Expanding Canada’s Rail Network to Meet the Challenges of the Future


Lesson Overview

Rail may become a more popular mode of transportation in the future due to increased population, higher energy costs, resource depletion, climate change, globalization, Arctic development and a desire for a greener world. In this lesson, students will use GIS technology to plan and map a new Canadian railway that will help to address the challenges of a changing world.


Grade Level

Grade 10

Time Required

This lesson will require two 65 minute periods to complete.

Curriculum Connection (Province/Territory and course)

Nunavut/Alberta, Social Studies 10 – Canada in the Modern World.

Additional Resources, Materials and Equipment Required

·         CANADA'S STEEL ROADS poster-map

·         Student GIS Instruction Sheet (attached)

·         GIS Answers (for Teachers) (attached)

·         Sample Map (attached)

(The instructions can be adapted to be used with other versions of ArcGIS or ArcView.  Here is a link to ESRI Canada and information about ArcCanada data http://www.esricanada.com/en_education/1445.asp)

·         LCD projector and internet access


          Railway Association of Canada (RAC) – Rail Facts


          Rail and the Environment
          Moving the Economy
          Moving People
          Rail by Provinces
          The Environment

Main Objective

The main objective of this lesson is for students to use GIS technology to plan and map a new Canadian railway that will help to address the challenges of a changing world.


Learning Outcomes

By the end of the lesson, students will be able to:

The Lesson


The Lesson


Teacher Activity

Student Activity



Ask students to brainstorm and discuss some of the current and future geographic problems facing Canada and the world.

[Possible answers: rising oil prices, urbanization, resource depletion, shortage of food, increased population, climate change, search for new energy alternatives, Arctic development more vehicles on the road, and lack of public transportation in Canadian cities.]


Brainstorm some of the current and future geographic problems facing Canada and the world.


Lesson Development


Inform students that later in the lesson they will design a new railway to help address some of the geographic problems facing Canada.  First, they will conduct research to gather background information about Canada’s rail network.

Direct students to the Railway Association of Canada’s (RAC) website.  Provide the following list to read:

·         Rail Facts

·         Rail and the Environment

·         Moving the Economy

·         Moving People

·         The Environment


Ask students to record 2-3 facts about Canada’s rail network in their notes.  (They may need these facts to support their mapping decisions later in the lesson.)


These readings provide some background information on the rail industry.  Students can conduct more of their own research if desired.

Use CANADA'S STEEL ROADS poster-map to teach students about the four types of trains. [Answer: Intercity/passenger, freight, commuters or tourism]

Now students are ready to plan and map a new railway in Canada! 

Distribute the Student GIS Instruction Sheet.  Review the instructions and demonstrate as necessary.  Provide a sample map to show as an exemplar. Monitor and assist students as they complete the task. 











Read information from the RAC.






Record 2-3 facts about Canada’s rail network.





Conduct further research if more information is required.



Use CANADA'S STEEL ROADS poster-map to learn about the four types of trains.





Use GIS technology to plan and map a new railway somewhere in Canada.  Complete the activity using the Student GIS Instruction Sheet.



Collect the completed map and analysis or ask students to briefly present their new railway and explain their choice of location.

Submit the map and analysis or present findings to the class.

Lesson Extension

Create an advertising campaign highlighting the environmental benefits of the rail industry.

Assessment of Student Learning

Assess the map and questions.

Further Reading

Canadian Atlas Online Tracking rail theme



Link to Canadian National Standards for Geography

Essential Element #1: The World in Spatial Terms

·         Location/allocation situations


Essential Element #5:  Environment and Society

·         World patterns of resource distribution and utilization

·         Use and sustainability of resources

·         Environmental issues (e.g. global warming, loss of biodiversity, deforestation, ozone depletion, air pollution, water pollution, acid precipitation, disposal of solid waste)

Geographic Skill #2:  Acquiring geographic information

·         Systematically locate and gather geographic information from a variety of primary and secondary sources.

·         Systematically assess the value and use of geographic information.


Geographic Skill #3:  Organizing geographic information

·         Select and design appropriate forms of maps to organize geographic information.


Geographic Skill #4:  Analyzing geographical information

·         Make inferences and draw conclusions from maps and other geographic representations.






























Student GIS Instruction Sheet

1.      Launch Arc Map.arc.png

2.      When prompted select ok for a new empty map.

3.      Using the add data buttonadd data.png navigate to the national shapefiles and add canada2001.shp, maj_cities.shp and rail.shp.

4.      Double click on the symbol for each layermajcities.png and change the color to an appropriate color.

5.      Go to file à save as and save your work.

6.      Use the identify toolidentify.png and the zoom toolzoom.png to examine the map and look at areas of Canada that would benefit from having a new rail line.

7.      Once a location for the new rail line has been identified open ArcCatalog catalog.png.  Choose file à new àshapefile (Be sure to make sure the location is set to a folder where you have access to save to) then make name = new_rail_line and feature type = polyline.  new theme.png

8.      Click and drag the new_rail_line shapefile into the table of contents or use the add data button and add the new_rail_line shapefile to the map.  (If a warning message appears simply select ok.)

9.      Choose editorà start editing and when prompted navigate to the shapefile that you want to edit.


10.  Select the sketch tool and make sure task = Create New Feature and the target is new_rail_line.


11.  Draw in your new rail line.

12.  When you are finished, select editor à stop editing and save edits.  It would also be a good time to save your work again.

13.  Double click slowly on each layer in the table of contents and rename the layers with appropriate names.  Example new_rail_line = new rail line or Canada2001 = Canada.

14.  Choose view à layout view.

 layout view.png

15.  Use the change layout buttonlayout.png and under the general tab choose a template that you would like.

16.  Double click where prompted and make a cartographically sound map.

17.  Double check your work for errors, save your work and print your map.

18.  Answer the map-related questions below.


GIS Questions:


  1. Identify the type of rail line created.
  2. Briefly describe where your new rail line begins and ends.
  3. What do you believe will cause the demand for the new rail line?
  4. Discuss the challenges that will result from the creation of this new rail line?
  5. What would be the benefits of this new rail line?
























GIS Answers

1.      Intercity/passenger, freight, commuters or tourism.

2.      Various answers will be provided, but possible locations could including the following:

·         Arctic Ocean to access a longer open water season that would allow for cheaper shipping or to provide resources for potential oil, mining and fishing industries which may soon occur in the Arctic regions.

·         Northern communities to provide rail to many isolated communities.

·         Southern BC and Ontario to connect many of the cities which are currently not connected by rail.

·         East or West coast to provides more opportunities for shipping across the Pacific or Atlantic Ocean.

·         New tourism sites or mineral deposits that may be developed through Canada.

3.      Possible answers: New market for resource exports, opening of the Arctic Ocean, new resource deposits developed, affordable and “green” tourism, more demand for intercity travel or alternative transportation methods as gas prices rise etc.

4.      Possible answers:  Terrain, permafrost, impact to the environment, migration routes for animals, obtaining land, land availability or cost, political issues (provincial boundaries) costs.

5.      Possible answers: Cheaper transportation, quicker transportation, more environmentally friendly transportation, jobs, more vehicles off of the road, economic growth.


Map should also be assessed to make sure the student has made a map that is cartographically sound.  Things to look for are an appropriately placed and specific title, legend, scale bar (kilometres), neat line, name of cartographer, date and north arrow.
















Sample Map

final map.png