Railroad: Pennsylvania Railroad Company, The

The Pennsylvania Railroad was established in 1846 and was one of the major railroad corporations in the eastern United States. It became known as "The Standard Railroad of the World" though by its end it was rather behind the standard both operationally and financially.

Through predecessor lines and construction railroads, the PRR entered Michigan north from Fort Wayne via Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids to Mackinaw City. Through trackage rights and their own cutoff line, they entered Detroit around 1922 from Toledo. They were also involved in financing the Mansfield, Coldwater and Lake Michigan railroad which graded a line northwest from Mansfield, Ohio to Allegan via Marshall, but little of that track was layed.

The PRR primarily came to Detroit to serve Ford Motor plants in Highland Park and the growing Rouge works. The railroad leadership appeared to have a growing relationship with Henry Ford.

Various → Pennsylvania Railroad Penn Central

Operated in Michigan: 100 years.

Incorporated: 1847

Control: 1868 - Grand Rapids & Indiana

Operated in Michigan for 100 years, including as the GR&I which it controlled.

Control: 1917 - Pennsylvania-Detroit railroad.

Merged: 1968 - into Pennsylvania New York Central Transportation Company. (Penn Central)

Reference: [MRRC]


Pennsylvania Red Arrow passenger train approaches Detroit, passing Delray Tower and on to the Union Belt and Fort Street Union Depot, in the 1940's. [E.L. Novack photo, Charlie Whipp collection].


By 1868, the railroad controlled the Grand Rapids & Indiana railroad from Fort Wayne, Indiana into Michigan and ultimately to Mackinaw City. Around 1900, it began operating into Michigan through trackage rights and then in 1922 built its own line from Carleton to Detroit, and using Pere Marquette trackage rights between Alexis (OH) to Carleton. The railroad was also a partner in the Union Belt of Detroit, a joint terminal venture/railroad. The Pennsylvania joined Penn Central in 1968 which went bankrupt in 1970. It later became part of Conrail, and was broken up into segments into Norfolk Southern and CSX.

For use of the GTW line between West Detroit to Beaubien, the GT bills the PRR for cars handled by Wabash or Union Belt engines as follows: loads: $1.00 - empties: 50¢, cabooses 75¢ per agreement dated October 1, 1924. [GT memorandum 1935]

Time Line

~1918. The PRR establishes a working arrangement with the Pere Marquette and Wabash railroads to share trackage in the Detroit terminal. Under the arrangement, all three roads had the right to use the tracks of the other roads. The arrangement was known as the "Union Belt of Detroit". Click Here to see the minutes of the Union Belt board of managers.

~1918. The PRR obtains trackage rights north of Toledo via the Ann Arbor, Pere Marquette (to Romulus), and Wabash fron Romulus to Fort Street Union station in Detroit. They begin operating passenger trains on this route between Toledo and Detroit. [CQII]

1919. Work begins on the Carleton cut off but it is not completed until 1922. [CQII]

1922. The PRR cutoff from Carleton (on the PM) to Victoria Junction (on the Wabash) was opened. The PRR built a second main line along the Ann Arbor railroad from Galena (in Toledo) to Alexis (near the Ohio/Michigan state line). They established trackage rights on the Ann Arbor as well as the Pere Marquette  to connect their line from Toledo to Carleton, and then to Detroit.

1922. The Pennsylvania railroad opens Ecorse Yard (later known as Lincoln Yard) in Ecorse Township. The yard was the railroads main receiving and classification yard for the Detroit terminal. Other short branches are also built. [CQII]

1923. A branch is built from P-Company Junction (on the Pere Marquette) via Fullerton Avenue (crossing the old PM main line to West Detroit) and on to Highland Park, serving line-side industries. Other short branches are built including the Foreman Wye to the Rouge plant, and a spur to an auto plant near Tireman Avenue on the Springwells/Detroit border. [CQII]

1925. An injunction formerly brought by the Detroit Terminal railroad was dissolved allowing the PRR to complete construction of its new line from Toledo into Detroit. [HPAL-1925-0310]

1945. The Pennsylvania begins using two-unit diesels for the "Red Arrow" in Detroit. [MRF-1945-10]

1963. The Mackinac Transportation company has asked the ICC for permission to abandon its railroad car ferry service at the Straits because it cannot afford to repair its ferry. John Benson, of the Soo Line railroad which owns the company, said that the Coast Guard has condemned the boiler of the Chief and that repairs would cost more than a half million dollars. "It would take us a long time to recover that much money on our present revenues," said Benson. The Chief is an icebreaker and has maintained daily service across the Straits, serving the Soo Line terminal at St. Ignace and the Pennsylvania and New York Central railroad terminals at Mackinaw City. Benson added that the loss was inevitable with the building of the Mackinaw Bridge. "We have ben hurt real bad by bridge trucking", said Benson. [EDP-1963-1126]

1964. The Pennsylvania railroad would rather route traffic for the U.P. through Chicago, instead of up the former GR&I to Mackinaw City. [TCRE-1964-0923]

1965. October 1. ICC hearing Examiner Hyman J. BLond ruled that the lines could not abandon the service. The railroads vowed to appeal the ruling to the ICC's finance division. [TCRE-1965-1201]

2023. The former PRR cut off between Carleton and NS Rouge River bridge is still operated as a part of  Conrail Shared Assets. The cutoff is primarily used by CSX as a shortcut between Detroit and Carleton (rather than using the route via Plymouth). Lincoln Yard is gone and the Penford interlocking is remote controlled.

2023. Most former GR&I trackage has been abandoned in Michigan following the sale or abandonment of trackage after the Penn Central bankruptcy and emergence of Conrail. Some industry trackage continues to exist in Sturgis and Kalamazoo. The line from Kalamazoo to Grand Rapids is operated by the Grand Elk railroad. North of Grand Rapids to Cadillac was sold to the State of Michigan but later abandoned. Former GR&I lines from Cadillac to Petoskey and Walton Junction to Traverse City are still owned by the state and operated by the Great Lakes Central railroad.


The following sources are utilized in this website. [SOURCE-YEAR-MMDD-PG]:

  • [AAB| = All Aboard!, by Willis Dunbar, Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids ©1969.
  • [AAN] = Alpena Argus newspaper.
  • [AARQJ] = American Association of Railroads Quiz Jr. pamphlet. © 1956
  • [AATHA] = Ann Arbor Railroad Technical and Historical Association newsletter "The Double A"
  • [AB] = Information provided at Michigan History Conference from Andrew Bailey, Port Huron, MI

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