The North Yard Branch and Sterling Secondary are the sole remaining trackage of Michigan Central's line to northern Michigan. They represent Chrylser's contribution to the pool of automotive traffic flowing out of the Detroit area. In addition, Ford Motor Company has two plants north of Sterling Yard which are served off of the Utica Industrial Track, and General Motor's BOC Division has a large plant in Hamtramk which is served by both Conrail's North Yard and Grand Trunk Western's East Yard.

The Territory

The North Yard Branch

The North Yard Branch begins at CP-West Detroit mp 2.9 and goes up to CP-North Yard at mp 9.6. It parallels the GTW Shore Line subdivision from CP-Vinewood to Milwaukee Junction, and from there parallels the GTW Mount Clemens Subdivision to Belt Line Junction at roughly milepost 8.5. GTW is intertwined with the North Yard Branch in this area with at-grade crossings at CP-West Detroit, CP-Springworks, CP-Vinewood (Connecting), CP-Beaubien, Milwaukee Junction and CP-Conant (Connecting) in a 5 mile stretch. It is a double track, CWR, CTC stretch of railroad that was once the southern end of Michigan Central's line to Mackinaw City at the tip of Michigan's Lower Peninsula.

North Yard itself is between CP-Conant and CP-North Yard, just west of the GTW East Yard in Hamtramck. Between North Yard and Eight Mile Road the territory is largely a panorama of pre-war industrial urban decay. North of Eight Mile Road we have a dingy, crowded, treeless wartime pre-fab urban decay in the city of Warren's south end. Between this peach and Sterling is the post-war industrial section of Macomb County, The Land of the Ranch House. It is populated by many second and third generation immigrants who fled here in the 50's to escape Detroit.

The Sterling Secondary

The Sterling Secondary begins at CP-North Yard mp 9.6, where Form D's must be issued for northward movement, and goes up to milepost 19.3, which is the south end of Sterling Yard and is called WS. The line is single track with a long passing siding between North Yard and a location called TM; the main line double track ends back at CP-North Yard. Between TM and WS, the line is single track to about mp 18, where the siding resumes on the east side of the mainline.

TM is north of Ten Mile Road and Sherwood Avenue at milepost 14. It used to be at Ten Mile road, hence the moniker TM. There is a switch at Ten Mile road where a passing siding begins, around the Mound Road Yard. NOTE: If you head north on Sherwood from Ten Mile it curves almost immediately and crosses the tracks with the tracks on the west side moving to the East side of Sherwood. About 50 feet north of this crossing is the TM-Yard Limits Signpost.

WS is between 15 and 16 Mile Roads at milepost 19.3, the South end of Sterling yard, where Form D's must be issued for southward movement. We don't know what WS stands for, possibly West Sterling, but the Locals called at Sterling are also given WS names, like WDWS-04, or WS-4 for short.

TM is at mp 14 and WS is at mp 19.3.

Speed limits are as follows:
CP-NORTH YARD to TM: 15mph
TM to WS: 30mph

The Utica Industrial Track

The Utica Industrial Track begins at mp 21.0 and goes up to mp 27 in Utica, ending just past Packard Yard. The WDWS local called at Sterling Yard runs up there each weekday to work the Ford Utica Trim Plant.

Locations of note (South to North):

North Yard Branch

Sterling Secondary

Utica Industrial Track

Text and data graciously provided by Wayne "King" Kuhl, Joshua Osmialowski, Jim Koglin, and Jerry Sundin.

The Trains

We are looking north at Sterling Yard from the 17 Mile Road overpass in exotic Sterling Heights, Michigan on 8-16-97. Sterling Heights is the home of a large Chrysler assembly plant as well as a Chrysler Stamping plant,the largest stamping plant in the world. The Sterling Secondary also serves the Chrysler assembly plant at Mound Road in Warren, MI. The Chrysler Jefferson Avenue Plant is served by North Yard via the Conrail Belt Line Branch. A lot of Chrysler traffic is tied to the Conrail Detroit District.

