cross-sectional view of one of the China Tunnel tubes (PA-4 for scale)

When abandonments started sweeping through the northeastern USA & Canada in the early 1980s, a couple of oddly named shortlines were formed from abandoned sections of the Michigan Central (Ontario) and GTW (Michigan); the St Thomas Connecting Railway took over the long-abandoned old Michigan Central branch from St Thomas to Courtright and operated it as a marginally successful granger line, while the Jackson Connecting Railroad took over most of the GTW’s Romeo Subdivision in Michigan to operate as a belt line (mainly) around Detroit, but with track relaid from Richmond to St Clair for a woefully underused connection to the C&O (CSX before that trackwork was relaid) branch along the St Clair.

In the early 2000s, a couple of belt lines were constructed to get around the interchange in Richmond & to provide a direct connection between the JCRR and I&M in Jackson. These belt lines were paid for by bond sales, which were (bells started ringing in the HQs of the other eastern Class 1s at this point) largely subscribed to by the Ontario Southwestern and the LT&L.

In 2012 – after a series of land purchases south of St Clair & Courtright – the St Thomas Connecting Railway started erecting poles for overhead wire, while filing for permits to build a tunnel under the St Clair, underwritten by (you guessed it) more bond sales.

The route of the China Tunnel Railway Company

In 2020, the last environmental reviews finished and the permits for the tunnel were granted, at which point the two railways merged into the China Tunnel Railway Company, exchanging old stock and optionally bonds for new. At which point the LT&L exchanged all of their bonds (including the OSW ones) for CTRC stock, put new members on the CTRC board, and then had the board propose a merger with the OSW.

Well, this certainly wasn’t anticompetitive, no matter how much CSX, NS, CN, & CP tried to pretend it was, and the regulators approved the merger.

In 2020, construction started on the project, stringing overhead wire over the D&H, OSW, Richmond Connecting lines, and then in 2023 TBMs started digging two (sized for a doublestack-height with overhead wire track) tubes under the St. Clair. The first tube was completed on July 30th, 2023, and the second tube broke through on October 1st, 2023. The first tunnel had track & overhead wire laid through it by the middle of August, but didn’t see any (non-work train) traffic until after the TBM had been disassembled and moved off the line at the end of October (the work trains were carrying tunnel segments from the concrete plant in Courtright to the tunnel head in St Clair and after the TBM broke through on the second tunnel the overhead needed to be moved aside during the TBM’s teardown.)

The first tunnel was cleared for revenue operations on Dec 15, 2023, and the first freight train (actually a mixed train; most of the cars from the business train were coupled to it, with a single class 10P motor providing hotel power) went through the tunnel on the morning of the 16th.

(The cost of all of this; approximately US$2.6 billion ($2.3 billion for infrastructure, $300 million for new locomotives), but spread out over 4 years. Some it is covered by bonds, loans & environmental grants, but the Parsons Vale’s shortline acquisition spree is now, at least until the wire is energized & trains are running through the tunnel, almost completely stopped.)

  • Copyright © 2024 by Jessica L. Parsons ( unless otherwise noted
    Wed Apr 19 11:28:25 PDT 2023