railway icon Niagara Rails - Electric Lines

Following the development of electric railway technology in the early 1880's, many electric railways were built and horse-drawn streetcar lines converted to electrical power. In 1887, the St. Catharines, Merritton & Thorold Street Railway was converted to electric power and by 1911 there were four electric railways operating in Niagara. However, by the mid 1930's all but the NS&T had ceased operating due to strong competition from automobiles, buyout and closure by the Hydro Electric Power Company of Ontario (H.E.P.C.O.) and the social-financial disaster of the Great Depression.

Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto Railway

The Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto Railway (NS&T) was incorporated in 1899. Although subsequently owned by the CNoR (1908-1918) and then the CNR (1918-end of operations), the NS&T continued to operate independently. By purchasing existing lines and building new routes, the NS&T grew into an electric interurban empire that eventually covered much of the Niagara Peninsula. With a total of 75 miles of track (including yards, industrial spurs and double tracked lines) and its own car shop, it became one of the largest electric transport systems in Canada. Operations included interurbans, local streetcars, mail and express baggage, freight trains, passenger ferries to Toronto and even an amusement park at Pt. Dalhousie.

Roots of the NS&T - Purchased Lines

The St. Catharines Street Railway was a horse-drawn, four mile long line built in 1879 along Ontario, St Paul and Queenston Road streets. In 1880 an extension along Geneva St. reached the Pt. Dalhousie station of the Welland Railway but was abandoned by 1890. In 1882 the line was extended six miles eastward through Merritton, up the escarpment to Thorold and the company renamed as the St.Catharines, Merritton & Thorold Street Railway (SCM&T). In 1887 the line was electrified using a D.C. hydro-electric generator located at Merritton. The SCM&T was one of the earliest electric lines in Canada. In 1888 the Victoria Lawn Line (Queenston St.) was added. In 1893 the route was extended northwards one mile along Ontario St. to the Pt. Dalhousie town line and the company renamed as the Pt. Dalhousie, St. Catharines & Thorold Electric Street Railway. In 1901 the PDSC&T was purchased by the NS&T.

The St. Catharines & Niagara Central Railway was built as a steam line in 1879. It ran from St. Catharines, up the escarpment at Thorold, to Niagara Falls. It was purchased by the NS&T in 1899 and electrified by 1900.

The Niagara Falls, Wesley Park & Clifton Tramway was a horse-drawn four mile long streetcar line built in 1886. It was purchased by the NS&T in 1900 and immediately electrified.

Interurban Lines

Interurban lines operate between urban areas. They are defined by heavier and faster equipment with fewer stops than streetcar lines as well as private right-of-way running.

The Main Line Division was built in 1901 to form a backbone connecting the local streetcar lines of St Catharines and Thorold to those of Niagara Falls. It used parts of routes of the purchased railways:

In 1940 Main Line service was suspended but was restored in 1942 as a wartime measure. The NS&T terminated operations on the Main Line in 1947. Tracks and power were removed.

The Welland Division (18 miles) was built after 1907 to connect the Main Line at Thorold southwards to Pt. Colborne. The line was operating from Thorold to Fonthill by June, to Welland by 1908, and to Humberstone and Port Colborne by 1911. An agreement was made with the Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo (TH&B) for freight-only interchange at Welland. Welland Division operations ceased in 1959. Its lines were then de-electrified but some tracks continued to be used in freight service by the parent CNR. The NS&T Railway ceased to exist in 1960.

Streetcar Lines

Streetcars operate in local areas. They feature light cars, frequent stops and mostly in-street running.

In 1899 the NS&T built the Pt. Dalhousie Division running from the Niagara Central station on Raymond Street, across the Twelve Mile Creek at Houtbys and along the creek's west bank to the harbour at Pt. Dalhousie. In 1902 plans were made to extend this line to the HG&B tracks at Beamsville for a through route to Hamilton but these plans were canceled due to the depression of 1903.

Several local streetcar divisions were created using routes from the former PDSC&T [1901] and the Niagara Falls, Wesley Park and Clifton Tramway [1899]. These divisions were: Victoria Lawn, Facer Street, Thorold (aka Low Line) and Wesley Park (Niagara Falls).

In 1913 the NS&T built the Lake Shore Division running northeast from St. Catharines ten miles to Niagara-on-the-Lake. In 1931 the right-of-way was severed by the construction of the fourth Welland Canal. As the line was always a low revenue generator, it was abandoned from Port Weller to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

In 1924 the Grantham Division was created by electrifying a section of the former Welland Railway that ran from the east side of the harbour at Pt. Dalhousie to Merritton. There were now two NS&T lines to Pt. Dalhousie, one on each side of the Twelve Mile Creek.

In 1926 local streetcar service in St. Catharines and Niagara Falls was converted to one-man operation. In 1931 Low Line service between St. Catharines, Merritton and Thorold ended. In 1939 St. Catharines local streetcar service was suspended but was restored in 1942 as a wartime measure. Shortly after the Second World War ended, all local division operations were terminated and the lines abandoned.


At first electric power came from the former SCM&T's D.C. generator at Merritton. From 1905 onward power came from A.C. generators at the Canadian Niagara Power Company, an American firm located on the Canadian side of the river at Niagara Falls. A.C. power is transmitted more efficiently than D.C. and made further route expansion economically feasible. The A.C. power was then converted to D.C. at local substations.

