Relation of the Telegraph
to the Railway
With Special Reference to the Operating Department
An Operator or Agent working a telegraph key - Date unknown Photographer unknown.

 Internal link   Introduction

A booklet produced by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1906 titled "Proceedings of the Meeting of Western Lines Officials held at Field, B.C." contains a selection of articles and discussions about the railway's operation. This month's article from that booklet, "Relation of the Telegraph to the Railway", written by S.S. Jenkins, General Superintendent Telegraphs, Western Lines Canadian Pacific Railway, and containing additional comments by railway officials is reprinted here for your education with the addition of some appropriate images.

 Internal link   The 1906 Article

I am asked to read a paper on the "Relation of the Telegraph to the Operating Department", but as I understand that this convention has been called to discuss ways and means to improve the service generally, I feel at liberty to enlarge the theme to cover the relation of the Telegraph to the Railway, with special reference to the Operating Department.

In connection with the relation of the Telegraph to Operating Department, those of us who have even a slight knowledge of physiology know that the nerves constitute the great actuating power in the human body, and in like manner, the Telegraph may be said to constitute the great actuating and vital force in the operating of the Railway. When telegraph communication is interrupted, the movement of trains practically ceases, for while certain provision is made for such emergencies, results are insignificant. The vast expenditure on permanent way, rolling stock, etc., etc., would be, without telegraph service, commercially useless. One, if not the great essential, therefore, necessary to successful operation of the railway, is an efficient telegraph service.

 Image The great essentials for successful telegraph service are adequate wire and instrument equipment efficiently maintained and properly utilized. To provide adequate wire and instrument equipment and to maintain the same efficiently, is the chief service performed by the Telegraph for the Operating Department, but in this connection, I would observe that the Telegraph Department is directly responsible and accountable for such service only to the extent of the control by the Telegraph Department of the agencies necessary to secure such service. The agencies beyond the Control of the Telegraph Department are to be found in the Operating Department itself and in the Maintenance of Way Department, and unless there is active, intelligent, co-operation on the part of these Departments, the telegraph service cannot be efficient. Particular agencies in the Operating Department, whose services are indispensable in securing efficient telegraph service, are the Train Dispatchers, Agents, and Operators. Interruptions occur from various causes, fire, flood, lightning, rock, snow, and landslides, wind and sleet storms, train accidents, and from interference by workmen along the line by derricks, steam shovels, pile drivers, bridge gangs, etc., etc. The first duty of the Circuit Managers (Wire Testers) when such interruptions occur, is to provide a wire for the Train Dispatcher. Usually at such times, the Train Dispatcher will bestir himself to give assistance but very often when he secures a wire, he is no longer interested. He fails to appreciate the fact that the wire he has, is liable to fail at any time because of interference where the trouble exists and is he is not at all disposed to allow the Circuit Manager to do any work thereon, in connection with location of trouble, or to have patches made at offices in order to secure other facilities. Circuit Managers do not use the train wire except when absolutely necessary, if only for the reason that if another wire is available, they prefer to use it in order not to interfere with Dispatcher nor to have this important work delayed through use of the wire by Dispatcher at the same time. Dispatchers, therefore, should lend every assistance when called upon by Circuit Managers.

CPR employees dig out a telegraph line near Cowley, Alberta -
Jan 1937 Photographer unknown - Galt Museum & Archives.

In cases where there may be trouble at more than one point covered by a lineman's beat during severe weather, and when night is likely to overtake the lineman before he can cover the ground, dispatchers should give orders to trains when at all possible to stop for linemen to make temporary repairs, which usually will occupy a few minutes and be the means of restoring communication quickly. It has frequently happened that because of failure to get this done, trouble has remained in all night. Again, in cases of severe trouble and when no trains may run for hours, a light engine is required and Train Dispatchers should be authorized to act promptly on request of the Circuit Managers to furnish same. In such case, the Telegraph Department would become responsible for any unnecessary use of light engines. That such assistance can be rendered, has been amply shown at various times.

Most of us have our limitations. There are Dispatchers and Dispatchers. I have known a Dispatcher working one of the heaviest train sections, who could find the means, apparently with no delay to train movement, to render such assistance in the recovery of wires. Another Dispatcher working a different trick on the same train section will curtly order the Circuit Manager off the wire if he endeavors to do business. In some instances Dispatchers have undertaken to help themselves to wires, to order ground wires on and patches made at offices, without notification to the Circuit Managers, thus putting in more trouble which the Circuit Manager has to clear up, in addition to the original trouble. The Telegraph Department is responsible in this connection and the Circuit Managers should control the circuits.

