The GTW River Spur

The GTW River Spur was once the DT&I's northern end until that distinction was shared with the Dearborn Subdivision (D&I Junction to Fordson). The combination of the two plus the Shore Line Sub are now CNIC's Downriver Detroit presence, with the epicenter at Flat Rock Yard. Here we see all of the important locations on the River Spur from D&I Jct. to the DCR Short Cut Bridge.

Map Copyright 2002 Jeff Knorek

The Territory

This short stretch of railroad has a long and interesting history, and was instrumental for the development of Downriver Detroit heavy industry. It was constructed from a location called Chandler, MI (just north of Trenton) north to Delray MI in 1898 by the Lima and Detroit Northern Railroad Company (L&DN).

In early 1898 the L&DN had purchased the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern RR Company's trackage from Dundee MI to Chandler. By that time, the L&DN had pushed from Lima OH as far north as Adrian MI and was looking for a way to get directly into Detroit. The acquisition of the LS&MS and the new construction from Chandler to Delray realised this goal. (Note: this LS&MS line had been purchased from the Chicago and Canada Southern RR Company)

In 1901 the L&DN was sold at foreclosure to the F.J. Lismand Company, which sought to build a railroad from Detroit to the Ohio River. Toward this end it also purchased the failing Ohio Southern RR Company and consolidated it with the L&DN to form the Detroit Southern RR Company (DSRR), which iself was sold at foreclosure in 1905 to the Harry B. Hollins and Company. The DSRR was then reincorporated into the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railway Company.

The northern end of the DT&I evolved into a heavy duty terminal railroad with South Yard in Ecorse as its main class yard. As the Detroit automotive industry flourished, more online industry was built and soon Downriver Detroit became one of the most heavily industrialised areas in the midwest. In 1915 the Delray Connecting Railroad (DCR) acquired trackage rights over the DT&I from Short Cut to Trenton.

By the end of WWI, the DT&I's physical plant was in desperate need of repair and the railroad could ill afford the new bridge that the Army Corps of Engineers wanted built as part of their project to widen the Short Cut Canal, which itself was part of a larger project to enhance the River Rouge's navagation for the shipping that was expected at Henry Ford's new Rouge Complex. The DT&I approached Ford for a loan to assist with the bridge. He instead became a major shareholder and in July 1920 assumed control of the company.

Henry Ford needed a direct link to the Rouge Complex. Since the DT&I went no further than Delray, he had to rely upon other railroads to interchange traffic to his mills. His response was to build a cut-off from a point just northeast of Flat Rock due north to the Rouge. This was called the Dearborn Division (now the GTW Flat Rock sub). South Yard in Ecorse on the old mainline remained the major yard for Ford Rouge traffic until Flat Rock yard was built in 1926. Afterwards, South Yard remained a vital outlet for Downriver industries, and remains so to this day. It is no small irony that the River Sub of today is far busier with more online traffic than the cut-off that was built to suppliment it. Henry Ford sold the DT&I to the Pennroad Company, a holding corporation of the Pennsylvania Railroad, in 1928.

After the Great Depression eased up some, chemical and steel factories sprung up in and around the community of Wyandotte. In 1937 DT&I built Ford Yard there to accommodate this new business. It also facilitated interchange with the New York Central and Wyandotte Southern railroads.

In 1968 DT&I sought to compete with Penn Central to provide the Canadian Pacific RR with a link to Cincinnati. To facilitate this, a new control point, CP-MILL, was located on the River Sub in Ecorse which provided a junction with the Penn Central (now Conrail) Detroit Line. Cincinnati-bound CP trains went over Penn Central tracks through the Detroit River Tunnel and West Detroit before heading south on the Detroit Line to CP-MILL, whereupon they took the DT&I River Sub into Flat Rock. From there they took the Flat Rock sub into Ohio.

