter, began on July 23, 1980 and was also based at the Royal York. Over 1,000 railfans from all over North America attended the 5-day convention, probably the largest organized gathering of prototype rail enthusiasts in the city's history. Although more conventioneers entered the city via Toronto International Airport than in 1958, 250 of them arrived at Union Station on the "Independence Limited" from Alexandria, Virginia, a special train of 16 chartered private cars.

Several excursions were arranged by the TTC, GO Transit, VIA and CN, including the last excursions in the Toronto area hauled by Canadian National steam locomotive No. 6060. On July 26, 1980, 6060 made a final trip from Toronto around Lake Simcoe and back. Much to the delight of the many U.S. railfans attending the convention, bringing up the markers of the excursion train were two ex-Reading Railroad "Crusader" cars built in 1937 for service between Philadelphia and Jersey City and purchased by CN in 1964. Unfortunately the excursion was marred by overcast skies and torrential downpours. This was the last occasion in the 20th century that a steam-hauled passenger train operated in Toronto. 6060 was then parked in the Spadina Roundhouse for several days, prior to it being moved to Alberta in early August.

In 2002, the Toronto Railway Historical Committee investigated the possibility of becoming the Toronto chapter of the NRHS but there was insufficient interest from local members and the proposal was dropped.

IMAGES #1, #2 & #3
- Pages from the 1958 NRHS Bulletin enticing members to come to Toronto. The prices and options available will undoubtedly amuse contemporary railfans, although the article is overly optimistic predicting that steam-powered trains would remain operating for “a number of years.” Except for excursions, they were all gone by 1960.

IMAGE #4 - The 1980 Independence Special departing Union Station on July 27 behind Southern and Norfolk & Western power.

IMAGE #5- The annual NRHS-sponsored RailCamp.

Posting and images by Derek Boles, TRHA Historian

Click on each image for a closer look!

Image #1
Image #2
Image #3
Image #4
Image #5

News and Events About Us Museum Collections History Links Contact Us Resources Home