Grand Trunk Western Railroad

Grand Trunk Western Railroad
Grand Trunk Western Railroad


System map
1887 map of GTW predecessor railroads
Reporting mark GTW
Locale Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio
Dates of operation 1928–
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)
Headquarters Detroit, Michigan

The Grand Trunk Western Railroad (reporting mark GTW) is an important subsidiary of the Canadian National Railway (CN), constituting the majority of CN's Chicago Division (itself part of CN's Southern Region).

It currently operates in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, forming the CN mainline from Port Huron, Michigan to Chicago, Illinois, as well as serving Detroit, Michigan and Toledo, Ohio.

The GTW gained fame among railfans for being one of the last North American railroads to use steam locomotives in regular service, which lasted until 1960. Since a corporate restructuring by CN in 1971 the railroad has been placed under a subsidiary holding company known as the Grand Trunk Corporation.

Grand Trunk Western's mainline runs between Chicago, Illinois and Port Huron, Michigan. It serves as a connection between the railroad interchanges in Chicago and the rail lines in eastern Canada and the Northeastern United States. The railroad also has lines from Detroit, Michigan to Durand, Michigan, and from Detroit to Port Huron. Both lines connect with the Chicago-Port Huron main line. A route also connects Detroit with Toledo, Ohio, and a short branch connects the Chicago-Port Huron line with Kalamazoo. GTW's presence in Detroit and the Michigan cities of Flint, Pontiac and Lansing has made it an essential link for the automotive industry. For many decades, GTW has been a major hauler of automobiles and auto parts.

Starting in the mid 2000's, Canadian National Railway began retiring many of the Grand Trunk's locomotives, and only a handful of locomotives (consisting of mostly GP38-2's) are still in service. It is not known if Canadian National will purchase any new locomotives for the railroad, or if the Grand Trunk image will fade away entirely.[1]



Grand Trunk Depot, built 1885 at Charlotte, Michigan, in about 1912

In 1880 the Chicago and Grand Trunk Railway was created by Canada's Grand Trunk Railway, GTR, to build a line linking Canada to Chicago across lower Michigan. GTR, predecessor to the Canadian National Railway, CNR, wanted to avoid the expensive cost of using Cornelius Vanderbilt's Michigan Central Railroad as a way into Chicago. The route eventually became the Grand Trunk Western Railway which was amalgamated into the Canadian National Railway in 1923.

On November 1, 1928, CN created the Grand Trunk Western Railroad Company by consolidating most of its operating subsidiaries in Michigan, Illinois and Indiana, which had been operated under the umbrella name Grand Trunk Railway System:[2]

The Cincinnati, Saginaw and Mackinaw Railroad was also part of the system, but only leased, not consolidated until January 1, 1943. The GTW absorbed the Muskegon Railway and Navigation Company on August 23, 1955.[2]

The Grand Trunk Western and the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad (Nickel Plate) co-owned the Detroit and Toledo Shore Line Railroad. It was a small carrier that had a multi-track mainline bridging Detroit and Toledo and served major industries. GTW eventually took complete control of the line from the Norfolk and Western Railway, successor to the Nickel Plate, in April 1981, and consolidated it on October 1, 1981.[2]

In June 1980 GTW purchased the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad from the Penn Central Corporation, which increased its trackage around Detroit's industries and gave it routes into Ohio. The DT&I was fully merged into GTW in December 1983.[2]

It also attempted to buy the Milwaukee Road to create a connection with its corporate cousin the Duluth, Winnipeg and Pacific Railway. It would have given GTW trackage from Chicago to northern Minnesota but its bid was rejected.

GTW major terminals and rail yards are located in Detroit, Battle Creek, Durand, Flint, Port Huron and Pontiac, as well as Elsdon Yard on Chicago's southwest side. Elsdon Yard is now closed. The Chicago board, also known as the Elsdon board, operates out of Markham yard (CN/IC yard).

The St. Clair River Tunnel, completed in 1891 between Port Huron, Michigan and Sarnia, Ontario, connected Grand Trunk with its parent CNR. On April 5, 1995, Canadian National opened a new, larger tunnel next to the original 1891 tunnel. The new tunnel can accommodate double stacked intermodal containers and tri-level auto carriers used in freight service.