Grand Trunk Western purchased the DT&I in 1980 and intigrated it into the Detroit Division. The River Sub, which ends at D&I Junction and is now called the River Spur, continues to serve heavy industry from River Rouge to Trenton, behaving very much like a terminal railroad.

It does so beginning at the DCR Short Cut Bridge, where it interchanges with the DCR. The Delray Connecting Railroad acquired all of the former DT&I north of the bridge on Zug Island. GTW retained everything south of the bridge and directly serves all of the industries between it and South Yard. Along the way it parallels the Conrail Marsh Track to CR Techumseh Yard, which was Michigan Central's entry into the Downriver Industrial area.

South of South Yard the River Spur crosses Jefferson Avenue just north of Southfield Road, and joins the Conrail Detroit Line and the GTW Shoreline Sub right of ways southward. At CP-MILL the River Spur junctions with the northbound main of the Detroit Line itself. The four mainline tracks run parallel from here to Ford Avenue in Wyandotte, where the River Spur meanders a little bit east to Ford Yard, riding closer to the Detroit River and its industries until again paralleling, and then crossing, both of the Conrail mains and the GTW Shore Line Sub at FN Tower Trenton. Now on the west side of these mainlines, it veers southwest toward D&I Junction, where the River Spur ends and the Flat Rock Sub begins.

Locations of note (North to South):

  • milepost 1.7 DCR Short Cut Bridge (Junction with Delray Connecting RR)
  • 3.2 South Yard (Serves downriver heavy industry)
  • 4.8 Mill St (Junction with Conrail Detroit Line)
  • 7.4 Oak St (17 car siding, old DT&I Frieght House)
  • 8.5 Ford Yard (serves Wyandotte industry)
  • 11.1 FN (Junction with GTW Shore Line Sub)
  • 15.2 D&I Jct. (Junction with GTW Flat Rock sub)

Text and data graciously provided by Shawn O'Day, Brad (the GTW Freak) Kindschy,
James Deeds, J. E. Landrum, and Jerry Sundin.

The Trains

15:45 Sunday afternoon April 18 1999: 512-19 is northbound at the McLouth Steel Rolling Mill in Trenton. GTW 5919 is his trailing unit. At around 1730 we saw the same train headed south - same cars and power - he had turned his train around and headed back to Flat Rock Yard.

Photograph Copyright 1999-2002 Jeff Knorek

Traffic volume is light, with some 4-6 trains each day. Somewhat lighter on weekends. Train symbols that ply all or part of the GTW River Spur include:


  • 258 (Battle Creek to IORY Cincinnati via Flat Rock) Racks
  • 264 (Flat Rock - Oshawa) Empty Racks
  • 265 (Toronto Mac Yard to Cincinnati via IORY) Loaded Racks

CNIC Inter Divisional

  • 380 (Flat Rock - London) Manifest
  • 381 (London - Detroit Flat Rock) Manifest, usually has truck frames at the head end
  • 382 (CSX Toledo Stanley - Toronto) Manifest
  • 383 (Toronto - CSX Toledo Stanley) Manifest
  • 385 (Toronto - Detroit Flat Rock) Manifest, heavy on auto parts
  • 386 (Detroit Flat Rock - Toronto) Manifest
  • 388 (Detroit Flat Rock - Montreal) Manifest

CNIC Intra Divisional

  • 413 (Cincinnati - Pontiac) Manifest
  • 455 (Flat Rock - Battle Creek) Manifest

Note: the above mentioned trains use the River Spur between FN and D&I Junction only.


