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Old Time Trains

Detroit River Tunnel

The Detroit River Tunnel Company (controlled by New York Central), opened tenders in March 1906 (and dredging began in October), to tunnel under the Border. The year before, four MCRR ferryboats were handling 1000 cars per day between Canada and the USA. The majority of these trains were NYCL which operated over the CASO between Windsor and Niagara Falls/Fort Erie. The tunnel was completed July 1,1910, and the first official trip was on July 26th. By September 15th all freight, and by October 16th. all passenger trains were using it except for the local Detroit-St.Thomas MCR train which continued using the old waterfront station until December 17th. The new station opened in April 1911. The ferries ceased to operate, were laid up until 1924, stripped of boilers, engines etc. and sold as pulpwood barges for use at Port Arthur.

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The tunnel operation was 600V DC 3rd rail electric from the beginning, unlike its earlier neighbour at Sarnia which struggled along with steam locomotives and a resulting number of deaths. The original locomotives were six 100 ton steeple-cabs rated at 51,590 t.e. built by ALCO-GE in 1909. Four 123 ton locos were added in 1914 and two 125 ton in 1927. Ten second-hand locos from other NYC operations came along in later years. The grade is 2.0% westward and 1.6% eastward.

Locomotive Article 1909


7505 with passenger train at the Michigan Central station in Detroit.

Long-abandoned after a number of proposals to repurpose it (inc. casino, police HQ).
Ford, a new owner holds the best promise of success.


All photographs from the Joseph Testagrose Scan Collection unless otherwise credited.

7500 with train. Don Somerville/Joseph Testagrose collection.

7500 first of six Alco-GE 1200 HP 100 ton

7506 first of four 123 ton locos.

7511. Note the multiple names. D.R.T. Detroit River Tunnel, M.C.R.R. Michigan Central Railroad and
New York Central Lines. The latter name used for controlled railroads including Canada Southern.
Last of two 125 ton locos. Alco 5/1926

NYC 164 in Detroit. Ray Curl

NYC 171



The operation was dieselized with 10 GMD GP7's, and the last electric operation was 12/29/1953. For years a five-diesel
unit set of "tunnel motors" hauled all CPR trains through the tunnel, even 1 or 2 RDC's!! They also assisted NYC trains through the tunnel. Finally, in the summer of 1963 the "Tunnel Jobs" were eliminated and the regular power and crews ran through the tunnel unaided.

The 1985 sale of former CASO assets in Canada by Conrail saw the DRT owned 50/50 by CN and CP. The major route for CN traffic was through Sarnia and Port Huron, while Windsor-Detroit was very secondary. Therefore CN decided to build a new tunnel at Sarnia to replace its original one and to not share in the expense of enlarging the Detroit River Tunnel.

Work began in November 1992 on a $27.5 Million enlargement of the north tube. It was re-opened April 19,1994 with a clearance of 19' 6". Although 20' 6" is needed for maximum height double stack containers, it was not possible to get any more clearance. Ferry service finally ended May 1,1994 when Norfork Southern ended its car float operation. It began 140 years earlier with the Great Western car ferry in 1854! The CPR was able to enlarge one tube to handle multilevel auto carriers and containers, but not sufficiently to handle the very tallest containers.

Finally, CN was pressured into selling ($110 million) its 50% to a non-rail entity, Borealis Transportation Infastructure Trust Management Inc. sole trustee of BTIT. Borealis is controlled by the OMERS (Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System) pension fund. March 2001 control of the tunnel was turned over to the CPR. Changes to the CTC signals from CN to CP delayed final take over by CPR RTC in Montreal until 0700 April 7, 2002. Mile112.0 Windsor Sub. College Avenue (Windsor) to Mile 115.0 24th Street (Detroit) site of the long-abandoned MCR station. Note: Expressway was located at 15th. Street Mile 114.1

Later, (December 22, 2020) ownership changed again when CP acquired full ownership by acquiring (c. $112M US) OMERS 83.5% adding to CP's 16.5% that had existed in a OMERS/CP partnership. Operations will remain under CP control.


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