Grand Trunk Railway

Grand Trunk Railway

Infobox SG rail
railroad_name=Grand Trunk Railway
logo_filename=Grand Trunk Railway System herald.jpg

map_size = 250
locale=Ontario, Quebec, New England
old_gauge=, built to RailGauge|66 broad gauge but converted by 1873
hq_city=Montreal, Quebec
The Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) was a railway system which operated in the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario, as well as the American states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The railway was operated from headquarters in Montreal, Quebec; however, corporate headquarters were in London, England. The Grand Trunk and its subsidiaries, along with the Canadian Government Railways, was a primary precursor of today's Canadian National Railways.

The GTR had three important subsidiaries during its lifetime:

* Central Vermont Railway which operated in Quebec, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

* Grand Trunk Pacific Railway which operated in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia.

* Grand Trunk Western Railroad which operated in Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois.

A fourth subsidiary was the never-completed Southern New England Railway, chartered in 1910, which would have run from a connection with the Central Vermont at Palmer, Massachusetts to the deep-water, all-weather port of Providence, Rhode Island.A new line to Providence would have allowed for more extensive port facilities than were possible for the Central Vermont at New London, Connecticut. Construction began in 1910 and continued in fits and starts for more than 20 years until finally abandoned in the early 1930s because of the Great Depression. The loss of the SNER's strongest proponent, Grand Trunk Railway president, Charles Melville Hayes on the Titanic in 1912 may have been the major reason that this new route to the sea was never completed. Another important factor was the unrelenting opposition of the New Haven Railroad which fiercely protected its virtual monopoly control of rail traffic in Southern New England.

Charter, construction, and expansion

The company was incorporated on November 10, 1852 as the "Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada" to build a railway line between Montreal and Toronto.

The charter was soon extended east to Portland, Maine and west to Sarnia. In 1853 the GTR purchased the St. Lawrence & Atlantic from Montreal to the Quebec—Vermont border, and the partner company Atlantic & St. Lawrence through to the harbour facilities at Portland. A line was also built to Lévis, via Richmond from Montreal in 1855, part of the much-talked about "Maritime connection" in British North America. In the same year it purchased the Toronto & Guelph Railroad Company, the latter's railway was already under construction. But the Grand Trunk Railway Company changed the original route of the T&G and extended the line to Sarnia, a hub for Chicago-bound traffic. By July, 1856 the section from Sarnia to Toronto opened, and the section from Montreal to Toronto opened in October of that year. By 1859 a ferry service was established across the St. Clair River to Fort Gratiot (now Port Huron, Michigan).

The Grand Trunk was one of the main factors that pushed British North America towards Confederation. The original colonial economy structured along the water route from the Maritimes up the St. Lawrence River and the lower Great Lakes was greatly expanded by the duplicate route of the Grand Trunk. The explosive growth in trade during the 1850s within the United Province of Canada and further east by water to the Maritimes demanded that a railway link the entire geopolitical region together. During this time the GTR extended its line to Lévis further east to Rivière-du-Loup.

By 1860, the Grand Trunk was on the verge of bankruptcy and in no position to expand further east to Halifax. On the eve of the American Civil War, it stretched from Sarnia in the west to Rivière-du-Loup in the east and Portland in the southeast. Colonists in the United Province of Canada, some who experienced their territory being attacked by the United States only 40 years earlier (in the War of 1812), were uncomfortably close to the giant Union Army and faced terrorist attacks during the mid-1800s in the form of Fenian raids.

Such security concerns led to demands for a year-round transportation system that British reinforcements could use should their territory be attacked during winter when the St. Lawrence River was frozen and the only railway for British reinforcements to use would be the Grand Trunk connection at Portland, in the United States. Many citizens thought that the only way to finish the Grand Trunk - and protect the country - would be to unite all the colonies into a federation so that they could share the costs of an expanded railway system. Thus the British North America Act, 1867 included the provision for an Intercolonial Railway to link with the Grand Trunk at Rivière-du-Loup.

The end of the American Civil War saw British North America on the verge of uniting in a single federation and the GTR's financial prospects improved as the railway was well-positioned to take advantage of increased population and economic growth. By 1867, it had become the largest railroad system in the world by accumulating more than 2,055 km of track that connected locations between its ocean port at Portland, Maine, its river port at Rivière-du-Loup, the three northern New England states, and much of the southern areas of Lower and Upper Canada (Quebec and Ontario). By 1880, the Grand Trunk Railway system stretched all the way from Portland in the east to Chicago, Illinois in the west (by means of the Grand Trunk Western Railroad between Port Huron-Chicago).

Several impressive construction feats were associated with the GTR: the first successful bridging of the St. Lawrence River on August 25, 1860 with the opening of the first Victoria Bridge at Montreal (replaced by the present structure in 1898); the bridging of the Niagara River between Fort Erie, Ontario and Buffalo, New York; and the construction of a tunnel beneath the St. Clair River, connecting Sarnia, Ontario and Port Huron, Michigan. The latter work opened in August, 1890 and replaced the railcar ferry at the same location.