Passenger trains

Grand Trunk Western's primary passenger trains were The Maple Leaf, the International Limited, the Inter-City Limited and The LaSalle, which provided service between Chicago’s Dearborn Station and Toronto Union Station. In 1967, GTW introduced The Mohawk as a fast through train between Chicago and Brush Street Station in Detroit. Passenger operations were handed over to Amtrak in 1971. Amtrak's Chicago to Port Huron trains, known as its Blue Water Service, operates over GTW's route between Battle Creek and Port Huron.

GTW along with the Erie Railroad, Wabash Railroad, Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad and Monon Railroad was a co-owner of the Chicago and Western Indiana Railroad, C&WI, which performed passenger and express car switching at Dearborn Station in Chicago. The group also ended up creating the Belt Railway Company of Chicago that connected every rail line in Chicago.

The railroad also operated suburban commuter trains between downtown Detroit and Pontiac, Michigan from August 1931 until January 1974 when the now defunct SEMTA (Southeast Michigan Transportation Authority) took over operating the commuter trains. Amtrak’s Detroit–Chicago trains now originate or terminate over this former commuter line making stops in the northern Detroit suburbs of Pontiac, Birmingham and Royal Oak, Michigan.

Car ferries

GTW also operated rail-barge service across the St. Clair River between Port Huron and Sarnia and a railcar ferry service across the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. It also ran car ferries across Lake Michigan from Muskegon, Michigan to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Originally the ferries originated in Grand Haven, Michigan. The lake ferries were operated by GTW's subsidiary Grand Trunk Milwaukee Car Ferry Company. GTW's Lake Michigan car ferry fleet of steamers included the SS Grand Haven, SS Milwaukee (which was lost in a storm in October 1929), Grand Rapids, Madison and the City of Milwaukee.

The Detroit River ferries ceased running in 1975. They were replaced with trackage rights over the Penn Central through PC's Detroit River Tunnel between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. Construction of Renaissance Center in Detroit starting in 1973 necessitated the demolition of GTW's Brush Street Station and carferry slip.

GTW discontinued the Lake Michigan carferries in October 1978. The St. Clair River ferries had initially been discontinued circa 1891 when the first St. Clair Tunnel opened, but were reinstated in 1971 due to clearance problems for some cars at the tunnel. In 1995 when the larger St. Clair tunnel opened, the ferries ceased operation on the river. The CN/GTW ferries at Port Huron were the last railcar ferrying operation in Great Lakes waters.

Grand Trunk Corporation

Grand Trunk Western has always shared equipment, color schemes and corporate logos with parent company Canadian National. It followed CN's herald styles with its own name on the previous "tilted shield" and "Maple Leaf" logos. In 1960, GTW had its own initials incorporated into the "wet noodle" logo. However, in 1971 GTW broke tradition and began receiving its new locomotives in its now famous bright blue, red/orange and white scheme. In 1975 the railroad adopted its company slogan: The Good Track Road. This slogan highlighted GTW's track maintenance efforts, in a time when many Eastern railroads suffered from deferred maintenance.

In December 1991, Canadian National began a corporate image program to consolidate all of its U.S. railroads under the CN North America brand. Grand Trunk Western along with other CN owned subsidiaries would see their images replaced with the CN logo and name. All GTW corporate identification and that of its new corporate cousins the Illinois Central Railroad, IC (acquired by CN in 1999) and Wisconsin Central Ltd., WC (acquired by CN in 2001) are referred to with CN’s corporate image. However, while each railroad’s locomotives would receive CN’s black, Grey #17 and Red-Orange #11 colors and logo they would still retain their respective reporting marks, GTW, IC or WC, on each of their locomotives.

Despite the corporate re-branding, for many years GTW's blue colors and "GT" logo persisted on rolling stock and locomotives. The image has become more rare with each passing year, however.

CN’s subsidiary Grand Trunk Corporation now controls almost all of CN's U.S. operations which include Grand Trunk Western, Illinois Central, Wisconsin Central, Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific and Great Lakes Transportation, GLT, which includes the Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad, B&LE and the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway, DMIR. The Association of American Railroads has considered the Grand Trunk Corporation as a single Class I railroad since 2002.


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d Moody's Transportation Manual, 1992, p. 233, 237


  • Dorin, Patrick C. (1976). Grand Trunk Western. ISBN 0-87564-716-2. 
  • Hofsommer, Don L.. Grand Trunk Corporation, Canadian National Railways in the United States, 1971-1992. 

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