railway icon Niagara Rails - CN Lines

This page highlights railways associated with or annexed by the Canadian National Railway system except for the Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto Railroad. For information on the NS&T refer to Electric Lines.

1907 map of Niagara from Hamilton to Niagara River

Niagara Railways - 1907

Great Western Railway

The Great Western Railway began operations in 1853 from Niagara Falls through Thorold, St. Catharines, Grimsby and Hamilton to London. In 1854 it was extended from London to Chatham and Windsor. The GWR was financed under the amended Guarantee Act and built to the Provincial [5'6"] Gauge. After 1855 the GWR accessed New York state railways using the Railway Suspension Bridge at Niagara Falls. This was the second suspension bridge at the Falls but the first that supported a railway. By 1856 branch lines had been built from Komoka to Sarnia, and from Hamilton to Toronto. In 1864 the GWR began using the dual gauge system (which required a third rail) on its line from Niagara Falls to Windsor. This allowed transporting standard gauge cars as used by American lines. By 1872 conversion to standard gauge track was completed.

In 1869 the Canada Air Line Railway was chartered by the Great Western as an alternate route to the Canada Southern. It ran in a direct line (as the crow flies) for a distance of 150 miles from Fort Erie through Welland Junction (Dain City), Canfield, Tilsonburg and St. Thomas to a junction with the Great Western at Glencoe. The Canada Air Line Railway became part of the Great Western in 1871 prior to completion in 1873.

When the Third Welland Canal's realignment was planned in the 1870's, land was required where GWR tracks were located. The railway built the Merritton Tunnel (aka Blue Ghost Tunnel) underneath the proposed route. Construction began in 1875 and was completed in 1876. The Great Western Railway became part of the Grand Trunk Railway in 1882. The GTR used the tunnel until the canal was completed in 1887 by which time it had double-tracked the line and constructed a double-tracked swing bridge over the canal. This reduced the tunnel to occasional use only. In 1915 the Fourth Welland Canal forced another realignment of the railway and abandonment of the tunnel section.

Buffalo and Lake Huron Railway

The Buffalo and Lake Huron Railway was originally chartered as the Buffalo & Brantford Joint Stock Railroad Company, renamed as the Buffalo, Brantford and Goderich (BB&G) Railway and finally as the B&LH. The B&LH was financed under the amended Guarantee Act and built to the Provincial [5'6"] Gauge. It began operations in 1856 originating at the Buffalo ferry dock in Fort Erie, moving westward through Ridgeway, Sherkston, Port Colborne, Wainfleet, Lowbanks and Dunnville, then northwest through Caledonia and Brantford to Paris. By 1859 the railway was extended through Stratford to Goderich. The B&LH rail-ferry [foto] service from Fort Erie to Buffalo began in 1857 and ended in 1873 when the International Railway Bridge [Ref 2] was completed. The Buffalo and Lake Huron became part of the Grand Trunk Railway in 1868. The Niagara section of the former B&LH was abandoned by CN in the 1980's.

Welland Railway

The Welland Canal (built by William Hamilton Merritt [ref2]) opened from Port Dalhousie to Port Robinson in 1829 and to Port Colborne in 1833, to allow ships to circumvent the Niagara Falls. However by the mid 1850's ships had become too large to traverse the canal fully laden. The solution was a parallel rail connection to allow off-loading of freight such as grain and coal.

First chartered as the Port Dalhousie and Thorold Railway, the Welland Railway was built to the Provincial Gauge [5'6"] in 1859. It ran from Port Dalhousie, southeast via St. Catharines and Merritton to Thorold and then due south through Welland to Port Colborne. The Welland Railway played an important part in the movement of troops to Ridgeway during the Fenian Raids of 1866. The Welland Railway became part of the Grand Trunk Railway in 1884.

Realignment of the Welland Canal in the 1960s severed the railway right-of-way into several sections. Much of what remains is used by the Port Colborne Harbour Railway to interchange at Welland and Merritton.

Grain Elevator

Pt Dalhousie Grain Elevator - Welland Railway

Grand Trunk Railway

The Grand Trunk Railway completed its main route from Portland through Montreal, Kingston, Toronto, Berlin (Kitchener) and Stratford to Sarnia in the 1850's. The GTR was financed under the amended Guarantee Act and built to the Provincial [5'6"] Gauge. In 1868 it tried to use adjustable gauge trucks for interchange with standard gauge lines but the experiment failed. The GTR converted its lines to standard gauge by 1873. With considerable government support, the GTR managed to annex many competitors including the Buffalo & Lake Huron in 1870, the Great Western Railway in 1882 and the Welland Railway in 1884. Rail-ferry service to Buffalo (begun by the BLHR in 1857) ended in 1873 when the International Railway Bridge at Fort Erie was completed.

Between 1882 and 1903 the GTR double-tracked its main lines in Ontario and Quebec to cope with increased traffic. The first to be completely double-tracked was its annexed GWR route from Niagara Falls to Windsor and Sarnia. In 1898 the Wabash Railway acquired operating rights over Grand Trunk Railway routes from New York to Michigan. In 1900 the International Railway Bridge was refurbished, replacing the pedestrian walkway with a second track. In 1910 the GTR started a passenger shuttle service from Fort Erie to Buffalo using a self-propelled steam dummy. At one time the Fort Erie railway yard servicing the International Bridge was the third largest in Canada. The Grand Trunk Railway formed a major component of Canadian National Railways operations after it was annexed by the CNR in 1923.

Canadian National Railway

The Canadian National Railway was formed in 1918 by amalgamating the Canadian Government Railways (the Intercolonial Railway, the National Transcontinental and some smaller lines) with the recently bankrupt Canadian Northern Railway (which included the Niagara, St.Catharines & Toronto). In 1920 the Grand Trunk Pacific (which had become bankrupt) was added to the CNR. In 1923 the Grand Trunk itself was amalgamated. For legal reasons, the American components of the GTR (Central Vermont, Grand Trunk [New England lines], Grand Trunk Western and the Duluth, Winnipeg and Pacific) retained their original names on acquisition. The CNR continued to absorb smaller lines including the narrow gauge Newfoundland Railway in 1949.

In 1985 CN acquired several properties from the CNCP consortium including: the route of the former Canada Southern from Welland to Windsor and a 50% share in the Detroit River Tunnel. It then sold its share of DRT to Borealis Transportation in 2000. In 1995 CN became a private company.

1958 map of Niagara from Hamilton to Niagara River

Niagara Railways - 1958


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