Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway

Location: North side of Hunter Street between James Street and Hughson Street

T.H.&B. LogoThe Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway (commonly known as the T.H.&B.) had its beginnings in the late 19th century. In the beginning of the 1880's Hamilton was served by three railways: the Grand Trunk Railway (G.T.R.), the Northern & North Western Railway, and the Great Western Railway. Initially there seemed to be no need for another railway in Hamilton. However, in 1882 the Grand Trunk Railway purchased the Great Western Railway, and in 1884 it went on to obtain the Northern & North Western Railway as well. Motivated by the recent acquisitions, the people of Hamilton sought to form a new railway, thus preventing Grand Trunk from holding a monopoly. Besides the demand for competitive prices, there was also a need for a quick route between Hamilton and the "Buffalo Gateway" (the closest entrance to the U.S.). The Old T.H.&B. StationFor these reasons, the City of Hamilton passed an Act on March 25, 1884 that authorized the construction of a railway from Toronto to either Niagara Falls or Fort Erie via Hamilton. Among the clauses included in this Act were: a five-year limit for completion of the project, and a statement forbidding the T.H.&B. from amalgamating with, or being sold to any other railway company. The latter clause made it difficult to raise funds to build the line and therefore no progress was made. Despite this fact, in 1889 the legislature extended the charter for another five years.

Meanwhile, the nearby city of Brantford had only one railway (the Grand Trunk Railway) as well. In 1885, Brantford passed an Act to incorporate the Brantford, Waterloo and Lake Erie Railway (B.W.&L.E.). This resulted in the construction of a line from Brantford to Waterford which, unbeknownst to the citizens of Brantford, would later become the T.H.&B.'s first operational line.

Tunnel ConstructionIn 1890, the Act incorporating the T.H.&B. was altered yet again. The new changes included shifting the easternmost stop (since there were already four railways converging on Fort Erie) to Welland and then seeking running rights with the Michigan Central Railway for a connection to Fort Erie. Other amendments were that the T.H.&B. could be leased or sold to any other railway company except the G.T.R. or the Canadian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.), and that a line could be extended to connect with Brantford. Perhaps the most significant revision however, was that the T.H.&B. would have to repay the $225,000 grant given to it by the City of Hamilton if the company should come under the control of G.T.R. or C.P.R., or if it ceased to operate passenger service to Welland. Also that year, the B.W.&L.E. was sold to J. M. Young upon the condition that he would build a line connecting Brantford and Hamilton. Unfortunately Mr. Young ran out of resources at the halfway point and the Brantford shareholders seized the property in 1891.

In 1892 a deed of amalgamation was signed between the B.W.&L.E. and the T.H.&B.. Although not located in Hamilton, the T.H.&B. now had its first line from Brantford to Waterford. Work then started on extending the line to Hamilton. No sooner had construction begun however, when the depression of 1893 brought it to a halt. A Railway TunnelThis situation was remedied in 1894 when Hamilton City Council passed By-law 755 granting the T.H.&B. another bonus of $225,000 for building a line from Brantford to Welland as well as a passenger station in Hamilton. Additionally, a condition was added stating that all trains must run through Hamilton and all passenger trains must stop at the station. The purpose of this requirement was to avoid a previous incident where the G.T.R. had begun bypassing the city after having built an alternate route. In 1895 the line to Brantford was completed and on May 24 the first T.H.&B. train left Hamilton. Shortly after this historic event, another equally significant incident occurred. On July 9 the T.H.&B. was bought by four railway companies: New York Central (with a 37% share), Canadian Pacific (27%), Michigan Central (18%), and Canada Southern (18%). Interestingly, a man named Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt owned N.Y.C., M.C., and C.S., giving him a 73% share of the company. Even though the new ownership defied a condition of By-law 755 (i.e. ownership by C.P.R.), the T.H.&B. still received their bonus. To aid in the construction of its Hamilton station and the necessary tunnels, the T.H.&B. entered into a contract with Dominion Construction Company. The president of Dominion Construction, John Newton Beckley, would in1897 become the president of the T.H.&B. for its most significant period of expansion.

