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The process of accounting for railway revenues and expenditures has evolved over almost the
whole life of railways everywhere in the world, each country demanding variations according to
local government needs. This makes railway accounting a very political fact of life.
Complexities of railway accounting
This end result stems from two external aspects of railway structure.
The first is that in the early days, there were no viable competitive transportation systems.
Before the railways came, transportation by land was on horseback, or in wagons hauled by
horses over rough roads or mud. Inland, water transportation was in freight canoes, and later in
barges on canals, also hauled by horses. At sea, the steamship had not arrived, so ocean transport
was by sailing ship, at the speed of the wind. So when the railways came, they offered faster
transportation over long distances, reliably in spite of weather and road conditions. The railway
management held a monopoly, and they set commodity rates accordingly. The citizens cried
"Foul", and the Governments of the time progressively specified more and more elaborate forms
of public accounting, so that they could at least see what was going on.
The second is that the total railway infrastructure comprises one whole unit. Tracks, bridges,
locomotives, depots, management and personnel, even the land on which the tracks are laid, all
serve a common purpose, to allow the railway to run. Only the passenger stations and cars are
clearly a cost to the passenger service, as the freight cars and the freight yards are to the freight
service. The passenger cars may be in intercity service one day and in commuter service the
next. The freight cars may be common users, handling many different commodities from one
loading to the next. It is a difficult and thankless task to try to break down railway costs to
allocate them to various services and commodities. So there arose a complex set of railway
statistics, attempting to compare one railway with another. Then the interpretation of statistics
became an exercise in frustration, trying to understand what were the differences between
railways that would explain the differences in the statistical reports.
One Vice-President of Research, newly joined on the railway staff from outside the Company,
made a speech to a group of his peers. He said that, before he joined the railway, he simply could
not understand why railway costing was so much a can of worms. Surely it should be a simple
matter to dip into the can, pull out each worm in turn, and assign costs accordingly! Now that he
was on the inside, he found that every time he dipped into the can, it was the same old octopus
that he pulled out!
In the early days of railways, there was extreme competition during construction, as each
company tried to capture the most territory, and to exclude the other companies. This was
economically unsound, since there was not enough traffic to share between them, and many
companies went bankrupt because of it.
So the next practice was for an owning railway to allow a competing railway to have rights to
operate on the same tracks, so that the costs of infrastructure could be shared. This met the same
problems of allocating costs, and lead to an agreed method of sharing the costs according to a
standard formula, in territory identified as "Joint trackage". Each railway operated its own trains,
for crews, fuel, and equipment maintenance. But all capital charges, regular or special
maintenance, policing, taxes and dispatching costs for the joint facility were assiduously
accounted month by month by the owning railway, and then divided between the two on a basis
Wheelage was a count of all vehicles moved on the joint section, also month by month. Then
each railway accepted into its own accounts, their own portion of the charges, split under the
wheelage formula, and paid these sums to the owning railway.
This was the best system available, but it brought many problems with it.
Arguments arose, when the owning railway needed to make expensive maintenance
expenditures or new capital investments, and the other user did not agree to the need. Priorities
for dispatching were always arguable. Trains scheduled for a fast run required a long space of
open track ahead of them, to allow them the clear space they needed. Slow trains occupied the
track longer than the average trains. Problems with equipment or service delays were not
reflected in the wheelage formula. Yet intensive railway operations on joint trackage were
successful for many years.
Another problem with Joint Facility Accounting is that the monthly accounting of the costs
cannot be done until each month is finished, and all the labour and materials charges reach the
hands of the accountants. There can be bills coming in from contractors a long time after the
event, so revisions and new claims may develop years after the initial settlement of accounts.
The operating railways do not have final costs of their operations for a long time after the event.
Commuter trains on joint trackage
The tracks between a junction at Mimico, known a "Canpa", and another junction near
Burlington, were owned by CN, but operated as joint trackage with the Canadian Pacific
Railway. Both railways operated passenger and freight trains on these tracks, each in its own
name. At the time the plans for GO-Transit were announced, CP was no longer moving
passenger trains on the joint facility, but CN moved all types of train, long-haul freight, transfers,
switchers, intercity passengers, and the Hamilton commuters.
