Traveling by Train Between Chicago and Toronto

1561 views
26 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • 2 posts
Traveling by Train Between Chicago and Toronto
Posted by Tucker on Friday, December 01, 2017 10:31 PM

Back in the 90's our family traveled from Chicago to Toronto via AMTRAK/VIA's INTERNATIONAL. That train was discontinued sometime after 9/11.  Today AMTRAK has the BLUE WATER that leaves Chicago and terminates in Port Huron, MI while a VIA train across the river travels from Sarnia, ON to Toronto.  

Has anyone traveled on these two trains and has found a way to connect between Port Huron and Sarnia?  Any suggestions? 

  • Member since
    September, 2013
  • 1,945 posts
Posted by Miningman on Friday, December 01, 2017 11:39 PM

Take a cab or order a car service to meet you. Can't walk the Bluewater bridges and you sure as heck cant walk through the tunnel. 

It is very inconvenient. Customs officials from both sides used to drive out to the train from the bridge customs offices back when the train went through. 

I have found arraigning for a car service ahead of time to meet you is easier with Customs, but it costs. 

Another great loss in rail travel. 

  • Member since
    March, 2016
  • From: Burbank IL (near Clearing)
  • 10,214 posts
Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Saturday, December 02, 2017 6:48 AM

I wouldn't call it a great loss.  On the Canadian side, it was part of VIA's service between Toronto and Sarnia/Windsor, while on the American side, it was the only train on the route east of Kalamazoo.  It would be interesting to note the passenger count across the border compared to passenger counts within each country only.

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
  • Member since
    September, 2011
  • 3,338 posts
Posted by MidlandMike on Saturday, December 02, 2017 9:59 PM

I rode the International a couple of times in te early 90s.  It seemed there were quite a few on my car when we crossed the border.

  • Member since
    September, 2013
  • 1,945 posts
Posted by Miningman on Saturday, December 02, 2017 11:11 PM

The last one I rode was 1994 and had Amtrak Superliner equipment. The train was near full and very few got off in Sarnia. VIA had at least 2 other trains a day Toronto-Sarnia only. This was the "Chicago Train". 

American Custom agents took a diminutive Asian lady off the train in cuffs in Port Huron. Thats the only person I saw "detrain". 

There was a posting in all the cars and on all the doors that the train was being discontinued through the tunnel and would no longer cross the border. It stated you would have to make your own arraignments to get across. That was 4 days away from my trip, so I was just lucky, did not know. 

I was going to Flagstaff Arizona from Chicago. Arranged for a car rental there and spent the next 3 weeks getting into all kinds of "adventures".

Was at a Casino somewhere west of Albuquerque, stuck in the lobby along with many others watching a huge snowstorm, deciding whether to leave or not. I belted out..."for --- sake I came thousands of miles to New Mexico from Canada and IT'S SNOWING!....you got be kidding!" Got a good laugh from the assembled crowd. 

Took the Empire State Express from Chicago to Buffalo and had a car service waiting for me to take me home. Very nice. 

  • Member since
    September, 2017
  • 26 posts
Posted by charlie hebdo on Sunday, December 03, 2017 4:43 PM

Miningman
Took the Empire State Express from Chicago to Buffalo and had a car service waiting for me to take me home.

I thought that was a Buffalo-NY train in the NYC days?

ben
  • Member since
    December, 2017
  • 1 posts
Posted by ben on Sunday, December 03, 2017 8:30 PM
You could take the train from Chicago to Buffalo along the Lake Shore Limited Route, and then transfer in Buffalo to the Maple Leaf Route which will take you to Toronto.
  • Member since
    September, 2013
  • 1,945 posts
Posted by Miningman on Monday, December 04, 2017 8:00 AM

Yes maybe it was called the Lake Shore Limited, not the Empire State Express. Some very very rough track after Cleveland, dang near threw me out of bed. Was hanging on like crazy. You can go through the border at Niagara Falls with Maple Leaf. I believe the issue is the tunnel at Sarnia/Port Huron that is a strategic asset. 

  • Member since
    March, 2016
  • 1,128 posts
Posted by CandOforprogress2 on Monday, December 04, 2017 11:34 AM

Amtrak to Detroit...Light Rail to Downtown Detroit Congress Station...Take Mugger Mover to Milender Center short 4 min walk to tunnel take tunnel bus to Windsor. Take Windsor cab or city bus to train station down Wyadottet Street to Via Station. Have passport and at least 200.00 in cash on hand and a debit card.

