Born in One Country, This Railroad Executive Served Another As Well

July 24, 1864

Railroad executive Thomas James Tait, whose career spanned both North America and Australia, was born in the township municipality of Melbourne in Quebec, Canada. He started working for the Grand Trunk Railway (GT) in 1880; that extensive system ran through Ontario and Quebec as well as Michigan and much of New England. Tait went on to serve in a variety of administrative positions for both GT and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). He ultimately became manager of transportation for CPR, which was Canada’s first transcontinental railroad.

In 1903, Tait was appointed chairman of commissioners for Australia’s Victorian Railways. Tait turned Victorian Railways’ annual deficit into a profit and increased the rolling stock of that company. His most notable accomplishment at Victorian Railways entailed initiating the electrification process for that company’s trains within the suburban system of the city of Melbourne in the Australian state of Victoria. This process finally went beyond the analysis-and-blueprint stage in 1919 – almost a decade after Tait’s departure from Down Under — when the actual conversion to electric trains began. The conversion was completed in 1930, making Melbourne’s electric suburban rail system one of the largest in the world at that time.

Tait’s long-lasting legacy could also be seen in a number of trains used in that system and named after him. These wooden-bodied, red “Tait trains” made their debut in 1910 and initially were hauled along the tracks by steam locomotives before being modified for electric traction. In the 1950s, the Tait trains became widely known as “Red Rattlers” to distinguish them from the blue-painted Harris trains introduced to Melbourne’s rail system during that decade.

A heavily built man known for always carrying around thick cigars, Tait was knighted just before leaving Australia for his native Canada in 1911. He died in 1940 in the town of Saint Andrews in New Brunswick, Canada.

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