The passenger facilities at Toronto Union Station also were a joint facility, although used
almost exclusively by trains in the name of CN. Still there was a requirement for joint facility
accounting when another railway brought a train in.
The decision that CN would operate a new commuter service in the name of the Government
of Ontario created a new situation for accounting processes. It was understood that the
Government would remunerate CN for all costs associated with it. There were long discussions
to define what costs would be valid, and how the costing and billing for the service would be
handled. Since the Government was not itself a railway, it did not fit in as another railway on the
The situation was resolved by the decision, that for joint facility accounting, the GO-Transit
trains would be considered to be CN trains, then a second joint facility accounting process would
be set up to divide these costs between CN and the Government.
The need within the Commuter Group was to recruit new accounting staff, to create these
accounts and bill for the GO-Transit operation. The need would be to satisfy not only the
railway accounts, but also the accounting used within the Government. This was the charge that
Reggie Corrigan found waiting her, when she moved into the Commuter group's offices.
Reggie Corrigan was no stranger to railway accounting, but she had another qualification for
this responsibility. She had been pursuing a course of accounting outside the railway, so she had
a wide knowledge of the differences she would meet, in working to meet the needs of both the
Government and the railway systems. I was able to meet with Reggie twice, when I began
contacting the people who had worked on the project, First, I was able to visit her in a pleasant
setting at her summer cottage on the shores of Lake Scuggog. We talked about the whole task
and about the four people who came together to form her group, then we had another meeting
when I invited the whole group together for a meal and discussion at a hotel in Toronto.
So I asked Reggie how she came to me in the first place. Jack George
was already in the Commuter Group. Before that, he had come up
through the accounting departments in various positions. He already
knew Reggie and how she had gone about to widen her skills beyond
railway accounting. She had been supervisor of Accounts Payable on the
Region at the time when the whole operation was being mechanized. In
this job, she had a lot of young staff, new people and new things to do.
She had experience working with young people, and got a big kick out
of giving them enough scope, then letting them work things out, with
guidance only as needed. Then the operation was transferred to CN
Headquarters in Montreal, and that department went down to being just
a small office under her.
By the time Jack was needing to recruit someone to supervise our group, Reggie had been
promoted to be Assistant Manager in the General Accounting department, in charge of capital
expenditures and accounts, and material supplies for the Region. Jack had seen her in action in
Accounts Payable, so that may be why he talked to her about coming to the Commuter Group.
Jack spoke to her boss, John MacDonald, the Manager of the Department. This was typical of
Jack, and it was only a matter of a very few days. When she told me that, of course my reaction
was immediate, “Nothing took long. There was no time!” It was Jack’s responsibility, and he
concluded it all.
Reggie said she was already excited about the commuter project, even before she became
personally involved. She couldn’t remember when she first heard about it, but she knew about
the Commuter Group’s existence well before.
“Can you remember about finding out what you had to do?”
“That was interesting, too. Jack had been working with the Commuter Group from the start,
on all the things the Group was into, as well as his concerns about the administration and staffing
of the commuter stations. While he was working on the coloured tickets, the transit fares, and so
on, he used to enlist my opinions, so we sort of grew together on it. An early problem was how
we were going to assess the sharing of costs of running over the Joint Sections. That involved
long hours visiting with the department responsible for Joint Section accounting. Doug Young
and Rusty Gould came in with a costing process for the Willowbrook Depot, that would be
100% chargeable, and Dick Babb, about the Spadina roundhouse, and coachyard, that would be
shared costs. From the viewpoint of CN, I would be working as an Account Receivable, so I had
to produce statistics that would support it to CN Management. But also I had to produce what the
Government needed, as an information package, or an accounting package, so it had to be stated
in a different format. Basically, we had to design our own system that would be setting a
precedent for the future. The Government designated Rod Slater to work with me on this.”
Unfortunately, we were just a few years ahead of having computers available for smaller
work packages, so it all had to be worked out in our own accounting forms, to jive with the
major computer systems that the railway was using, and withstand auditing by the Government
So Reggie moved into the Commuter Group in December 1966, and she only had till May
1967, to get the accounting in hand. I asked her what was her most exciting memory of those
years. Her answer was simple and to the point: it was the task of recruiting the staff she needed.