1896 marked the completion of the Welland portion of the railway, leaving the total cost of the line at $3.28 million. With its main line completed, the T.H.&B. began to focus on extending a branch to Toronto. Since the T.H.&B.'s proposed line would have cut into G.T.R.'s business by passing closer to settled areas than their existing line, G.T.R. decided to give C.P.R. running rights over its tracks from Hamilton to Toronto. The First Train to TorontoThis action allowed the T.H.&B. to connect its Garth Street terminal to the G.T.R. line using only 1.48 miles of track, a substantial savings compared to the 44-mile track previously planned. In 1897 a new by-law introduced by the City of Hamilton amended By-law 755 so that C.P.R. could own the T.H.&B. on the basis that it had aided the T.H.&B. to fulfill the objectives laid out in By-law 755. Despite (or perhaps due to) the T.H.&B.'s expansions, they operated at a net loss during 1897 and 1898. The T.H.&B. decided to provide freight service to the industrial areas of Hamilton in an attempt to achieve profitability. The best they could do for the time being however was to acquire running rights over Hamilton and Dundas Railway's tracks. This gave the T.H.&B. access to the factories in Dundas. In 1899 the T.H.&B. returned to prosperity thanks to two main factors. First of all, the T.H.&B. constructed the "Belt Line" which gave access to the Hamilton Harbour industrial area. Besides providing the T.H.&B. with new customers, the "Belt Line" caused new plants to open along it thereby increasing freight loads. Secondly, traffic between C.P.R. and N.Y.C. (whose lines were bridged by the T.H.&B.) increased.

With the turn of the century, the T.H.&B. experienced increased business. 1908 saw the T.H.&B. handle over 1 million tons of freight. However, the increases in population which gave the T.H.&B. more passengers also caused the company some difficulty. Its tracks along Hunter Street were beginning to be a problem as longer and more frequent trains blocked the streets which they crossed. In the meantime however, the T.H.&B. considered further expansions. In 1910 Dunnville requested that the T.H.&B. build a branch from Smithville (a stop along their line to Welland) to their town. Although Dunnville offered a $35,000 bonus, this proposal did not look attractive to the T.H.&B. until it realized that it could extend the line past Dunnville to Port Maitland and from there establish a car ferry service across Lake Erie. This new service could help to reduce the increased congestion at the "Buffalo Gateway." In 1914, under the charter of the Erie and Ontario Railway, the T.H.&B. constructed a line to Dunnville, which was extended to Port Maitland in 1916. 1916 also marked the organization of the T.H.&B. Navigation Company, which was in charge of the previously mentioned car ferry service. The T.H.&B. Navigation Company's first and only ship, the S. S. Maitland No. 1, was a 32-car capacity ferry. It could make three round-trips every two days, compared to the three days needed for every round-trip through the "Buffalo Gateway." To support their fledgling company, the T.H.&B. acquired 2,000 acres of land in the Port Maitland area and built a slip dock along with a coal dock to help persuade industries to locate there. Unfortunately, not many industries were convinced and when the Welland Canal was enlarged in 1931, (allowing larger ships between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario) the T.H.&B. Navigation Company became obsolete. Even so, the T.H.&B. was able to make $600,000 from their investment.

Besides expanding its territory, the T.H.&B. was also increasing its technological capacity during this period. In 1911, the T.H.&B. became the first railway in North America to introduce Absolute Permissive Block signaling. This innovation allowed the density of traffic to increase safely. Now two or more trains could occupy the same track when traveling in the same direction. More importantly, trains traveling in opposite directions and converging onto the same track would not collide.

The New T.H.&B. StationThe T.H.&B. may have pioneered new techniques resulting in safer railways but it still had to take care of its problems with the City of Hamilton. To help with the problem of the tracks along Hunter Street, the T.H.&B. hired a New York engineering firm in 1912. After studying the situation, they recommended elevating the tracks by 15 feet so that the roads could go underneath. In spite of this, the City of Hamilton's Engineering Commission proposed that the T.H.&B.'s lines across the city be eliminated and that they be made to use the existing G.T.R. line. Additionally, a new Union Station should be built to accommodate the passengers of both railways. Obviously displeased with this result, John Beckley argued that the Commission had no power under the federal Railway Act to order the change. Fortunately for him, he was backed by a Supreme Court decision in 1914. The issue would remain at a standstill for 16 years. In 1930 however, the City of Hamilton and the T.H.&B. finally signed an agreement to permit work to start on the grade separation between the railway and the roads and also on a new passenger station located on Hunter Street. Completed in 1933, this $3,238,000 project eliminated the T.H.&B.'s traffic problems.

Since 1907, the T.H.&B. had been trying to secure access to Port Colborne, an industrial town south of Welland. In one attempt between 1916 and 1917, the T.H.&B. tried unsuccessfully to get running rights over G.T.R.'s line to the Port. When Canadian National took over the G.T.R. in 1924 the T.H.&B. made the request again, and was again refused. Two years later, a group of prominent Port Colborne and Welland citizens got a charter passed to incorporate the Welland and Port Colborne Railway (whose president just happened to be John Beckley). At the same time, the T.H.&B. applied to the Board of Railway Commissioners and was able to get running rights over the C.N. line since this would prevent the unnecessary construction of duplicate tracks by the new company. Thanks to John Beckley's resourcefulness the first T.H.&B. train came into Port Colborne on January 13, 1927.

