Grand Trunk Railway 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
Vermont. The railway was operated from headquarters in
Montreal, Quebec; however, corporate headquarters were in
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:
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 Hays 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
Charter, construction, and expansion
company was incorporated on November 10, 1852 as the Grand
Trunk Railway Company of Canada to build a railway line
between Montreal and Toronto.
charter was soon extended east to Portland, Maine and west to
1853 the GTR purchased the St. Lawrence and Atlantic
from Montreal to the Quebec—Vermont border, and the
partner company Atlantic and St. Lawrence
through to the harbour facilities at Portland.
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
, 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,
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
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.
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.
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.
Corporate Headquarters in London
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,
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).
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
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
River, connecting Sarnia, Ontario and Port Huron,
The latter work opened in August, 1890 and
replaced the railcar ferry at the same location.
during 19th century railway construction in British colonies, GTR built to a broad gauge (Provincial Gauge) of ; however, this
was changed to the standard gauge of by 1873 to facilitate
interchange with U.S. railroads.
To overcome the gauge
difference, the GTR experimented with a form of Variable gauge axles
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.
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.
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
Grand Trunk Station at Portland, Maine
in about 1906
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
Bankruptcy and nationalization
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
service that CPR maintained and the lucrative increasing flows of
west of Ontario. The federal
government encouraged GTR to co-operate with a local railway
company operating on the Prairies
Canadian Northern Railway
(CNoR), but an agreement was never reached.
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
Transcontinental Railway (NTR) from Winnipeg to Moncton, New Brunswick via Quebec
City, which the GTR would also operate.
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.)
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
Pass. GTR's cost-conscious president Charles Melville Hays 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
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
Bridge which would not be completed for several more
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
until finally being placed under the control of
the Crown corporation Canadian National Railways
on July 20, 1920.
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
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
Like the CPR and CNR, the GTR began building and operating hotels
during the first two decades of the 20th Century. Most of the
hotels survived the takeover of the GTR by CNR in 1923 and operated
by Canadian National
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 &
, and post-privatization purchases, namely Illinois Central
, Wisconsin Central
, and Great Lakes Transportation
1995 the former Central Vermont
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:
The Montreal-Toronto segment was previously known by the following
Locomotives with long-term assignments on the Berlin
- Holt, Jeff "The Grand Trunk in New England" Railfare:Toronto
(1986) isbn=0-919130-43-7 pp.142-3
- Clegg, Anthony and Corley, Ray "Canadian National Steam Power"
Trains & Trolleys: Montreal (1969)