There was a real pressure of time. The date for inauguration had been set, and the structure of the
system of accounts was only broadly outlined. She would have to decide what staff she would
need, and how to recruit them. They would need to create the accounting structure and the forms
to record the figures as they came in, and for passing on to the other departments, and the
Government. She had to work within the terms of a labour agreement, that had thousands of
employees in scope. It gave priority to length of service, otherwise referred to as “Seniority”. So
there were a lot of employees who were senior enough that they would be entitled to claim the
jobs that the Commuter group would be filling. Most of these were career people, who had lived
in the special railway accounting processes, and had limited or no knowledge of the broader
fields of accounting, to be able to do the work that Reggie knew to be ahead of them. She
needed accounting people, who knew more than just railway accounting.
So the four new jobs were posted, and the bids came in. Now they all had to be interviewed,
and the requirements of the job explained to them. Then Reggie would ask what was the
knowledge they would bring to the work, and determine whether they had the necessary
qualifications to take the job. She had to interview 22 people to find the four that she selected, in
the end. When so many of the applicants were rejected, it caused quite a stir in the Company.
This was unprecedented, and Reggie had to defend her actions both up and down the line.
Management believed she was doing the right thing, and in general, we gave her the support she
That was not all. Fourteen of the candidates who were rejected filed grievances under the
labour agreement, so now it fell to Reggie to support her decisions by demonstrating that the
grievers did not have the qualifications needed. She had satisfied the terms of the labour
agreement in rejecting them. One of the grievers was the local chairman of the brotherhood. All
her cases were accepted, so from then on, the real work could start. When the selected staff
finally got into the work, most of the grievers admitted that they could not have handled it, so it
all ended amicably. It was a challenge while it lasted and a satisfaction to Reggie when it was
The team she selected comprised four people. Marg Mulligan was Senior Accounting clerk.
Then Marg Buchan was Accounting Clerk, responsible for extracting the costs for the joint
section on the Toronto-Hamilton side, and Irene Kennedy did the same for the Kingston
subdivision on the east side. For the shops and stores, Betty McLaughlan was the Accounting
Clerk there. There came a moment when accumulation of statistics became even too much for
this group, and a retired Comptometer Operator named Rose Mitchel was brought in on a
temporary basis to help out. We were doing everything manually, on mechanical calculators.
After I had this meeting with Reggie Corrigan, it seemed better if I
could meet with her staff, to hear what had been their experiences,
so with Reggie’s help, we invited them to meet with us for lunch
in a hotel in Toronto. They were all able to be present, and Marg
Buchan brought her husband, Al Norton, so now she was Marg
Norton. Al made a different contribution to this story, that is
included in Chapter 2, “Setting the Scene.” It was fair that Al
should be at this reunion, because at the time this work was being
done, Al was Joint Facilities Examiner, so much of the liaison
with joint facility accounting was done through him. Marg was
walking out with him already, so that was another reason for him
being deeply involved in setting up the accounting for the
It was a grand reunion when they all came together round the table, so we didn’t start straight
away on my questions. I explained that I was hoping to hear what they could remember of
getting into the job and setting the system up. That was when I ran into a little difficulty. The
whole group had remained involved in the commuter accounting long after the service was
inaugurated, and their memories were
somewhat coloured by their later experiences,
so there was a lot of give-and-take. When the
commuter group first came together, Al had
already advanced through many different
responsibilities, and was in a position of clerk
in the Accounting Department. Although not
directly involved then in the joint facility
accounting for the group, he had a lot of joint
facility experience behind him. So he could
be very helpful, when any of the Commuter
group, and Marg Buchan in particular, came
to him for advice, or explanations in the
existing procedures. Later, he really
appreciated having been involved in setting it all up, because as time went on, he moved up to
positions where the commuter accounting became fully one of his responsibilities.
