Pere Marquette Railway

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Pere Marquette Railway
Pere Marquette Herald.png
HeadquartersCleveland, Ohio
Reporting markPM
LocaleIllinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Ontario, New York (state), and Wisconsin
Dates of operation1900–1947
SuccessorChesapeake and Ohio later CSX
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge

The Pere Marquette Railway (reporting mark PM) operated in the Great Lakes region of the United States and southern parts of Ontario in Canada. It had trackage in the states of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and the Canadian province of Ontario. Its primary connections included Buffalo; Toledo; and Chicago. The company was named after Père (French for Father) Jacques Marquette S.J. (1637–1675), a French Jesuit missionary who founded Michigan's first European settlement, Sault Ste Marie.


Loading salt into a Pere Marquette boxcar

The Pere Marquette Railroad was incorporated on November 1, 1899 in anticipation of a merger of three Michigan-based railroad companies[1] that had been agreed upon by all parties. It began operations on January 1, 1900, absorbing the following companies:

C&O's The Pere Marquette at Grand Central Station in Chicago on December 26, 1967

The company was reincorporated on March 12, 1917 as the Pere Marquette Railway. In the 1920s the Pere Marquette came under the control of Cleveland financiers Oris and Mantis Van Sweringen. These brothers also controlled the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad (Nickel Plate), the Erie Railroad and the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, and planned to merge the four companies. However, the ICC did not approve the merger and the Van Sweringens eventually sold their interest in the Pere Marquette to the C&O in 1929. The company continued to operate separately as the Pere Marquette Railway until being fully merged into the C&O on June 6, 1947. Forty years later, the C&O was absorbed into CSX Transportation.

In 1984, Amtrak named its passenger train between Grand Rapids, Michigan and Chicago the Pere Marquette.

The 2004 film The Polar Express featured steam locomotive Pere Marquette 1225. The train in the movie (the same train in the popular children's book) was a model of #1225 based on measurements and recordings of the 1225. It is the locomotive that Chris Van Allsburg said was the inspiration for the book, having seen it as a child when it was on the Michigan State University campus. The locomotive was scheduled to be at the premiere in Grand Rapids, where the writer was born, but was canceled because of interferences with the schedule of CSX. It is now housed and maintained at the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, Michigan.

Surviving Steam Locomotives[edit]

1. #1223 - 2-8-4 "Berkshire" displayed at Chinook Pier in Grand Haven, Michigan. #1223 is the oldest surviving example of the 2-8-4s in America.

2. #1225 - 2-8-4 "Berkshire" operational by the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, Michigan. #1225 is the real steam locomotive that made an appearance in the Warner Bros movie The Polar Express.

1907 wreck[edit]

On July 20, 1907 an excursion train carrying 800 passengers from Ionia to Detroit collided near Salem with a freight train, killing 31 and injuring 101. The accident apparently happened because of a hand-written schedule on unlined paper whose columns did not line up, and was misread by the freight crew. The Interstate Commerce Commission investigation also cited safety violations, including use of pine instead of oak for car walls and the omission of steel plates required for mail cars. This was Michigan's worst rail disaster.[2][3]

Routes and current disposition[edit]

Car ferries[edit]

The Pere Marquette operated a number of rail car ferries on the Detroit and St. Clair Rivers and on Lake Erie and Lake Michigan. The PM's fleet of car ferries, which operated on Lake Michigan from Ludington, Michigan to Milwaukee, Kewaunee, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin (see SS Badger), were an important transportation link avoiding the terminal and interchange delays around the southern tip of Lake Michigan and through Chicago. Their superintendent for over 30 years was William L. Mercereau.

Pere Marquette 18[edit]

Postcard illustration of sinking ferry 18, with ferry 17 coming to its aid.

On September 10, 1910, Pere Marquette No. 18 was bound for Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from Ludington, Michigan, with a load of 29 railroad freight cars and 62 people on board. Near midnight, the vessel began to take on massive amounts of water. The captain dumped nine railroad cars into Lake Michigan, but this was no use—the ship was going down. The Pere Marquette 17, traveling nearby, picked up the distress call and sped to assist the foundering vessel. Soon after she arrived and she could come alongside, the Pere Marquette 18 sank with the loss of 28 lives; there were 33 survivors.[6][7] The wreck was not found until July 23, 2020.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Galbraith's railway mail service maps, Michigan. Library of Congress. Publ. 1897, c1898. Accessed April 2020.
  2. ^ "Accident or hoodoo, mystery of train wreck persists". The Regents of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. 1995-05-05. Retrieved 2007-12-01.
  3. ^ "Salem, MI Excursion Train In Head On Collision, July 1907". The Cranbury Press (reprinted by 1907-07-26. Retrieved 2007-12-01.
  4. ^ INDOT's 2011 Indiana Railroads map
  5. ^ "Pere Marquette Railway, Tables 5, 6". Official Guide of the Railways. National Railway Publication Company. 74 (1). June 1941.
  6. ^ Ratigan, Bill (1977). Great Lakes Shipwrecks and Survivors. Grand Rapids: WM B. Eerdmans.
  7. ^ Cabot, James L. (2005). Ludington: 1830-1930. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing.
  8. ^ Ellison, Garret (15 Sep 2020). "Lost car ferry discovered 110 years after sinking in Lake Michigan". Advance Local Media LLC. Retrieved 17 September 2020.

External links[edit]