  • Member since
    June, 2009
  • From: Dallas, TX
  • 2,717 posts
Posted by CMStPnP on Monday, December 04, 2017 1:07 PM

It is a little strange the lack of Canadian trains from Chicago.    You would think an overnight train with sleepers between Chicago and Toronto would do just fine without being a high speed performance run.    I would also think a Chicago - St.Paul to Edmonton overnight train might do well too.

  • Member since
    January, 2010
  • 8 posts
Posted by SP Jim on Monday, December 04, 2017 6:14 PM

Not gonna happen thanks to 911 and Homeland Security! 

  • Member since
    September, 2011
  • 3,338 posts
Posted by MidlandMike on Monday, December 04, 2017 10:19 PM

CMStPnP

It is a little strange the lack of Canadian trains from Chicago.    You would think an overnight train with sleepers between Chicago and Toronto would do just fine without being a high speed performance run.    I would also think a Chicago - St.Paul to Edmonton overnight train might do well too.

 

That border inspection in the middle of the night would be a real annoyance.

  • Member since
    August, 2005
  • From: At the Crossroads of the West
  • 8,590 posts
Posted by Deggesty on Tuesday, December 05, 2017 8:11 AM

When there was overnight service between Chicago and Toronto, were passengers waked at the border?

Johnny

  • Member since
    September, 2013
  • 1,945 posts
Posted by Miningman on Tuesday, December 05, 2017 8:50 PM

CPR-NYC-TH&B international passenger equipment Toronto-New York

The CPR Chicago Express had already been discontinued at this point. The Toronto-New York train with sleepers was cut back to RDC's only Toronto-Buffalo, after Penn Central happened. Canadain Pacific sighted very poor equipment provided by Penn Central. 

Yes of course, customs officers would wake you. The lights came on and the conductor roused everyone. 

I believe they pre-clear folks to Vancouver-Seattle and have customs at the arrival points. 

Imagine a heavyweight coach still running 1967. CPR sleepers ran heavyweights as well. 

CPR-THB-NYC Pool Toronto-Buffalo 

THBL 73 coach 

NYC 2957 coach.

  • Member since
    September, 2013
  • 1,945 posts
Posted by Miningman on Tuesday, December 05, 2017 9:15 PM
Last run of the Chicago Express
 Last run of Number 21 engines 1412 1918 Saturday, April 25, 1964 through Campbellville. 
William Carr/R.J.Sandusky Collection.
 
 
 

 

First 21 Eng 2400 Chicago Express with 12 cars through Campbellville at 8.55 a.m. Sat. May 21, 1955 
Note: 1/21 (First Twenty One) most likely originated in Toronto, while 2/21 (Second Twenty One) 
originating from Montreal probably would have looked like the following earlier scene since the last regular steam between Toronto and Windsor on #21 and #22 was engine 2807 Sun. Mar. 7, 1954
  • Member since
    September, 2013
  • 1,945 posts
Posted by Miningman on Tuesday, December 05, 2017 9:31 PM

13 years later and the "Buffalo" is much reduced in importance as depicted here leaving 
Toronto Union with a single A unit 4095 with REA express on the headend and old heavweights behind. 
6/1968 Mike Schafer/Joseph Testagrose Collection 

NYC 4042 EMD E8A leads TH&B 372 from Hamilton to Welland and Buffalo enroute to New York City. This equipment ran through from Buffalo to Toronto over the NYC to Welland, TH&B to Hamilton and CPR CNR Joint Section although the diesels were changed at Hamilton. Stoney Creek, Ont. 8/21/1963 Peter Cox


There was also an important through service from New York City using mostly NYC equipment including many sleeping cars that were heavily patronized. Trains operated into the Central Terminal in Buffalo, built just before the Great Depression, (opened June 22, 1929) until it was abandoned when Amtrak left in October 1979, after which the new Exchange Street station was used. It remains in use and is the latest in a long line of Exchange Street stations dating back to the 1840's. The previous Exchange Street station was in use from 1952-1965. Trains always stopped at Black Rock in Buffalo for US Customs clearance although the Inspectors travelled to and from Welland on the trains to do their work as it proceeded.

