Detroit Tunnel Motors On New York Central Railroad

R Motors were of GE’s steeple-cab design and featured a B-B wheel arrangement (similar in nature to those used by the B&O). Purchased in the 1920s they were predominantly used on the electrified lines of the Detroit River Tunnel. 

The tunnel operation was 600V DC 3rd rail electric from the beginning, unlike its earlier neighbour at Sarnia which struggled along with steam locomotives and a resulting number of deaths. The original locomotives were six 100 ton steeple-cabs rated at 51,590 t.e. built by ALCO-GE in 1909. Four 123 ton locos were added in 1914 and two 125 ton in 1927. Ten second-hand locos from other NYC operations came along in later years. The grade is 2.0% westward and 1.6% eastward.

Note the multiple names. D.R.T. Detroit River Tunnel, M.C.R.R. Michigan Central Railroad and New York Central Lines. The latter name used for controlled railroads including Canada Southern. Motor at top built and photographed by Alco 5/1926

The operation was dieselized with 10 GMD GP7’s, and the last electric operation was 12/29/53. For years a five-diesel unit set of “tunnel motors” hauled all CPR trains through the tunnel, even 1 or 2 RDC’s!! They also assisted NYC trains through the tunnel. Finally, in the summer of 1963 the “Tunnel Jobs” were eliminated and the regular power and crews ran through the tunnel unaided.

The 1985 sale of former CASO assets in Canada by Conrail saw the DRT owned 50/50 by CN and CP. The major route for CN traffic was through Sarnia and Port Huron, while Windsor-Detroit was very secondary. Therefore CN decided to build a new tunnel at Sarnia to replace its original one and to not share in the expense of enlarging the Detroit River Tunnel.

Work began in November 1992 on a $27.5 Million enlargement of the north tube. It was re-opened April 19,1994 with a clearance of 19′ 6″. Although 20′ 6″ is needed for maximum height double stack containers, it was not possible to get any more clearance. Ferry service finally ended May 1,1994 when Norfork Southern ended its car float operation. It began 140 years earlier with the Great Western car ferry in 1854! The CPR was able to enlarge one tube to handle multilevel auto carriers and containers, but not sufficiently to handle the very tallest containers.

I don’t have a roster in front of me, but according to Bill Marvel’s book “New York Central Trackside with Eugene Van Dusen”, the Detroit Tunnel motors were classes R-1 et seq. and R-2. Seven of the R-2’s were sold to the CSS&SB for use pulling freight between South Bend and Chicago.

According to Wikipedia, the NYC owned R-Motors were scrapped in the mid 1950’s. The CSS&SB units were scrapped in the mid 1970’s. None are preserved.

Finally, CN was pressured into selling ($110 million) its 50% to a non-rail entity, Borealis Transportation Infastructure Trust Management Inc. sole trustee of BTIT. Borealis is controlled by the OMERS (Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System) pension fund. March 2001 control of the tunnel was turned over to the CPR. Changes to the CTC signals from CN to CP delayed final take over by CPR RTC in Montreal until 0700 April 7, 2002. Mile112.0 Windsor Sub. College Avenue (Windsor) to Mile 115.0 24th Street (Detroit) site of the long-abandoned MCR station. Note: Expressway was located at 15th. Street Mile 114.1


Mark Tomlonson reported on railroad forum that:

1910 First Michigan Central passenger trains through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

1953 The last electric train runs through the Detroit River tunnel. It’s replaced by diesels.

Other references are TrainWeb and Wikipedia

In New York City, the first R Motor was developed as a response to the Kaufman Act which banned steam locomotive use throughout the city and required the New York Central to eliminate street running along its 10th Avenue freight route. After evaluating the first R class prototype for freight service, a modified design of 42 additional class R-2 locomotives were ordered and spent their careers working out of the limelight hauling freight on the West Side Freight Line and other portions of the electrified zone. Later, a few R-2s were sent went for Detroit River Tunnel service to supplement the aging steeplecab electric locomotive fleet until a new ventilation system for diesel operations was installed in 1953. In the 1950s some R’s were sold to the Chicago, South Shore and South Bend for freight service on that road. 

In the 1940s several were sent to pull trains through the electrified Detroit River Tunnels, returning in 1953 when the tunnels were ventilated for diesel operations. between 1955 and 1967 a total of 7 R-Motors were sold to the to supplement their electrified freight operations. The units, re-numbered 701-707, were rebuilt to use 1500V DC overhead lines using parts left over from the conversion of the P-Motors to 660V DC third rail. The front ends were also modified moving the cab door from the front to a more typical side access.

The NYC R’s were scrapped in the 1950s and 60s, while the South Shore units survived into the 1970s. None were preserved.

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