Agents and operators in many cases fail to do the needful. They fail to answer Circuit Managers call for "wire" and when reported to their Superintendent for such failure, they excuse themselves to their Superintendent on the ground of attention to other work, and nothing is done. In very many cases agents and operators are unable to do switch board work required by the Circuit Manager, notwithstanding a leaflet issued over a year ago giving full instructions with diagrams, and notwithstanding the fact that our Inspectors are continuously travelling inspecting offices and are available to post agents and operators on any points that may trouble them. With these diagrams and instructions, however, any intelligent operator, if he gives suitable attention to the subject, can qualify in a very short time and I think that such qualification should be made compulsory and a time limit given within which they must qualify, evidence of such qualification to be a certificate from the Inspector of telegraph, that they have been fully tested and found qualified.

Telegraph service for the Railway, exclusive of service in connection with the movement of trains, is also in the hands of the Operating Department, except at Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver where this work has been transferred to the Telegraph Department. It, therefore, rests very largely, if not entirely, with the Operating Department itself to see that this branch of the service is satisfactory.

There is urgent necessity that the use of the wires for Railway service business be restricted. Many telegrams sent are entirely unnecessary and in connection with matters that could be adjusted by train mail. Also many telegrams are sent that could be reduced in length, very often, one half. There is no need of a rigorous censorship in this connection. Such censorship should be under the direction of someone in connection with the Operating Department of Railway service, sufficiently familiar with all departments of the service, to enable him to act intelligently. The sending of unnecessary telegrams, or of telegrams containing useless words, has the effect of clogging the facilities and of delaying business of first importance and also increasing the cost to the Company for increased wire facilities and increased operating staff to handle same.

The sign typically found on Western Lines railway stations.

I have now to direct your attention to a branch of the service where efficient service is especially necessary, for the reason that any excuse for defective service is not accepted. I refer to telegraph service rendered by the Company direct to the Public, usually called "commercial business". Here again is a service which, particularly on Western Lines is largely, if not entirely, dependent upon the services of agencies controlled by the Operating Department with the added difficulty that these agencies are compelled to give preference to telegraph service for the Operating Department in connection with our telegraph service, as applied to railway operation. Seventy five percent of the business handled for the public on Western Lines is handled through the Railway Station.

Defective service in connection with the Company's own interests, is a matter of domestic concern, a family matter, which we may wrestle with or put up with as best we can, but service for the public is a very different proposition. The public does not discriminate between departments. Any explanation we may offer for defective service that has to do with attention given by Agents to Company's own service business is not accepted, even though it be in connection with a train order. The Company operates a telegraph system through Canada from ocean to ocean, connecting at each end with a cable service across both oceans, and advertises the fact extensively in its various publications so that the public have now come to consider that they should obtain better telegraph service along the line of the Canadian Pacific Railway than along any other railway system. The Company's transcontinental passengers look upon its telegraph service as a very great convenience not given by other Transcontinental systems which do not control the commercial telegraph service. The reputation of the Company, therefore, is at stake in this matter and in the same sense as defective service in connection with freight, passenger, dining, sleeping car, or other service would be criticised. Patrons of the road have frequently expressed their satisfaction with our telegraph service, and the confidence they feel in their ability to keep in touch with their business connections while travelling over the road has been freely expressed. On the other hand defective service has been very freely criticised and any explanation we may give other than for causes beyond the control of any Company, is not accepted. We are curtly told that as we own and operate this system and control our own employees, there is no reason why telegraph service should not be satisfactory.

I am aware that our Railway Superintendents and other Operating Officers very often are not impressed with the importance of this service because of their knowledge that the revenue at many stations is small in comparison with the freight and passenger receipts, but in the aggregate it affords a very important source of revenue for the Company. A joint cicular was issued over a year ago by the Superintendent of Transportation and myself, approved by the Second Vice President, defining the duties of Dispatchers, Circuit Managers, Agents, Operators, and Conductors in connection with telegraph service. These instructions, which have been closely followed up by personal and continued personal supervision by Superintendents and Inspectors, have had a very salutary effect. Since these instruction were issued, there has been a noticeable improvement in the service but nevertheless Agents are disposed to regard commercial service as a side issue the same as express, and Superintendents are not inclined to reprimand Agents for neglect of commercial service especially if other station work is properly attended to. There is perhaps a feeling that the importance of public service in connection with telegrams is over-estimated. I wish to say most emphatically that a telegram is an emergent communication and the Company having undertaken a public service must perform such service satisfactorily. I wish to emphasize the importance of Railway Superintendents co-operating with the Telegraph Department to insure that instructions contained in the special circular are strictly observed by all employees handling commercial telegrams.