As an aside, my friend Simon Duval Smith reports: "The autos made at Sterling Heights are the Dodge Stratus coupe and the Sebring convertible - the line is particularly interesting as it is one of the very few that can make a hardtop and a convertiblke on one line - most hardtop lines have overhead conveyors that make fitting convertible tops impossible so they have to have their own special line. At Sterling Heights they switch the cars from an overhead conveyor to a under car "skillet" conveyor and so can fit the tops."

Photograph Copyright 1997-2002 Jerry Sundin

Traffic volume is light to moderate during the week, and very quiet on weekend afternoons. Yard jobs out of North Yard to Mound Road and hostler moves to and from Sterling add to the mix of road trains that originate and terminate at Sterling.

Train symbols that ply all or part of the North Yard Branch and the Sterling Secondary include:

Norfolk Southern

  • 171 (STPB) Detroit Sterling - Salem IL/UP
  • 11V Bellevue OH - Detroit Sterling
  • 17J (STBN) Detroit Sterling - Madison IL/TRRA/BNSF
  • 17Q (PIST) Pittsburgh - Detroit Sterling
  • 18Q (BNST) Madison IL/TRRA/BNSF - Detroit Sterling
  • M8Q Frequent second section of 18Q
  • 19M (COST) Columbus Buckeye OH - Detroit Sterling
  • 20N (TV-20N) Chicago Ashland Ave - Detroit Livernois occasionally terminates at Sterling
  • 27G Detroit North Yard - Chicago Proviso
  • 29A Kansas City MO - Detroit Jefferson Ave
  • 41M (ML-441) Detroit North Yard - IHB Gibson Yard IN
  • 48E (ELST) Elkhart IN - Detroit Sterling
  • 49E (STEL) Detroit Sterling - Elkhart IN

    The Burlington Northern run-throughs from Chicago, (STBN and BNST) run with the BN power on many occasions.


About Conrail Yard Jobs called at North Yard and Sterling, Jerry Sundin writes:
"Yard Jobs are symboled NY# for North Yard and WS# for Sterling. The # on Conrail jobs is the last digit of the day, i.e. May 3 will have an NY3. May 13 will also have an NY3; May 18 would be WS8, etc. This is similar to other symbol assignments but rotating after 10 days as opposed to a month. Sometimes there is a two digit NY31. I don't know if the second digit is the trick or a sequential assignment".

And Jim Harlow writes: "All of the yard job designations were officially prefaced with four letters for whatever particular terminal area, e.g. WDNY31, WDNY3, etc. It was common practice not to use the full alpha designation on the radio when talking, or even on the trainsheets logs in the towers, since the last two alphas in the symbol were pretty unique to any particular area in the system, and usually wouldn't get confused with a road train symbol. Railroaders have a practice of using whatever shortcuts they can in their work without causing accidents, and if they had to say "WDNY31" over the radio all the time, that would be rather a pain - "NY31" is much easier to say, and would still be unique and not get confused with a road train symbol."


  • Q304 (STTO)Detroit Sterling - Toledo Stanley
  • Q305 (TOST)Toledo Stanley - Detroit Sterling
  • D717 Plymouth - North Yard Frame Turn

Jerry Sundin also writes:
"The PB as in STPB is also known as the Peanut Butter. The TOST is called the toast on occasion. The PIST is always called the P.I.S.T"

Data provided by John Krattanger, The Bull Sheet, Jerry Sundin, and Kevin Burkholder.

Dispatching and Radio Chatter

The North Yard Branch and the Sterling Secondary are controlled by the Conrail Detroit Line Dispatcher. The Utica Industrial Track is controlled by the Sterling Yardmaster.

161.070...Conrail Detroit Line DS South of CP-North Yard
161.070...Sterling Yardmaster
160.000...Conrail Detroit Line DS North of CP-North Yard

North Yard Branch
and Sterling Secondary Stuff

The GTW Shore Line and Mount Clemens Subdivisions

Grand Trunk Western and the Conrail Detroit SAA are intertwined throughout the Conrail North Yard Branch. We will take a brief look at these GTW subdivisions here.

Back to Conrail Detroit SAA Page

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