Grand River Railway

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Grand River Railway
Reporting markGRNR
Dates of operation1914–1931
PredecessorGalt, Preston and Hespeler Street Railway
Berlin, Waterloo, Wellesley and Lake Huron Railway
SuccessorCanadian Pacific Electric Lines
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
ElectrificationOverhead, originally 600 V DC, 1500 V DC after 1921
Length30 km (19 mi)[1]
The Galt, Preston and Hespeler Railway, 1894.
The Galt, Preston and Hespeler Street Railway car barn.
The Preston & Berlin Electric Railway, circa 1905.
Galt to Waterloo
CN Waterloo Spur
Laurel Creek
CN Waterloo Spur
Erb Street
Park Street
John Street West
Union Boulevard
Glasgow Street
CN Guelph Subdivision
Victoria Street
West Avenue
Henry Sturm Creek
Queen Street
Kitchener Queen Street station
Mill Street
Canadian Pacific Railway
Freeport Bridge
over Grand River
Preston Junction station
Speed River
Preston junction
with GEXR Fergus Spur
East Preston
Delta Park
CP Galt Subdivision
Galt Main Street
Lake Erie and Northern Railway
Preston to Hespeler
Preston Junction

The Grand River Railway (reporting mark GRNR) was an interurban electric railway in what is now the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, in Southwestern Ontario.


Preston and Berlin Railway[edit]

Starting in the 1850s, Canada West (today's province of Ontario) began to see its first railways. Of these, the first chartered was the Great Western Railway, which was completed in 1853-54 and connected Niagara Falls to Windsor via London and Hamilton, linking many contemporary centres of population, industry, and trade. in 1855, a branch line was built to Toronto, which fell on the east side of the Grand River, connecting towns and villages in the area such as Galt, Hespeler, Preston, and Guelph. Galt and Guelph in particular were developing into significant urban areas in the region.

In the following year of 1856, the Grand Trunk Railway, the dominant railway in Canada East (today's province of Québec), made a major westward push by acquiring the fledgling Toronto and Guelph Railroad, whose line was then under construction, and extending this line to Sarnia through Berlin (today's Kitchener). Once complete, this made Guelph a major three-way rail junction. In this climate of rapid rail development, ambitious town boosters sought to have their town or village also become a railway junction in the hopes that it would transform it into a city overnight. The merchants of Preston, who saw themselves as being in direct competition with those of Galt, quickly worked to establish a railway which would connect the Great Western and Grand Trunk through their own town and the town of Berlin across the river. In 1857, their dream would be realized with the completion of the Preston and Berlin Railway, which was routed through the small mill towns of Doon and German Mills, with a bridge crossing the Grand River north of Blair. This initial attempt to connect the two cities was short-lived, however, as the bridge was damaged by ice flows in January of 1858, and the railway was operational for less than three months. The surviving sections of the line would be sold to the Grand Trunk Railway, which instead chose to extend the line south to Galt through the village of Blair in 1872, bypassing Preston entirely.[2]

Early street railways[edit]

The Berlin and Waterloo Street Railway began operation in 1888 as a firmly 19th-century-style horse-drawn street railway. However, things would quickly change; by the 1890s, the tone of railway fever had shifted, and many radial railways were being developed throughout Canada and the United States, as cities like Toronto and New York accelerated the process of amalgamation of nearby villages and towns, and urban businesses sought out customers travelling to the city from the suburbs. These systems were typically electrified rather than steam-powered, and used tram-style rolling stock to move a relatively small number of passengers at frequent headways within a region, rather than more traditional passenger trains pulled by dedicated locomotives, which were largely relegated to long-haul trips. Growing towns and cities sought the ideal hybrid system of streetcars and railways: a light rail service which could easily shift from street rails to freight corridors and back again, allowing it to connect to important destinations in downtown areas while also being fast enough to connect cities to each other at the speed expected of contemporary passenger rail. These systems were often also known as interurbans due to the appeal of easily connecting neighbouring cities together with a regional rail line, often municipally-owned and operated.

The first such railway in the region was the Galt and Preston Street Railway (G&P), which began operations in 1894. With Preston boosters still concerned about the potential effect of the railway on their town's economy, the plan ensured that Preston would be the location of many operational aspects of the railway, including the power house, car barns, and machine shops. A year later, in 1895, it was extended to Hespeler and renamed the Galt, Preston and Hespeler Street Railway (GP&H),[3] connecting the three largest settlements of what 80 years later would become the amalgamated city of Cambridge. In the same year, the Berlin and Waterloo Street Railway began to take steps to modernize its service by converting its horse cars to run on electric power. This proved unsuitable and a consortium of local businessmen, impatient at the lack of progress, purchased the railway and outfitted it with new, purpose-built electric trams, which were manufactured in Peterborough.

The Preston boosters were ambitious to rebuild their dream of connecting their town to Berlin, and founded the Preston & Berlin Street Railway in 1894 as another planned interurban. However, construction would not begin until 1900, and operations would not begin until 1904.[4] Only a few years later in 1908, they would merge the two existing interurbans, the same year of the founding of the Preston Car Company, which would manufacture rail cars for many of the interurbans and radial railways in Canada during this period, including Hamilton, Toronto, and Edmonton.[5] The stage was set for the Grand River Railway.

