The Grand Trunk Western Railroad is an important subsidiary of the Canadian National Railway (CN).
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, known as its Chicago Division, 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 extensive trackage in Detroit, Michigan, and northwestern Ohio. Its presence in Detroit has made the railroad an essential link for the automotive industry. GTW has become known as a major hauler of parts and automobiles from manufacturing plants around Detroit and across Michigan.
In 1880 the Chicago and Grand Trunk Railway was created by Canada's Grand Trunk Railway System, 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 May 9, 1928, Canadian National consolidated all of its rail lines in Michigan, Illinois and Indiana and formed the Grand Trunk Western Railroad, a separate company owned by CNR that operated its routes in the United States.
Grand Trunk Western and the Nickel Plate Railroad (NKP) co-owned the Detroit and Toledo Shore Line Railroad (DTSL). 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.
In 1980 GTW purchased the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad (AAR reporting mark DTI) which increased its trackage around Detroit's industries and gave it routes into Ohio. DT&I was fully merged into GTW in December 1983.
It also attempted to buy The Milwaukee Road (AAR reporting mark MILW) to create a connection with its corporate cousin the Duluth, Winnipeg and Pacific (AAR reporting mark DWP). 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 west 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, Canada, 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. In 1975 GTW also obtained trackage rights with Penn Central (AAR reporting mark PC) to use its Detroit River Tunnel between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.
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.
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 grey scheme. At the same time the railroad would also adopt its company slogan; The Good Track Road.
In 1995, Canadian National began a corporate image program to consolidate all of its U.S. railroads under the CN North America brand (AAR reporting mark CNA). 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.
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.