The N.S.&T. Navigation Co. was created in 1902. It immediately purchased the Lakeside Navigation Company which had run a passenger ferry service between Pt. Dalhousie and Toronto. As part of this purchase, it acquired the Lakeside and Garden City steamers. The Lakeside was scrapped in 1911, and was replaced by the Dalhousie City. In 1916, the Garden City sank when it was caught in a severe storm. It was replaced by the Northumberland in 1920. In June of 1949 the Northumberland was destroyed by fire. Navigation service was terminated at the end of 1949.

For more information and photos about the NS&T, check the reference material as well as JR's slideshow and WorldNews online video. Videos of the NS&T can be ordered from gpsVideoCanada.

fonthill station

Fonthill N.S.&T. Railway Station

Niagara Falls Park and River Railway (I.R.C.)

*Beginning in 1892 the Niagara Falls Park and River Railway ran a distance of twelve miles from the Ferry Dock at Queenston, up the Niagara Escarpment, southwards through Niagara Falls, Dufferin Island and Chippawa to Slater's Dock. It was constructed on Niagara Parks Commission land under a forty year agreement. The NFP&RR built its own D.C. power station [map] at Niagara Falls. This was the first hydro-electric generating station to be built on the Canadian side of the Niagara River. The NFP&RR's line at the escarpment at Queenston was so steep (about 5.7%) that it needed to use a loopback turn and a small steam-electric D.C. 'helper' station. The turn was very dangerous and resulted in a multiple fatality accident in 1915. The 'helper' station closed in 1898 when improved transmission methods became available. Although A.C. hydro-electric power was being generated at Niagara Falls by 1905, the NFP&R never converted from D.C. power.

In 1894 the line was double-tracked except for a short stretch at the Table Rock falls overlook. The Upper Steel Arch (aka Falls View) Bridge [1897] and the Queenston-Lewiston Suspension Bridge [1899] allowed access to American terminals. In 1900 the line from Chippawa to Slater's Dock was removed. In 1901 the NFP&R was purchased by the International Railway Company (IRC) and operated as a division thereof. The IRC then entered into an agreement with the Niagara Gorge Railroad (formerly Niagara Falls & Lewiston Railroad) for mutual running rights. This agreement created the Great Gorge Route. Cars traveled across the Steel Arch Bridge, along the bottom of the gorge on the American side, over the Queenston Bridge and high atop the cliffs on the Canadian side. Local cars still ran to Chippawa. In 1932 the IRC terminated its agreement with the Niagara Parks Commission and its Canadian route was abandoned.

Hamilton, Grimsby and Beamsville Electric Railway

*The Hamilton, Grimsby & Beamsville Electric Railway [ref2] began operation in 1894. Its interurban line ran for 22 miles near the southern shore of Lake Ontario. The HG&B interchanged freight cars with other lines in the Hamilton Radial System, with the TH&B [Kinnear Yard] and with the Grand Trunk [Winona]. Spur lines were constructed to Grimsby Park and the canning factories. The HG&B derived a large amount of revenue by hauling fruit grown in the northern section of the Niagara Peninsula. It built a car shop in Grimsby and a coal-fired steam-electric D.C. generator at Stoney Creek. In 1904 the HG&B began using A.C. power from Hamilton Cataract's hydro-electric generator at Decew Falls[ref2]; two miles south of St. Catharines, It then converted its Stoney Creek D.C. station to an A.C. substation. A 4-1/2 mile extension from Beamsville to Vineland opened in 1904 with the hope of a connection to St. Catharines. The connection was never made as bridging the Twenty Mile Creek ravine was economically unfeasible. The Vineland extension was abandoned in 1905 when local revenue was insufficient to cover operating costs. The HG&B ceased operation in 1931.

Niagara, Welland and Lake Erie Railway

The Niagara, Welland & Lake Erie Railway [ref2] was built in 1911 by Page-Hersey Company executives to provide transportation for its Welland employees. The original plans called for it to become an interurban railway covering the southern end of the Niagara Peninsula. However these plans died with the economic difficulties of the Great War and the Depression of 1919. The NW&LE only operated as a local streetcar line. It ran from the Michigan Central station on South Main (King Street) to the Grand Trunk station on East Main. Extensions were constructed on North Main (Niagara Street) and West Main but these only existed for very short time periods. In 1930 the NW&LE did not renew its franchise with the City of Welland and ceased operations at that point.

Cars and Equipment

Electric streetcars [ref2] were developed in the early 1880's using technology developed by inventors such as: Daft, Edison, Sprague and Van DePoele. The cars were connected to the power lines by a four wheeled Van DePoele troller carriage (two wire system). However, this device was quickly replaced by a less complex mechanism called the Sprague monopole (single wire system). Sprague also developed the multiple unit controllers (MU) which allowed two or more cars to be run as one.

At first electric streetcars were constructed by local carriage and horse-drawn tram builders. Small electric motors supplied by Edison Electric and later on by Westinghouse and General Electric were installed on the underside of (what was otherwise) just a wooden horse car. Larger motors and steel cars were soon developed. By the 1890's interurbans [ref2] had been developed. These were larger and heavier than streetcars and provided longer, quicker and more comfortable rides. Box motors and steeplecab motors were built for freight train operations.

The rapid success of electric railways spawned many businesses dedicated to the industry. Niagara's electric lines used various car builders over the years. Some of these were: HG&B car shop, NS&T car shop, Ottawa Cars, Patterson&Corbin [St.Catharines] and Preston Cars.

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