Consolidation and expansion[edit]

Starting in the 1900s, there was an increasing effort to consolidate the various railways in the region, as well as to bring them under public ownership and management. Berlin made a successful bid in 1906 to take over the Berlin and Waterloo Street Railway and operate it as a municipally-managed streetcar service, with a connection to the newly-amalgamated interurban railway that by 1908 connected it to Preston, Hespeler, and Galt as a unified service. This merged company was initially named the Berlin, Waterloo, Wellesley & Lake Huron Railway Company, but by 1914 this name had been dropped in favour of the more modest Grand River Railway, as aside from an expansion in 1911 to Waterloo, northward expansion of the railway had not materialized. It was also leased to the Canadian Pacific Railway for a term of 99 years. The GRNR's expansion to Waterloo meant that it was no longer necessary to use the municipally-owned streetcar service to access Waterloo regionally from the south, and a more clear separation of local and regional rail services occurred. In 1921, this separation of services increased as the GRNR re-routed its trains to more fully follow the north-south freight line as a part of its switch from 600 VDC to 1500 VDC electrification in order to match the Lake Erie & Northern Railway, a move which prefigured their consolidation ten years later.[6] Throughout the rest of the 1920s, the GRNR continued to shift to using shared freight track, and redundant sections of the old street railway were torn up.

CP Electric Lines[edit]

In 1931, the Lake Erie and Northern Railway (LE&N), another CP Rail subsidiary, was consolidated with the GRNR to form the Canadian Pacific Electric Lines (CPEL). Under unified CPEL management, the two services were advertised in tandem, and LE&N rolling stock would receive repairs at the GRNR's Preston barn. During the same year, the GRNR advertised hourly service on every day except Sunday between Galt, Hespeler, Preston, and Kitchener, from 5:50 a.m. to 11:45 p.m., and nine trains a day (except on Sundays) to Waterloo, reflecting Waterloo's lesser importance and smaller population at the time.[7] The longer-distance and less-trafficked LE&N advertised primarily for summer excursion trips to Port Dover from the hot and crowded urban centres to the north.

Despite the overall success of the combined CPEL railway system, post-Second World War social trends began to cause a drop in ridership as regional travellers became increasingly likely to own and drive cars. The beginning of residential subdivision development stimulated population growth outside of the historic downtowns of Berlin (by then renamed to Kitchener), Galt, and Preston, and they began to fall victim to urban decay. In the years following the 1919 Canada Highways Act, which provided stimulus funding for highway development, it became more practical and desirable to travel intercity by car, and development and urban planning began to adjust to car-centric transportation with road widening, highway development, creation of low-density residential housing subdivisions, and demolition of many urban buildings to provide parking, creating an induced demand feedback loop that favoured further car-centric development, while many railway systems were discontinued or statically maintained, without significant expansion of track, upgrades to rolling stock, or sometimes even basic maintenance; the Kitchener & Waterloo Street Railway, which had been put under the management of the Kitchener Public Utilities Commission, was rendered disabled even before its planned shutdown due to damage to the overhead electrical wires which was not repaired.

While many interurban railways did not survive the 1930s or even the 1940s, CPEL maintained rail service until April 23, 1955, when it was replaced by bus service under the Canadian Pacific Transport Company. Bus service operations for Preston were sold to Canada Coach Lines Limited later that year, but Galt-to-Kitchener operations continued under the Canadian Pacific umbrella until October 1, 1961, when freight service was dieselized and assumed by the parent CPR.


Much of the GRNR's track continued to function as freight track for decades after it was shut down, but significant sections were removed in the 1980s, including the Hespeler branch, of which some portions are now the Mill Run Trail. Urban sections in Kitchener-Waterloo were largely also dismantled in the 1980s and replaced by the Iron Horse Trail in 1997, which features a number of plaques commemorating Kitchener's railway and industrial heritage. Perhaps most decisively, the junction that joined the GRNR and LE&N at Main Street in downtown Galt was also removed along with the LE&N track leading south to Paris, severing the original branch line laid down by the Great Western Railway in 1855, and ending rail traffic between the north and south halves of the Grand River valley.

A remnant of the GRNR/CPEL line, designated as the CP Waterloo Subdivision, remains an active rail corridor, as CPR operates an industrial spur to reach a Toyota automobile factory in north Cambridge.

In 2000, bus services in the Region of Waterloo were amalgamated, causing the two primary agencies of Kitchener Transit and Cambridge Transit to be unified under the name Grand River Transit. Kitchener Transit was the bus-only successor to the Kitchener Public Utilities Commission's transit operations, which once included the Kitchener-Waterloo electrified streetcar and trolleybus operations, the latter of which was discontinued in 1973.

Starting in the 1990s, planners and local government officials began to revisit the idea of a rapid transit system in the region. This culminated in the Ion rapid transit light rail system which opened to the public on 21 June 2019.[8] Ironically, this system (ION Stage 1) does not include either Galt or Preston, the original hubs for regional rail, and is instead centred on Kitchener-Waterloo. It does, however, include portions of the Grand River Railway line. Ion's Stage 2, which as of 2019 is still in the public consultation phase, would once again provide a passenger rail connection between Galt, Preston, and Berlin (Kitchener).[9][10]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Grand River Valley". Retrieved 20 August 2019.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Bean, Bill (24 October 2014). "LRT began in Galt and Preston in 1894". Waterloo Region Record. Retrieved 4 July 2019.
  5. ^ Mills, Rych (10 January 2017). "Flash From the Past: Preston Car and Coach goes up in smoke". Record. Kitchener. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  6. ^ "CAMBRIDGE AND ITS INFLUENCE ON WATERLOO REGION'S LIGHT RAIL TRANSIT". Waterloo Region. Waterloo Region. 19 January 2017. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Weidner, Johanna (2019-05-08). "Ion launch date set for June 21". Retrieved 2019-05-13.
  9. ^ Sharkey, Jackie (8 February 2017). "There's still wiggle room in the Region of Waterloo's LRT plans for Cambridge". CBC. CBC. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  10. ^ Sharkey, Jackie (February 2017). "Stage 2 ION: Light Rail Transit (LRT)" (PDF). Region of Waterloo. Region of Waterloo. Retrieved 24 March 2017.