It was natural for me next to ask the same question of Marg Mulligan, who was next at the
table. Marg had continued to be involved in the commuter accounting long after the service
started, but she had no problem telling us her biggest memory. It was that we had recognised the
work she had done in attending night class at Ryerson, where she had earned an accounting
degree. She knew that her date in the seniority list would not have entitled her to stand for this
position, so she got a lot of satisfaction knowing the this was the qualification that Reggie was
prepared to fight for, to get her as Senior Clerk.
Just across the table from Marg Mulligan, there was Marg Buchan, now Mrs. Norton. She
said her memories did not run in the same vein at all. Her strongest recollection was of the
sudden and great acceptance of the new commuter service by the outside world, how they loved
GO-Transit. She had been with us only a couple of months before we inaugurated. It was the
best thing that happened for anyone that was traveling.
How did that come to you? What did you know about acceptance by the public?
When I played bridge, the folks who came in from outside, miles away . . . . .
So you got to talking while you were at bridge? Where did you play bridge then?
Oh, yes, we played anywhere, but mostly in Willowdale.
But GO-Transit had not reached Willowdale at that time!
Not at all, but they knew all about it from their neighbours. They were always asking whether
I was with GO-Transit. They thought it was a wonderful way to travel. They were always saying
how people loved to travel by GO-Transit. I had lots of feedback.
So I asked what work she was doing before Reggie called her in. It turned out to be
practically the same as Marg Mulligan, in Materials and Supplies. “I was working for Harold
Wardman, in the same office on the Toronto Area.”
Next along the table, I asked the same of Betty McLaughlan. Betty said she had been through
so many things since then, she couldn’t call up any of these kinds of memories, even as she was
hearing all these other comments. She remembered the job going up on the board, being
interviewed and finally chosen for it. She found satisfaction in that. She had been in the same
department as the others.
So when Reggie reached in to grab you, she was robbing the office?
There were so many people applying, Reggie had to go through a qualification and selection
process. But we had been going to Ryerson together for training, so we had the qualifications
Then I turned to Irene Kennedy, who was sitting squeezed in between Betty and Reggie. Irene
remembered how she felt so strongly that the women were finally getting a break. That was the
main thing that hit her. Up to that time, her experience gave her to think that women didn’t rate
when it came to competition for advancement, so this was a new development for her, when she
got the chance. Reggie was the one who had advised them all to go to Ryerson. For that advice
alone, it was the first time anyone in the railway had advised them how to go about seeking
advancement. More than that, they were all in the same department together, so they effectively
stripped his department. Do you know, he actually cried!
Irene said she had just an ordinary education, up to what would now be 12th grade. But it was
the higher education that counted. It took them two years at night school to qualify for their
It was only two months before the date for inauguration that the group moved in together. So
I asked what did they remember of those first few days or weeks, trying to identify what they
would be starting into. They remembered making up forms that would be needed for submission
to Government. These had to meet the Government’s needs, as well as satisfy CN’s routines, so
that each would know what was being accounted for. They did not have samples from the
Government, so they had to get input from everybody, then type them up for discussion. It was
not the structure of the form itself mattered, but that it had to carry the information needed by
each, in a layout that each could interpret.
The contacts in the Government had said what they would be looking for, then Rod Slater
came into the picture, and helped in finalising the forms that were adopted in the end. The
situation was complicated, because the whole operation was still building up to inauguration, so
it was not yet an on-going operation, and many details were evolving even as they worked.
Reggie reminded us that Jack George had been with the Commuter Group, even before the
government decision, so he had come a long way in understanding what would be asked for on
So I asked if they could think of anything more of interest that should be mentioned in the
book: any new thoughts, or ground we had not already covered. Margaret answered, saying: “I
think it was a whole change in railway operations. You took us out on a trip along the line, to let
us see what we were working on. We made a vast difference, in the style of everything. One
thing is that nobody interfered with the Commuter Group. They hadn’t a clue what we were
doing!” Then Al added: “It was a really good thing. When you went on board a train, you took
your ticket with you. When you went through the gates, you dropped your ticket in. The manner
of selling tickets was different, too. That helped.” Reggie added: “That was the ‘on-ground ticket
control’. We would never have got that thing going, without that kind of system. I’m sure Jack
George enjoyed it too. He loved the most, the tickets and the colours.”
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