The Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad: We Have The Connections


The Detroit Toledo and Ironton Railroad had a very interesting history. From its earliest beginnings in the mid-19th century until 1920 the railroad had a very convoluted history and often found itself in bankruptcy court. However, that all changed after the DT&I was purchased by Henry Ford, who turned around the railroad’s fortunes and made it a very profitable operation hauling auto parts from the Detroit region to connections with several east-west trunk lines in Ohio. The railroad eventually would become part of the Pennsylvania Railroad system although after the Penn Central collapse it was spun-off and eventually purchased by the Grand Trunk Western Railroad. Today much of the former DT&I system has since been sold to shortline Indiana & Ohio Railroad, which continues to operate nearly all of the DT&I’s trackage north of Washington Court House, Ohio.

A trio of DT&I Geeps including a GP38-2, a GP40, and a GP40-2 lay over at the Louisville & Nashville yard in DeCoursey, Kentucky on May 25, 1981.

The DT&I has its beginnings dating back to the Iron Railway which was incorporated in 1849 to move agricultural products between Ironton (which lies along the Ohio River) and Lawrence County, Ohio. The primary backbone of the DT&I would be the Detroit Southern Railway, which was incorporated in 1901. The DS took over smaller systems (including the original Iron Railway) such as the Springfield, Jackson & Pomeroy Railroad, which connected Jackson and Springfield, Ohio Railroad; the Ohio Southern Railroad, which connected Springfield to Lima, Ohio; and the Detroit & Lima Northern Railway, which connected Lima with Detroit.  The DS made up virtually the entire historic DT&I, a linear north-south system that connected the town of Ironton, Ohio with Detroit, Michigan to the north.

However, poor management and shaky profits cast the Detroit Southern into bankruptcy in 1903, a place the railroad would find itself often over the next 17 years. It emerged as the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railway in 1905 and was given the Ann Arbor Railroad (a system that connected Toledo, Ohio with Frankfort, Michigan) but after another bankruptcy in 1908 the DT&I lost its control of the AA and in 1914 reemerged as the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad.   By 1920 the railroad was again in financial trouble and would have undoubtedly fallen into bankruptcy again if it were not for its purchase that year by legendary businessman Henry Ford, who saw the DT&I as a means to serve his automobile plants around Detroit. Ford quickly poured much needed capital improvements into the DT&I and after the railroad secured numerous interchange points with the east-west trunk lines in Ohio it became a very profitable operation. 

Detroit, Toledo & Ironton GP38-2 #228 sports an interesting livery after the road had already been acquired by the Grand Trunk Western. It was an experimental scheme that was only applied to a few units. The locomotive is seen here at Port Huron, Michigan on May 27, 1981.

After just nine years of ownership, however, Ford sold off his interests in the DT&I to the Pennsylvania Railroad, which retained ownership of it until the Penn Central debacle. Still, after Ford’s ownership the DT&I remained a profitable, well-managed railroad for the rest of its days, and interestingly the PRR did not execute much control of the railroad, as it maintained its own identity and personnel.  During 1963, in an interesting repeat of history, the DT&I once again acquired ownership of the Ann Arbor. The Ann Arbor Railroad today is not the original company started in the late 19th century although it continues to bear the familiar orange paint that the Ann Arbor was so famous for. Much like the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway which was officially dissolved and whose name was later resurrected, so is the case with the Ann Arbor.


The AA was in danger of being taken over or merged into another system following the PC collapse. However, for the Ann Arbor’s sake, fortunately this is when its luck changed.  In an attempt to ensure the line’s stability and future, the State of Michigan stepped in and purchased the entire Ann Arbor Railroad in 1976 (it also added its car float operations in 1980 although they were discontinued in 1982). Unfortunately the designating operator, the Michigan Interstate, went bankrupt in 1983 and the remaining portion of the AA between Ann Arbor and Toledo is operated by the Ann Arbor Acquisition Corporation today. Today the Ann Arbor Railroad, owned by the Ann Arbor Acquisition Corporation, continues to serve the State of Michigan along its main line to Toledo, Ohio.

Mingling with GTW units is a DT&I GP38-2, #221 (and another DT&I mate), at the road's former terminal in Jackson, Ohio during December of 1983.

Diesel Locomotive Roster

Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
GP38200-2061966-19697
GP38AC210-2201970-197111
GP38-2221-22819758
SD38250-25219693
GP35350-35719648
GP40400-40519686
GP40-2406-4251972-197920
SW1900-90119412
SW8900-901 (Traded In From SW1s)19522
NW2910-91619487
SW7920-92419505
GP7950-9731951-195324
GP9980-9921955-195713

Already well into the Grand Trunk Western years, DT&I GP38 #6217 leads two other counterparts as they power a freight train over Indiana Harbor Belt trackage at La Grange, Illinois on June 17, 1986.

Steam Locomotive Roster

Class Type Wheel Arrangement
88, 94, 100, 200, 400Consolidation2-8-0
250Switcher0-8-0
300Decapod2-10-0
315, 800Mikado2-8-2
600Atlantic4-4-2
700Berkshire2-8-4


One of the DT&I's GP38ACs has yet to be repainted as it leads a Grand Trunk freight through Battle Creek, Michigan during September of 1981.

Following the 1970 bankruptcy by the Penn Central the PC was forced to spin-off the DT&I an attempt to help pay off its debt. Over the next ten years the DT&I remained a mostly independent operation until it was taken over by the Grand Trunk Western Railroad in 1980. Unlike the PRR the GTW quickly began phasing out the DT&I’s identity. By 1982 everything south of Washington Court House, Ohio, a distance of 115 miles was abandoned and just two years later in 1984 the DT&I was merged into history as part of the GTW. Interestingly, however, all of the former DT&I system is still in operation north of Washington Court House to Detroit (about 240 miles). This was sold to short line Indiana & Ohio in 1990 and remains an important part of that railroad today.

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