The railway in Newfoundland was developed as a result of the small and highly scattered population that lived along the coastal areas of the island in the late 1800's. For the most part, people travelled using the small fishing boats that were moving between coves. As there were few roads, it was incredibly difficult to travel long distances, especially in large numbers or with cargo.
In 1893, after much negotiation and research, Scottish millionaire R.G. Reid was granted the Government's permission to build a railway from St. John's to Port aux Basques with the understanding that any losses incurred would be the responsibility of Mr. Reid. In order to make the trip as fast and as simple as possible for the passengers, the railway would run through the inland areas that had not been fully explored and would operate against the advice of the engineer who was helping to develop the plans.
In 1898, five years after plans had been laid out, the train carried 50 passengers from St. John's to Port aux Basques in a little less than 28 hours. It was also during this year that Reid signed a contract which stated that he would undertake the running of the railway for 50 years.
The branch line, which went from St. John's to Trepassey, was used to send a special rescue train to Renews, six miles from Cappahayden. Renews was the closest station to the site of the wreck. On board the train was a Scottish Doctor, Cluny MacPhearson(the inventor of the gas mask) and Doctor Tom Anderson. The doctors were accompanied by several nurses and medical supplies. Commander MacDermott arranged for Naval Reservist Gunner Marshall from the H.M.S. Britton ( formerly Calypso ) to board the train. He was put in charge of a special rocket apparatus which could shoot a lifeline onto the wreck. The train arrived at Renews in mid afternoon on Sunday February 24th. The train was met by horses and carts which took the rescue team to Horn Head; they arrived at 4:00 P.M. The rocket apparatus was used without success several times before darkness set in.