Keywords: railroad history, Canada, undercapitalisation, scrap iron, recycling, environmental management, industrial ecology, railroad scrap, railways, foundry business
Ontario railways before 1880: a scrap-iron bonanza
The construction of the first generation of railways in Ontario, Canada, was undertaken without the benefit of adequate capital investment. The result was cheaply-built track and rolling stock that wore out with unanticipated rapidity. Substantial replacement and design changes became a part of the railroad-building process. The failure – sometimes with catastrophic results – of poor quality iron rails, wheels, boilers and castings of every description yielded a steady flow of scrap iron from before 1860 onward, and estimates its volume form a central aspect of this paper. Railroad scrap peaked in the 1870s as hundreds of miles of new, more durable steel rails replaced iron ones. This surge of scrap iron fed a flourishing foundry business in southern Ontario late in the 19th century, and quite possibly retarded the establishment of Canada's domestic steel industry.