To remain competitive during its time the T.H.&B. had to upgrade its equipment constantly. By 1921, every locomotive with which the T.H.&B. had first operated was replaced. To keep up with increasing traffic, the T.H.&B. acquired a fleet of all-steel passenger equipment in 1924. In 1927, the T.H.&B. tested two different locomotives to see which would be most suited to climbing Hamilton's escarpment. The T.H.&B. chose the Boston and Albany Railway "Berkshire" over the N.Y.C. "Mikado" and had it specially built by Montreal Locomotive Works to reduce the cost of importing from the U.S.. The "Berkshires" got rid of the need for double-head freight trains (i.e. trains with two locomotives) and made the T.H.&B. the first and only Canadian railway to operate them. 1930 marked the completion of a new, $1,274,000 engine terminal which included a Direct Steaming Plant. The first of its kind in Canada, this plant consisted of high-pressure, super-heated boilers which could bring a locomotive up to a full head of steam (which it needed to run). This improvement eliminated the delay caused by fire making and heat-up.

With the onset of the depression in 1929, the T.H.&B. saw a decrease in both passengers and freight service. From an ample 3,125,127 tons of freight carried in 1930, the T.H.&B. was reduced to 1,125,651 tons in 1933. A comparable loss could be seen with the decrease of 219,051 passengers over the same three-year period. Locomotive No. 71In 1935, the T.H.&B. was forced to make its first cutback with the abandonment of its branch from Font Hill to Ridgeville. Similarly, rail passenger service between Smithville and Dunnville was withdrawn in 1937 and replaced with a less expensive bus service. The start of World War II helped to change this downward trend and T.H.&B. business increased considerably. In fact, due to the post-war boom, in 1951 the T.H.&B. attained its lowest operating ratio (i.e. the difference between revenues and expenditures) ever of 49.53%. Along with the economic explosion provided by World War II came the arrival of the first diesel engines. In 1947, the T.H.&B. purchased four diesel switchers painted with its new cream and maroon colour scheme. In 1950, the T.H.&B. purchased an additional four switchers as well as the first four road diesels built in Canada. With the purchase of three more road diesels in 1953, the T.H.&B. had completely withdrawn steam locomotives from its freight service. Passenger service would follow suit the next year with the last passenger train pulled by a steam locomotive. 1953 also revealed the introduction of Centralized Traffic Control, which allowed a dispatcher to direct the movements of every T.H.&B. train from a large control panel.

Despite the return to favourable economic position, passenger service was on the decline due to the introduction of passenger airplanes, better highways, and readily available automobiles. In 1954, the Hamilton to Waterford passenger service was cancelled and in 1955 the Smithville to Dunnville service followed suit. The remaining passenger services to Toronto and Welland each got reduced to one round trip per day by 1964. Other changes were made during the 1960's to ensure that the T.H.&B. would remain as efficient as possible. These changes included: the replacement of the Waterford to Welland rails with continuous welded rail (which permitted higher speed and less shock to wheels), and the commencement of the computerization of its system. Unfortunately, none of these changes could prevent the beginning of the end of the T.H.&B.. In 1968, N.Y.C. merged with Pennsylvania Railroad to become Penn Central, a company that went bankrupt in 1970. In 1976 the U.S. government formed the Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail) from Penn Central and five other bankrupt railways. The following year Penn Central decided to reduce its foreign holdings and sold its shares of the T.H.&B. to C.P.R. for a reported $6.5 million. Although C.P.R. now owned all of the T.H.&B., it continued to run as a separate entity. In April of 1981 the last passenger train ran between Toronto and Buffalo making the T.H.&B. an all-freight line. Of course, the City of Hamilton promptly launched a suit against C.P.R. for violating a clause in its Act from 1890. C.P.R. was to repay the $225,000 grant with compounding interest for a total of $37,520,419. However, the City reduced the claim to $14 million and in 1985 accepted an out-of-court settlement for $1,834,549. On January 1, 1987 the T.H.&B. merged completely with C.P.R. and on May 8 the T.H.&B. Board of Directors held its final meeting.

Though the T.H.&B. has been integrated, there remain two notable reminders of its history. The line to Brantford, which was shut down after a landslide ruined a portion of it in 1986, has been recently converted into the "Rail Trail." This is a 32 km biking/hiking trail maintained jointly by the Hamilton Region Conservation Authority and the Grand River Conservation Authority. Also, the Hunter Street Station, which was previously inactive, was purchased in 1994 by GO Transit. Although it was renovated, the new Hamilton GO Station still preserves the old building's charm. In 1994, the station was declared a historical landmark ensuring that it would be preserved for years to come.

A Graph Illustrating Passengers Carried



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