  • 117 (Flat Rock Yard - South Yard) ex717
    Called at 07:30. Switches out the following industries:
    Great Lakes Steel, Nicholson Dock & Terminal,
    M.P.I. (old Firestone plant near Ford yard),
    and R.H.I. (a warehouse halfway between Mill and Ford yard).
    He takes loads from Flat Rock to the industries and pulls their empties
    to Ford Yard. 227 will take them to Flat Rock later. Text by James Deeds.
  • 227 (Edison Yard to Ford Yard to Flat Rock Yard) ex 727
    Called at 15:30. Switches out the following industries:
    ATO Chem, M.P.I., R.H.I., Huron Valley Steel.
    Job starts at Edison yard on the Shore Line sub in Trenton taking loads and empties north to Ford yard. He then switches industries in Wyandotte, and then takes cars from Edison and what ever cars pulled from the Ford yard area industries during their switching, and job 117's cars from earlier in the day and goes back south to Flat Rock. 227 also goes up to South Yard and delivers and pulls cars from Great Lakes Steel, Nicholson Dock & Terminal, and also delivers and pulls from the DCRR yard at Zug Island. 227 also does coal trains to Detroit Edison River Rouge when they have time. Text by James Deeds and Wade P. Streeter.
  • Job E5 (Edison yard job)
    Called at 07:30
    Switches the following industries:
    Solutia, Mann's Lumber, Huron Valley Steel, and MPI
  • 827 (Extra coal train) This job is usually called at 15:59 or 23:59.
    He either spots or pulls a coal train at the River Rouge Detroit Edison plant, that is:
    Edison yard northward to River Rouge/South yard, or
    River Rouge/South yard southward to Edison yard. Text by James Deeds.

Trains from Lang to River Rouge are crewed like this: Shore Line/Lang crew takes the train, say for example, a 783, from Lang to Edison yard in Trenton. then an 827 extra yard crew out of Flat Rock is called to foward the train up the River spur to the River Rouge Edison plant. MTs are done the same way; an extra yard crew out of Flat Rock will pull the train from River Rouge or South Yard and take to Edison Yard, then a Lang crew is called for the 782 to take him from Edison Yard to Lang. Text by James Deeds

Misc. Unit

  • 745 (Kitchener - Flat Rock) Budd Frames


  • 750 (BRC Chicago - River Rouge Detroit Edison) Coal Loads
  • 751 (River Rouge Detroit Edison - BRC Chicago)
  • 752 (UP Proviso - River Rouge Detroit Edison) Coal Loads
  • 753 (River Rouge Detroit Edison - UP Proviso)
  • 754 (UP Proviso - River Rouge Detroit Edison) Coal Loads
  • 755 (River Rouge Detroit Edison - UP Proviso) Coal Empties

Trains 750, 752, and 754 come southward off of the Holly Sub down the Shore Line to Edison yard, and then get on the Industrial Track between Vreeland and Gibralter Roads. The power cuts off and runs around the train to get on the North end. Then an 827 job is called to take the train from Vreeland Road up the River Spur to the River Rouge Detroit Edison plant near Short Cut. The reserse is done for outbound MT trains 751,753, and 755. Text by James Deeds.

  • 756 (Ecorse Great Lakes Steel - NS Toledo Homestead) Coal Empties
  • 757 (NS Toledo Homestead - Ecorse Great Lakes Steel) Coal Loads
  • 782 (River Rouge Detroit Edison - Toledo Lang) Coal Empties
  • 783 (Toledo Lang - River Rouge Detroit Edison) Coal Loads

Data graciously provided by Shawn O'Day, Jim Koglin,
Mike Swick, Darryl Wattenberg, and Wayne "King" Kuhl
James Deeds' text Copyright 2001 by James Deeds

Dispatching and Radio Chatter

The GTW River Spur is controlled by CNIC TD2 Dispatcher. The line is dispatched by track warrant.

    Radio Frequencies:

  • 160.530 Mhz AAR 28 dispatcher
  • 160.590 Mhz AAR 32 road

Note: These frequencies are used system wide, so one may hear CNIC dispatchers talking to trains on other subdivisions.

GTW River Spur Stuff


  • Trostel, Scott D., The Detroit, Toledo, and Ironton Railroad (1988).
    Cam-Tech Publishing PO Box 3411 Fletcher OH 45326
    Library of Congress number 88-071455

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This website and all contents herein Copyright 2002 by Jeff Knorek except where noted.