Having written in Making Tracks about his experiences traveling 30,000 miles of US passenger lines, Pindell now heads north, where he rides ``the steel of Canada'' for a year. To Canada, Pindell notes, railways have had an importance far beyond transportation needs. They have, he says, ``virtually the same function in its founding as the Bill of Rights did ours.'' And as he travels, Pindell describes the role that trains and tracks have played in Canadian history. But he is also set on a little pulse-taking as well as giving history lessons, so he talks to his fellow passengers, mostly convivial sorts, who obligingly tell him about their lives, their politics, and their views on the US (not favorable). Pindell begins his odyssey with a trip from Toronto to Winnipeg on the Canadian and contemplates ``the nature of heaven-- two thousand eight hundred eighty-seven miles lie ahead of me--the longest train-ride in North America, the second longest in the world.'' He ends a year later with the Canadian's last run from Vancouver to Toronto--a victim of government cutbacks, the legendary train is to be mothballed. In between, Pindell travels northwest as far as Prince Rupert, where there's nothing to do but ``work and drink''; to Gaspe, where the people are predominantly French and resigned to a separate Quebec; to Churchill, on James Bay, where polar bears gather to hunt seals--and to wherever else all the other lines that still carry passengers over the Rockies and through the Maritimes take him. A sturdy piece of travel writing: readable, informative, and surely a railway buff's delight--but not a profoundly insightful or lapidary work.