Common during 19th century railway construction in British colonies, GTR built to a broad gauge ("Provincial Gauge") of RailGauge|66; however, this was changed to the standard gauge of 4 ft 8.5 in (1435 mm) by 1873 to facilitate interchange with U.S. railroads. To overcome the gauge difference, the GTR experimented with a form of Variable gauge axles call adjustable gauge trucks, but these proved unreliable. [ ]

The GTR system expanded throughout Southern Ontario, Western Quebec, and the state of Michigan over the years by purchasing and absorbing numerous smaller railway companies, as well as building new lines. GTR's largest purchase came on August 12, 1882 when it bought the 1371 kilometre Great Western Railway, running from Niagara Falls—Toronto, and connecting to London, Windsor, and communities in the Bruce Peninsula.

By 1880, the GTR stretched from the Atlantic port of Portland, Maine to Chicago, Illinois with its line west of the St. Clair River being operated as the GTWR. The company also sold the line along the St. Lawrence River between Rivière-du-Loup and Levis in 1879 to the federal government-owned Intercolonial Railway of Canada (IRC), and granted running rights in 1889 to the IRC on trackage between Levis and Montreal (via Richmond); however, the IRC's construction of a more direct line from Levis to St. Hyacinthe in 1899 saw most of this traffic transferred to that line.


Canada's worst railway accident based on loss of life happened on the GTR, occurring on June 28, 1864 when a passenger train operating between Levis and Montreal missed a signal for an open drawbridge on the Richelieu River, plunging onto a passing barge and killing 99 German immigrants.

Bankruptcy and nationalization

As the dominant railway in British North America, GTR was reportedly asked by the federal government soon after Confederation to consider building a rail line to the Pacific coast at British Columbia (B.C.) but refused, forcing the government to enact legislation creating the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) to meet B.C.'s conditions for joining Confederation. By the early 1900s, GTR desired to operate in Western Canada, particularly given the virtual monopoly of service that CPR maintained and the lucrative increasing flows of immigrants west of Ontario. The federal government encouraged GTR to co-operate with a local railway company operating on the Prairies, the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR), but an agreement was never reached.

CNoR decided to build its own transcontinental system at this time, forcing GTR in 1903 to enter into an agreement with Wilfrid Laurier's government to build a third railway system from the Atlantic to the Pacific. GTR would build (with federal assistance) and operate the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTPR) from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, while the government would build and own the National Transcontinental Railway (NTR) from Winnipeg to Moncton, New Brunswick via Quebec City, which the GTR would also operate.

(As part of this program, the federal government encouraged the GTR to purchase the Canada Atlantic Railway (CAR) with lines southeast from Ottawa to Vermont, and west from Ottawa to Georgian Bay. The GTR took effective control of the CAR in 1905, although the purchase was not ratified by parliament until 1914.)

The routing of these systems was extremely speculative, as GTPR's main line was located farther north than the profitable CPR main line in the Prairies, and NTR was located even farther north of populous centres in Ontario and Quebec. Construction costs on the GTPR escalated, despite having the most favourable crossing of the Continental Divide in North America at Yellowhead Pass. GTR's cost-conscious president Charles Melville Hayes was one of the victims on board RMS "Titanic" on April 15, 1912. His death is speculated to have contributed to poor management of GTR over the ensuing decade, and also contributed to the abandonment of the uncompleted Southern New England Railway to Providence, Rhode Island, begun in 1910.

Construction started on the GTPR/NTR in 1905 and the GTPR opened to traffic in 1914, followed by the NTR in 1915. It was a transcontinental system, with the only exception being the NTR's ill-fated Quebec Bridge which would not be completed for several more years.

The first indication the arrangement with the government was faltering came when GTR refused to operate the NTR, citing economic reasons. With the enormous cost of building the GTPR and the limited financial returns being realized, GTR defaulted on loan payments to the federal government in 1919. GTPR was nationalized on March 7 of that year, being operated under a federal government "Board of Management" until finally being placed under the control of the Crown corporation Canadian National Railways (CNR) on July 20, 1920.

GTR underwent serious financial difficulties as a result of the GTPR, and its shareholders, primarily in the United Kingdom, were determined to prevent the company from being nationalized as well. Eventually on July 12, 1920, GTR was placed under control of another federal government "Board of Management" while legal battles continued for several more years. Finally, on January 20, 1923, GTR was fully absorbed into the CNR on a date when all constituent companies were merged into the Crown corporation.

At the time that the GTR was fully merged into CNR, approximately 125 smaller railway companies comprised the Grand Trunk system, totalling 12,800 kilometres in Canada, and 1,873 kilometres in the U.S.

