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Michigan Central Railroad
Logo
System map
Michigan Central Railroad (red) and New York Central system (orange) as of 1918
Locale Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ontario
Track gauge 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)

The Michigan Central Railroad (reporting mark MC) was originally incorporated in 1846 to establish rail service between Detroit, Michigan and St. Joseph, Michigan. The railroad later operated in the states of Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois in the United States, and the province of Ontario in Canada. Starting in about 1867, the railroad was operated as part of the New York Central Railroad, which later became part of Penn Central and then Conrail. With the 1998 Conrail breakup, Norfolk Southern now owns much of the former Michigan Central trackage.

Contents

Genealogy[1]

  • Michigan Central Railroad
    • Battle Creek and Bay City Railroad 1889
    • Buchanan and St. Joseph River Railroad 1897
    • Central Railroad of Michigan 1846
      • Detroit and St. Joseph Railroad 1837
    • Detroit and Bay City Railroad 1881
    • Detroit and Charlevoix Railroad 1916
      • Frederick and Charlevoix Railroad 1901
    • Detroit River Tunnel Company Railroad 1918
    • Jackson, Lansing and Saginaw Railroad 1871
      • Amboy, Lansing and Traverse Bay Railroad 1866
      • Grand River Valley Railroad 1870
    • Joliet and Northern Indiana Railroad 1851
    • Kalamazoo and South Haven Railroad 1870
    • Michigan Air Line Railway 1870
    • Michigan Midland and Canada Railroad 1878
    • Saginaw Bay and Northwestern Railroad 1884
      • Pinconning Railroad 1879
        • Glencoe, Pinconning and Lake Shore Railroad 1878
    • St. Louis, Sturgis and Battle Creek Railroad 1889

History

The line between Detroit, Michigan and St. Joseph was originally planned in 1830 to provide freight service between Detroit and Chicago by train to St. Joseph and via boat service on to Chicago. The railroad actually began construction on May 18, 1836, starting at "King's Corner" in Detroit, which was the name by which the southeast corner of Jefferson and Woodward Avenue was then known. Note that this is not the location of Michigan Central Station, which apparently replaced this building.

The small private organization, known then as the "Detroit and St. Joseph Railroad", quickly ran into problems securing cheap land in the private market, and abandonment of the project was discussed. The City of Detroit invested $50,000 in the project. The State of Michigan bailed out the railroad in 1837 by purchasing it and investing $5,000,000. The now state-owned company was renamed the Central Railroad of Michigan.

By 1840 the railroad was again out of money and had only completed track between Detroit and Dexter, Michigan. In 1846 the state sold the railroad to the newly incorporated Michigan Central corporation for $2,000,000. By this time the railroad had reached Kalamazoo, Michigan, a distance 143.16 miles.[2]

The new private corporation had committed to complete the railroad with T rail of not less than sixty pounds to the yard and also to replace the poorly built rails between Kalamazoo and Detroit with similar quality rail, as the state-built rail was of low quality. The new owners met this obligation by building the rest of the line some 74.84 miles to the shores of Lake Michigan by 1849. However, rather than go to St. Joseph, instead they went to New Buffalo. This was because they had decided to extend the road all the way to Chicago.

This involved passing through two other states and getting leave from two state legislatures to do so. To facilitate this process, they bought the Joliet and Northern Indiana Railroad in 1851. Thus they reached Michigan City, Indiana by 1850 and completed the line to Chicago in 1852. The completed railroad was 270 miles in length.[2]

Passenger services

The Michigan Central Railroad operated passenger trains between Chicago and Detroit mostly. These trains ranged from locals to the Wolverine. Some trains were forwarded over the Canada Southern Railroad to Buffalo and New York City. While Michigan Central was an independent subsidiary of the New York Central System, passenger trains were staged from Illinois Central's Central Station as a tenant. When MC was formally merged into NYC in the 1950s, trains were re-deployed to NYC's LaSalle Street Station home, where other NYC trains such as the 20th Century Limited were staged. IC sued for breach of contract and won because the MC had a lease that ran for a few more years. The MC route to Porter, Indiana, is now mostly gone. The Kensington Interchange, shared with the South Shore Line, was cut out. These tracks now belong to Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad, and are overgrown stub tracks ending short of the interchange. Amtrak trains serving the Michigan Central Detroit line now use the former NYC to Porter, where they turn north on Michigan Central. Passenger equipment was mostly similar to that of parent New York Central System. Typically this meant a EMD E-series locomotive and Pullman-Standard lightweight rolling stock. Because General Motors was a large customer of Michigan Central, use of Alco or General Electric locomotives was less common.

