Belt lines, river industrials...

Early on, when a railroad built a new line into a town, the first consideration was building to the location of a passenger station. Early railroads built their own stations, but later consolidated some of them into "union" stations used by more than one line. This reduced costs and made transfers between lines convenient. In the case of Detroit, the original railroad stations were along the riverfront, because that is how passengers arrived in town.

The earliest railroads in Detroit settled their stations along the Detroit River, with the Michigan Central at 3rd street (the location of lake boat lines) and the Detroit & Milwaukee railroad at the Brush Street station.

As these towns grew and the industrial age exploded, industries looked for more land and railroads established lines to serve them. Cities were small but dense, and industry needed larger parcels for industrial buildings and the smoke they created in the city core was unhealthy. They often looked outside of downtown because the land was cheap and no one initially lived there. This introduced the freight-only "belt line" concept for railroads serving industry and usually not passengers. (Workers were usually served by street car lines).

It is also obvious to anyone studying transportation and industrial history that business generation was along river fronts from day one for several reasons. First, rivers and lakes were a form of transportation of natural resources and goods which preceded railroads. Second, lake freighters were slower but could transport in bulk. This is why we have included Michigan's notable river industrial lines in our list below.

As always at our website, Michigan is our focus but we've also included a few important adjacent cities such as Toledo and Windsor. They are near our borders and played a role in our transportation system.

Belt Line railroads

Bay City - Michigan Central Belt

Bay City - Pere Marquette Belt

Bay City - Hecla Belt Line

Detroit - Lake Shore line - Delray to Lake Shore Junction - When the Michigan Southern railroad built into Detroit from Monroe in the 1850's, it was encroaching on the Michigan Central's primary territory. It needed passenger station facilities and the Detroit & Milwaukee's Brush Street station was the best fit. To reach Brush Street station, the MS elected to go around the city and come in from the north, via Milwaukee Jct. This route took them northeast through Grand Junction to Beaubien Street, and then onto D&M tracks at what became known as Lake Shore Jct. It probably wasn't the railroad's objective at the time, but this created a belt line around the city and opened up land for industrial activities on a ring around Detroit. Later, around 1900, with the increase in manufacturing, Ford's Piquette Avenue plant was built along this line, which had been joined by the Wabash, Detroit & Bay City (later MC) and of course the Grand Trunk.

Detroit - MC Belt Line - the MC Belt Line extended from Belt Line Jct. (just east of Milwaukee Jct.) and then southeast and ultimately to Uniroyal tire on the Detroit riverfront just southwest of Belle Isle. The line was built by investors and sold to the Michigan Central. Some of this trackage continues to exist, accessed off the former Detroit Terminal trackage. This was Detroit's "2nd" belt line railroad.

Detroit - Detroit Terminal Railroad - The Detroit Terminal was a joint venture of the Michigan Central, the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern, and the Grand Trunk Western. It began first on the east side of Detroit from North Yard (North Detroit) northeast to the Detroit river near what is now the Chrysler Jefferson North Assembly Plant and the Edison Conners Creek power plant. Then it was built west and southwest from the DT main yard and roundhouse (on what is currently the Detroit Detention Center) to Highland Park (near the Ford plant) and then following approximately Oakman Blvd. to Dearborn and the Ford Rouge Plant. This railroad was Detroit's 3rd belt line, farther out, which at the time was less populated and industrial plant sites less expensive. There were hundreds of industrial and manufacturing facilities along the DT, and the DT had yards spread along the line every 2-3 miles.

Detroit - Union Belt of Detroit - The Union Belt of Detroit was an operating organization for the Pennsylvania, Pere Marquette and Wabash railways. The owner railroads operated the UBD through a Board of Managers. The owner roads provided all motive power, track crews, police protection and split the costs. The first UBD line was from Delray to Fort Street Union Depot. Then the PRR built a belt line from Dearborn, northeast to the Ford Highland Park Plant, as well as a shorter branch line to steel suppliers near Schaffer and Hemlock streets in Dearborn. The Pere Marquette added their old main line from Oak southeast to West Detroit to the UBT.

Flint - Grand Trunk cut off

Flint - Pere Marquette Belt Line

Ironwood - C&NW / Wisconsin Central

Jackson - Jackson Belt Line

Lansing - Manufacturers Belt Line

Muskegon - Muskegon Railway & Navigation

Pontiac - GTW Pontiac Belt Line

Saginaw - Pere Marquette Belt

Toledo - Toledo Terminal railroad

Windsor - Essex Terminal railroad


River industrials

Bay City - Michigan Central  / PM South Water Street spur

Bay City - Michigan Central / PM North Water Street spur

Bay City - GTW branch to Oa-At-Ka beach

Detroit - Manufactures railway

Detroit - MC Belt Line

Detroit - MC riverfront

Detroit - Delray Connecting railroad

Escanaba - C&NW coal docks

Marquette - DSS&A iron ore/coal docks

Marysville - Port Huron & Detroit railroad

Muskegon - PM river line

Port Huron - GTW Fort Gratiot line

Presque Isle - LS&I iron ore/coal docks

River Rouge - DT&I / MC and steel mill railroads

Sarnia - GTW/ PM Point Edwards line

Saginaw - East shore lines 

Saginaw - West shore lines Fordney to Carrolton

Toledo - Wabash waterfront line to Middle Ground island

Toledo - B&O line along Maumee River (Ford Glass)

Toledo (Oregon) - C&O Presque Isle coal dock

Toledo (Oregon) - T&OC Lakefront coal dock

Windsor - Essex Terminal railroad

Wyandotte - Wyandotte Terminal railroad

Wyandotte - Wyandotte Southern railroad