The Grand Trunk today

GTR was built fully a century before major property and highway development took place in the various jurisdictions it crossed and as such had the choice of geography in selecting the most direct routes. As a result, significant sections of GTR/GTWR mainlines in Canada and the U.S. are still in active use by Canadian National (CN) today, particularly the Quebec City—Chicago corridor by way of Drummondville, Montreal, Kingston, Toronto, London, Sarnia/Port Huron, and Battle Creek. Following deregulation of the railway industry in Canada and the United States, CN has abandoned or sold many former GTR/GTWR branch lines in recent decades, including the former Portland-Montreal main line which had instigated the development of the system to a large degree. As well, nearly the entire original Toronto—Sarnia routing via Kitchener, Stratford and Forest, Ontario was sold or abandoned, using the Great Western Railway routing instead.

The corporate name "Grand Trunk" remains in use by CNR (CN after 1960) to this day. CN operated the GTW as its primary U.S. subsidiary until privatization of CN in 1995. The GTW has been transformed into the modern-day holding company "Grand Trunk Corporation" under which CN has placed the assets of its U.S. railway subsidiaries Grand Trunk Western, Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific, and post-privatization purchases, namely Illinois Central, Wisconsin Central, and Great Lakes Transportation. Until 1995 the former Central Vermont Railway was also a part of the Grand Trunk corporation.

The Portland-Sarnia main line of the Grand Trunk is or was known by the following names:
*CN Berlin Subdivision, Portland to Island Pond
*CN Sherbrooke Subdivision, Island Pond to St-Hyacinthe
*CN Saint-Hyacinthe Subdivision, St-Hyacinthe to Montreal
*CN Montreal Subdivision, Montreal to Dorval
*CN Kingston Subdivision, Dorval to Toronto
*CN Weston Subdivision, Toronto to Brampton
*CN Halton Subdivision, Brampton to Georgetown
*CN Guelph Subdivision, Georgetown to St. Marys
*CN Forest Subdivision, St. Marys to Sarnia

The Montreal-Toronto segment was previously known by the following names:
*CNR Cornwall Subdivision, Dorval to Brockville
*CNR Gananoque Subdivision, Brockville to Belleville
*CNR Oshawa Subdivision, Belleville to Toronto

Locomotives of the Berlin Subdivision




ee also

*Guelph Junction Railway
*Canada Atlantic Railway

External links

* [ Collections Canada: History of the Grand Trunk Railroad]
* [ History of the Grand Trunk RR]
* [ Trent University: GTR Notes]
* [ GTR History]
* [ The Grand Trunk Railway of Canada]
* [ The Grand Trunk in New England]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Grand Trunk Railway — Siège social de la société à Londres Le Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada est une ancienne compagnie de chemin de fer canadienne. En 1852, le gouvernement canadien annonce officiellement son intention de construire un chemin de fer reliant… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Grand Trunk Railway — Ehemaliges Hauptquartier der Bahngesellschaft in London Die Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) ist eine ehemalige Eisenbahngesellschaft in Kanada und den Vereinigten Staaten. Der Sitz der Gesellschaft befand sich in London in England, die Verwaltung… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Grand Trunk Railway — Early Canadian railway line, incorporated in 1852–53 to connect the key cities of eastern Canada with Portland, Me. By completing its final link in July 1853 between Montreal and Portland, it became North America s first international railroad.… …   Universalium

  • Grand Trunk Railway —    C Entrusts Cartier with its legal business, 22; Carrier s deep interest in its development, 48; line extended from Quebec to Rivière du Loup, 49, 114. BL Construction of, up to 1848, 301. B Owners of said by Dorion to be the real authors of… …   The makers of Canada

  • Grand Trunk Railway Station — can refer to former and active passenger rail stations built for the Grand Trunk Railway or its subsidiaries the Grand Trunk Western Railroad and the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.In the United States, some of these stations are listed on the… …   Wikipedia

  • Grand Trunk Railway of Canada — ist eine der größten und bedeutendsten Bahnen, die Canada und einen Teil der nordöstlichen Gebiete der Vereinigten Staaten durchziehen. Ihr östlicher Ausgangspunkt ist Portland in Maine, von wo sich ihre Haupt und Stammlinie bis nach Chicago… …   Enzyklopädie des Eisenbahnwesens

  • Florida Grand Trunk Railway — The Florida Grand Trunk Railway Company was incorporated under Florida state law chapter 4255, approved June 3, 1893, empowered to survey, erect, construct, make, build, equip, maintain, lease, use, acquire and operate a railroad or railroads… …   Wikipedia

  • Grand Canyon Railway — Le Grand Canyon Railway (sigle de l AAR: GCRX) est un chemin de fer de voyageur qui opère entre Williams, Arizona et Grand Canyon National Park South Rim. Il fut créé par le Sante Fe en 1901, et fit partie des chemins de fer américains de classe… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Grand Junction Railway — The Grand Junction Railway (GJR) was an early railway company in the United Kingdom, which existed between 1833 and 1846. The line built by the company was the first trunk railway to be completed in England, and arguably the world s first long… …   Wikipedia

  • Grand Trunk Western Railroad — 1887 map of GTW predecessor railroads Reporting mark GTW Locale Michiga …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.