In 1988 the railway line running across the Island of Newfoundland was abandoned. As the last train pulled in to the station at Port aux Basques, an important chapter in the province's transportation history was drawing to a close. But a new one was about to begin. Across North America thousands of kilometres of railroad have been decommissioned over the past three decades. Coinciding with this decline, however, has been a growing awareness of the value of these converted right-of-ways as public trails suitable for a variety of outdoor, recreational activities. The roar of diesel locomotives is being replaced by the sounds of hikers, bicyclists, ATVers, cross-country skiers, horseback riders and snowmobilers - people of all ages and many different interests escaping the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
In Newfoundland, 883 kilometres of abandoned railbed provide the basis for a trail link between Port aux Basques on the west coast and the capital city of St. John's on the easternmost edge of the Avalon Peninsula. The Newfoundland T'Railway Provincial Park, as it was officially proclaimed on July 10, 1997, is being developed as a multi-use, all season recreational trail by the T'Railway Council in conjunction with the provincial and federal governments, various municipal councils and local service districts, the Trans Canada Trail Foundation and a number of other economic development organizations.
The T'Railway development is being carried out in a number of phases, as funds become available. In 1996, work began on the section of rail bed between Glenwood and Benton, the stretch between Bishop's Falls and Badger in Central Newfoundland and a portion of the T'Railway under the auspices of the Grand Concourse Authority starting at the former CN Railway Station (now the home of the Railway Coastal Museum) in the west end of St. John's. Upgrading was also started on the Wreckhouse Trail paralleling the Anguille and Long Range Mountains on the west coast.
Much of the initial work carried out along the T'Railway involved brush cutting and general clean-up. Ditches were cleared of accumulated debris and trestles and bridges repaired. In total there are about 3.5 kilometres of bridges along the trail, the longest being the 282.5 metre trestle crossing the Exploits River near the town of Bishop's Falls. Maintaining these crucial links is essential to the integrity of the entire trail system, since the cost of replacing them today would be prohibitively high. The heavy aggregate or ballast originally used on the railbed to support the track is unsuited for walking or biking so a finer grade material was spread to provide an even and well-compacted surface.
Maintaining the rail bed is a never ending task. During the spring runoff, culverts can become blocked, causing severe erosion and major washouts requiring immediate repair. Overly enthusiastic beavers are also a constant headache and if left to their own devices, these super-sized rodents would flood large areas of land bordering or even including the trail itself.
During the winter months, heavy snowmobile traffic leads to dips and hollows, referred to locally as 'Yes M'ams', in the snow cover. Specially designed trail groomers are required to ensure a smooth track. The province's network of groomed winter trails maintained by the Newfoundland and Labrador Snowmobile Federation is also helping to create many new business opportunities and contributing greatly to a growing interest in adventure tourism.
By 2006, the T'Railway Council had finished upgrading 50 of the 130 bridges/ trestles on the T'Railway between Port aux Basques and St. John's. Then, in the spring of 2007 it began an ambitious, three-year program to complete the remaining 80, with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Trans Canada Trail Foundation each contributing to the $3 Million initiative. The work itself involved the installation of new decking and safety railing, along with related improvements to bridge approaches, abutment enhancements, erosion protection, gravel backfilling and the erection of safety and information signs. The project was carried out in three phases and was completed in the spring of 2010.