 Internal link   Sample Commercial Telegrams

 Image    Image    Image    Image

 Image    Image    Image    Image

 Image    Image    Image    Image

Nearly two million paying telegrams were handled at Western Lines offices in 1905. Between 1900 and 1905, telegraph earnings increased one hundred and fourteen percent.

Present wire facilities seem adequate and with additions to be made this year, will be fully adequate. In the construction and maintenance of lines we are fully abreast of the times. In the electrical branch and in operation, our methods are also up-to-date, our instruments and apparatus generally being of the latest and best type. The old Callaud or Gravity battery, which has been a faithful friend of the Telegraph, is now being largely displaced by storage battery, both for main batteries and for local batteries where suitable current from power plants is available, and with very beneficial results. The method of conducting wires into stations by means of aerial cable has been largely adopted, over one hundred offices on Western Lines having been thus equipped.

 Internal link   Official's Comments

Mr. J.S. Lawrence - The telegraph has done more than anything to assist in the operation of railways. Before its advent the movement of trains was difficult. I take exception to the statement that the Superintendents and Dispatchers are not alive to the necessity of keeping wires up. My experience is that every effort is made in this direction. You understand that in the mountainous country wires are frequently interrupted and naturally the first thing the train Dispatcher does is to secure a wire to move his traffic. The alleged unnecessary use of the wire is open for discussion. It does not apply to my district.

Mr. J. Wilson - We must have the sympathetic co-operation of the Dispatchers. Generally we have it, but not always. Sometimes we have only one Wire, out of the whole with which to make a test, and it is necessary for the Dispatcher to give this up for the purpose. The Circuit Manager must be given the hearty co-operation and support of the Dispatchers. Last year we strung 70 miles of copper wire to overcome the damage resulting from the fumes of the smelters. The escape spoken of in the Boundary Section is due to atmospheric troubles.

The censoring of unnecessary telegrams is difficult, but it should be given careful consideration by all Departments. The railroad business is increasing at a greater ratio than the commercial. We had numerous complaints last year with respect to telegrams about hotel and sleeping car space, but in every one investigated the delay was found not to be with the Telegraph Department.

Mr. B.S. Jenkins - This discussion should be productive of good if the Superintendents present will post their Dispatchers and Agents along the lines suggested. Frequently by ingenuity the Dispatchers can give up a wire temporarily and am sure will do so if the importance is brought to their attention.

Mr. J. Tait - The value of the Telegraph Department is apparently not appreciated save in times of trouble. The Circuit Manager is one who is always on the lookout for trouble on the wires. His first duty is to provide a dispatching wire. The Dispatcher after securing his train wire is not inclined to give it up to enable the Circuit Manager to make further tests. Railway Superintendents should co-operate with the Telegraph Department to enforce special rules in connection with the handling of commercial messages, especially the delivery of telegrams to passengers on trains. We are able to give a telegraph service to our passengers that no other transcontinental line can approach, but we need the Superintendents' co-operation to keep this service up.

Agents should be instructed to give preference to commercial messages. The importance of the telegraph cannot be over-estimated. Important messages from the British Government are passing over the wires every day and the co-operation of the Dispatchers is needed in the case of wire trouble to avoid delay to these messages.

Many messages might be sent by train mail, and I believe in a rigid censorship.

Mr. G.E. Graham - A careful censorship of messages is an absolute necessity, it would cut out verbose communications and indicate matter that might go by mail. The person occupying this position should be independent of all departments.

A diagram shows the location of telegraph poles containing telegraph wires and telephone
wires from Canadian Pacific Railway Employee Timetable 91 effective 25 Oct 1959.

Chairman - The Telegraph Department is a most important branch. Unless they (the commercial public) are sure of dispatch they will not use our wires. It is so easy to telegraph we sometimes do not stop to think if the same object might not be covered by using the mail. I know that between Winnipeg and Fort William many messages are sent that would answer equally as well by mail. We have intermittent censorship, but we may have to come to a permanent censorship at Winnipeg. We have been at a large expense in providing additional wires with a view to offering our patrons first class service. I am hopeful that the discussion will be of benefit in improving the service.

 Internal link   Associated Links

Canadian Pacific Railway

Canadian Pacific Historical Association

Additional CPR Web Sites