Freight services

A Michigan Central caboose.

Prior to the automobile, Michigan Central was mostly a carrier of natural resources. Michigan had extensive reserves of timber at the time, and the Michigan Central owned lines from east to west of the state and north to south, tapping all resources available. After the advent of the automobile as one of the most dominant forces of commerce ever seen by the world, with Detroit at the epicenter, the Michigan Central became a carrier of autos and auto-related parts. The Michigan Central was one of the few Michigan railroads with a direct line into Chicago, meaning it did not have to operate cross-lake ferries, as did virtually all other railroads operating in Michigan, such as the Pere Marquette, Pennsylvania, Grand Trunk, and Ann Arbor Railroads. Michigan Central was part owner of the ferry service operated to the Upper Peninsula as well as cross-river ferry service to Ontario, but these routes did not exist to circumvent Chicago.

Service to Canada

The Michigan Central and then parent New York Central owned the Canada Southern Railroad across Ontario from Windsor to Niagara Falls. The railroad operated a car-float service over the Detroit River, a tunnel below the Detroit River, and a bridge at Niagara Falls. The tunnel was originally electrified at 600vDC, similar to parent New York Central's Grand Central electrification. With the advent of diesels, the electrification was dropped. Control of Canada Southern passed from MC to NYC, then Penn Central, then Conrail. During the first decade of Conrail, both the Detroit River tunnels and Canada Southern were sold to Canadian Pacific. These tunnels have been enlarged to allow loads through that were previously floated over. The car float operation is no longer in service.

Railroad ferry and car float service

All major Michigan railroads operated a ferry service across Lake Michigan except the Michigan Central. This can be attributed to MC's most direct route across Southern Michigan from Detroit to Chicago. The Michigan Central also had the best access to Chicago of any Michigan railroad. The Michigan Central did own part of the Mackinac Transportation Company, which operated the SS Chief Wawatam until 1984. The Chief Wawatam was a front-loading, coal-fired, hand-fed steamer. It was the last hand-fired steamer in the free world at its long-overdue retirement in 1984. The Chief Wawatam continued to operate until 2009, cut down to a barge. One Chief Wawatam engine was salvaged and restored by the Wisconsin Maritime Museum. Other artifacts from the ferry, including the whistle, wheel, telegraphs, and furniture, are preserved by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission in Mackinaw City. Car floats also ran across the Detroit River to Windsor, Ontario, for high and wide loads that could not fit through the tunnels.

Competitors

The major competitors of the Michigan Central were:

Significant stations and structures

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Michigan Central Station: Detroit

The Michigan Central station in Detroit (2008)

Michigan Central was the owner of Michigan Central Station in Detroit. Opened in 1913, the building is of the Beaux-Arts Classical style of architecture, designed by the Warren & Wetmore and Reed and Stem firms who also designed New York City's Grand Central Terminal.[3] As such, Michigan Central Station bears more than a passing resemblance to New York's famed rail station.

Last used by Amtrak in 1988, Michigan Central Station has since become a victim of extensive vandalism. Over the last 20 years, several proposals and concepts for redevelopment have been suggested, none coming to fruition. The estimated cost of renovations was $80 million, but the owners viewed finding the right use as a greater problem than financing.[4] Though listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Detroit City Council passed a resolution to demolish the Depot in April 2009.[5] The council was then met with strong opposition from Detroit resident Stanley Christmas, who in turn, sued the city of Detroit to stop the demolition effort, citing the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.[6] Critics have often cited the abandoned station as a textbook example of American urban decay.[7]

The station shows up in the first part of the Godfrey Reggio movie Naqoyqatsi.

Michigan Central Station: Niles

The Michigan Central station at Niles, Michigan is also famous, having appeared in several Hollywood movies. Like its sister station in Detroit, the station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Trail Creek swing bridge

The Michigan Central also built and operated a swing bridge over Trail Creek at Michigan City, Indiana. This swing bridge is similar to the moving span at Spuyten Duyvil owned by parent New York Central, but has no approach spans. It is still in operation and owned by Amtrak.

