The Grand Trunk Western Railroad, "The Good Track Road"
For purposes of this website we will highlight the Grand Trunk Western Railroad, which while a subsidiary of the Canadian National
Railway operates almost exclusively in the United States to oversee its
parent's originally-controlled lines in the country. However, the GTW
should not be confused with the Grand Trunk Railway, which predates even
the CN and was a large Canadian line that had financial
difficulties in the early 20th century forcing the government to
takeover the railroad. As for the GTW, it became a fondly remembered
classic line alongside the likes of all others we know today such as the
Baltimore & Ohio, Pennsylvania, Chicago & North Western, etc.
despite the fact that its livery was rather bland, a variation of its
parent's. In any event, today the GTW is still technically a subsidiary
of the Canadian National although the Class I no longer distinguishes the railroad amongst its locomotive fleet and predominantly survives in name only.
a complete background on the GTW one needs to
learn a bit about the Grand Trunk Railway. The original GTR was
sponsored and chartered on November 10, 1852 by Sir Francis Hincks
attempting to connect Toronto to Montreal. By 1860 the railroad had
already accomplished many of its original goals and also reached into
Maine via its takeover of the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad.
Additionally, it had reached what is now Port Huron, Michigan via
carferry service in 1859. The company flirted with bankruptcy around this time but was able to avoid total financial
disaster and saw its outlook improve after the American Civil War had
ended in 1865. The Grand Trunk Railway continued to expand is system to
such an extent that by 1867 it had become the world's largest railroad stretching from Michigan, throughout southern Ontario and New Brunswick, and into Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire.
At its peak the GTR operated more than 1,100 miles of lines in the U.S.
and another over 8,000 in Canada for a total system of more than 9,100
miles. Unfortunately, the 20th century proved the company's downfall as
it expanded beyond its means by taking over the Grand Trunk Pacific
Railway, which stretched to British Columbia as well as another eastern
system the Canada Atlantic Railway. The Grand Trunk Pacific proved not
particularly profitable upon its completion in 1914 (construction had
begun in 1905), which brought down the entire Grand Trunk system. This
situation forced the Canadian government to take over the entire
railroad in July, 1920. In 1918 the government-created Canadian National
Railway was formed and on January 30, 1923 it took control of the GTR.
In total, some 214 different railroads would make up the CN instantly
providing it a transcontinental system.
Its lines, of course, still included operations in the United States and
the new CN needed a separate American entity to manage these. As a
result the GTW was created by CN on November 1,
1928 to operate its lines in the Midwest through the states of
Michigan, Illinois and Indiana (its New England lines were under the
direction of the Central Vermont Railway). The smaller companies that
made up these routes included the original Grand Trunk Western Railway,
Bay City Terminal Railway, Chicago, Detroit & Canada Grand Trunk
Junction, Chicago & Kalamazoo Terminal, Detroit, Grand Haven &
Milwaukee, Detroit & Huron, Grand Rapids Terminal Railroad, Michigan
Air Line Railway, Pontiac Oxford
& Northern Railroad, Toledo Saginaw & Muskegon Railway,
(interestingly, the CN-owned Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific of Minnesota
remained mostly independent).
Operating as a more-or-less an independent railroad from its parent the
GTW continued to expand after its creation. In 1943 it completed the
purchase of the Cincinnati Saginaw & Mackinaw, and in 1955 purchased
the Muskegon Railway & Navigation Company. The original Grand
Trunk Western had jointly owned the Detroit & Toledo Shore
Line (the "Shore Line") with the Nickel Plate since the turn of the 20th
century, which operated roughly a 50-mile line between Toledo and
Detroit. This continued under the GTW with the railroad eventually
obtaining the entire route from Norfolk & Western in 1981 (successor
to the Nickel Plate). Moving forward in 1980 the company further
expanded by obtaining the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton giving it access
to southern Ohio all of the way to the Kentucky border at Ironton (the
GTW, however, quickly abandoned the southern portion of the DT&I
below Washington Courthouse in 1982).
While the Grand Trunk Western Railroad eventually reached into four
U.S. states including Minnesota (between Crookston and Emerson,
Manitoba), Illinois (to Chicago), aforementioned Ohio, and Indiana
(along its route to Chicago) the company was predominantly situated in
Michigan where the bulk of its lines were located. Aside from its
connection to Detroit and main line to Chicago the GTW served Grand
Haven and Muskegon (major carferry points), Grand Rapids, Jackson, Bay
City, Caseville, and Kalamazoo. Most often Midwestern lines like the
Ann Arbor, Green Bay & Western, and Detroit & Mackinac are
associated with providing significant ferry service. However, the GTW
was another player in Lake Michigan operations as well with a fleet of
ferries including the SS Grand Haven, SS City of Milwaukee, SS Milwaukee, SS Grand Rapids, and SS Madison.
As ferry service in general declined through the 1970s the Grand
Trunk ended all car movements over Lake Michigan in 1978. Also of
importance was the Grand Trunk's passenger operations which provided key
services, notably to Detroit and Chicago, for Canadian National's own
trains in its home country. Most of the GTW's trains operated between Chicago and Toronto with names including the Maple Leaf, International Limited, Inter-City Limited and LaSalle.
At Chicago, the GTW provided service to famed Dearborn Station, which
was used by several American railroads including the Santa Fe, C&O,
C&EI, Monon, Erie, and Wabash. It also hosted the Mohawk briefly in the late 1960s to serve Detroit and Chicago.
While the GTW most often featured a basic CN-inspired livery during the
diesel era briefly and early on it did showcase a beautiful green and
gold livery with a Canadian maple leaf adorning the nose or hood of
units (a paint scheme shared by subsidiaries). However, this attractive design lasted only from the 1950s through the 1960s. From a railfan perspective the GTW is remembered as the last Class
I system to still operate steam locomotives until 1960. After
December, 1991 the GTW quietly disappeared from
the public eye when Canadian National reorganized its U.S. properties, which caused individual paint
schemes to no longer be needed. As a corporate entity the Grand Trunk
Corporation now owns all of the CN's subsidiaries which today includes
the GTW, Wisconsin Central Ltd. (formerly the Duluth, Missabe & Iron
Range and Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific), Illinois Central, and the
Bessemer & Lake Erie.
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