Joliet Line

The Joliet Line, diverging from the main line at Porter, Indiana and running through Dyer and Chicago Heights to Joliet, is now a lightly-used line owned by Norfolk Southern Railway. Its termination points are now west of Griffith, Indiana north of the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway main tracks and at State Street in Chicago Heights, between the Union Pacific yard and the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway main tracks.

The section between Western Avenue in Park Forest and Park Road in Joliet Township is now the Old Plank Trail, and the section in Lake Station, Indiana between Fayette Street and Grand Boulevard is now the Fairview Walkway.

Historic equipment

No historic Michigan Central-specific equipment exists today. After the steam era, most equipment was lettered for New York Central. Any example of 1957-1968 New York Central equipment is likely representative of Michigan Central equipment after the birth of the diesel era and formal merger into NYC. Many common New York Central locomotives and rolling stock are preserved in places like Illinois Railway Museum and the National New York Central Museum, in Elkhart Indiana. The latter includes a sample passenger train in NYC livery, although the two coaches are actually of Illinois Central heritage. The E8 and observation car are original NYC equipment and very likely served on the Michigan Central after dieselization.

Modern operations

As mentioned above, the Michigan Central formally merged into NYC in the 1950s. Today, Norfolk Southern owns most trackage not abandoned in the early 1980s. Amtrak owns the Detroit line from Porter, Indiana, to Kalamazoo, Michigan. This line is a projected "high speed" line; however, speeds do not top 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) yet. Amtrak operates three Chicago-Detroit-Pontiac trains each way per day, under the old banner Wolverine. The Port Huron train (the Blue Water) also uses this line as far east as Battle Creek, Michigan. Both Kalamazoo and Niles have retained their old Michigan Central Stations; the Niles station is occasionally portrayed in film.

Proposed rebirth as an independent railroad

In July 2007 Norfolk Southern was in talks with Watco, a shortline holding company, to sell the Kalamazoo-Detroit portion of the Michigan Central main line. The proposal was set before the Surface Transportation Board, and was officially endorsed by Amtrak in September 2007.[8][9] In December 2007 the STB rejected the plan, citing concerns over the relationship between the Norfolk Southern and Watco. Labor unions had raised concerns over the transfer of operations to a substantially non-transportation company, under which different labor regulations would apply.[10]

See also

References

  1. ^ RAILROADS IN NORTH AMERICA; Some Historical Facts and An Introduction to an Electronic Database of North American Railroads and Their Evolution by M. C. Hallberg (April 24, 2006) [1]
  2. ^ a b United States Census Bureau (1883) (ZIP). Report on the Agencies of Transportation in the United States 1880. Washington, D.C,. pp. 330–331. http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1880a_v4.zip.  
  3. ^ Detroit's Abandoned Train Station. seedeetroit.com (accessed April 20, 2006).
  4. ^ Aguilar, Louis (4-8-2008).Michigan Central Depot owners say 'Roll 'em!'.The Detroit News. Retrieved on July 29, 2008.
  5. ^ DetNews: Detroit council votes to demolish Michigan Central Depot
  6. ^ Associated Press.Detroit man sues to block demolition of rail depot. 14 April 2009. Accessed online 16 April 2009.
  7. ^ Detroit's Abandoned Train Station. seedeetroit.com (accessed April 20, 2006).
  8. ^ Michigan Central Railway (reprinted by AllAmericanPatriots.com) (2007-09-18). "Amtrak and Michigan Central Railway Reach Agreement to Support Michigan Passenger Rail Service". Press release. http://www.allamericanpatriots.com/48732540_michigan_amtrak_and_michigan_central_railway_reach_agreement_support_michigan_passenger_rai. Retrieved 2007-09-20.  
  9. ^ Gerring, Nicole (2007-09-20). "Amtrak lines to get new owner". Port Huron, Michigan: Times Herald. http://www.thetimesherald.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070920/NEWS01/709200309/1002. Retrieved 2007-09-20.  
  10. ^ Boyd, John D. (December 17, 2007). "NS Venture Stops Short; STB rules against Norfolk Southern, Watco in plan for Michigan short line agreement". Traffic World: p. 26.  

External links


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