Through service to Buffalo and New York on a day time schedule ended on April 25, 1964. 


RDC-2 9115 and RDC-4 92?? Central Terminal Buffalo November 1971 Mike Harrington 

 

Night sleeper service between Toronto, Buffalo and New York City ended when decrepid Penn Central equipment was replaced with CPR RDC equipment on a day time schedule between Toronto and Buffalo.
First train was #321 on October 25, 1970 with RDC-4 9251 and RDC-2 9103. This lone train carried on jointly with Penn Central (which had been created February 1/1968), Conrail (April 1/1976), CP Rail (100% ownership of TH&B, April 19/1977) and finally VIA Rail in 1978 until its last run on April 25,1981.

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • 13 posts
Posted by Alan Follett on Wednesday, December 06, 2017 10:53 AM

Deggesty

When there was overnight service between Chicago and Toronto, were passengers waked at the border?

 

 

Not when I rode the GTW-CN overnight train, but that was in 1969.

  • Member since
    September, 2011
  • 3,338 posts
Posted by MidlandMike on Wednesday, December 06, 2017 8:46 PM

The only border-crossing sleeper car I rode was on VIA's Atlantic before it was discontinued in the early 90s.  The train crossed the border into the US and took a short-cut thru northern Maine, and then recrossed back into Canada.  Both border crossings were in the middle of the night, and I was not awoken for either.  Of course I was not setting foot in the US, so maybe they only woke those who would be detraining in a different country from where they boarded.

  • Member since
    September, 2013
  • 1,945 posts
Posted by Miningman on Wednesday, December 06, 2017 9:44 PM

Yes ...the train can be sealed...they did that with the Niagara Rainbow over the CASO. However....you must go through customs at some point if you travel US to Canada or Canada to US, getting on board in one and detraining in the other.  There is no getting around that, no how, no way.

Only exception along the Canada US border I am aware of is the Haskel Free Library and Opera House in Derby, Vermont and Stanstead, Quebec as the border goes right though the centre of it. 

Even that has tightened up since 911. 

Here's a trivia question to pull on your friends....what is the only library in the USA that contains no books? A. The Haskel Library in Derby, Vermont as all the books are located on the Canadian side.

And..What is the only Opera House in the USA without a stage? A.The Haskell Free Opera House as all the seats are in the USA and the stage is in Canada. 

  • Member since
    March, 2010
  • 48 posts
Posted by ghCBNS on Thursday, December 07, 2017 11:04 AM

There were different procedures in handling the "Atlantic" over the years.

When it was a Canadian Pacific operated train usually only the coach passengers were inspected by US Customs at the border and sleeping car passengers were just left alone. Anyone boarding the train in Maine was inspected by Canadian Customs at Magantic, Quebec or McAdam, New Brunswick when it crossed back into Canada. This was the same procedure when VIA took over and extended the Atlantic through to Halifax in Oct. 1979 and still in effect when the Atlantic was first discontinued in Nov. 1981.

When the Atlantic was reinstated in June 1985 there was a whole new set of rules: Now US Customs/INS insisted everyone would be inspected. Even the Sleeping Car passengers were woke eastbound at 3am ET in Jackman, Maine. Westbound wasn’t as bad: 9pm ET (10pm AT) at Vanceboro. The trains were running long and full so there were major delays.

The restored Atlantic was only back a short time before people were calling for it to rerouted via Edmundston, New Brunswick to avoid crossing the US border. Passengers were switching to the Ocean in droves to escape the hassle from US officials even if they had to change trains and wait a couple of hours in Moncton.

The trains always made several stops in Maine: Vanceboro, Danforth, Mattawamkeag, Brownville Jct., Greenville and Jackman. Local passengers were even handled between US stops but anyone boarding in the US and going to Canada were checked by Canada Customs when the trains reached McAdam NB or Megantic, Quebec.

It took a couple of years of negotiations but eventually the train was “Sealed” across the US with a metal “Tag” being placed on all doors except in the one car where the US Customs Inspector rode and only checked those getting off in the US. The “Atlantic” was discontinued in December 1994.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

If you go way back to the ‘60s: A CP RDC run between Montreal and Wells River, Vermont (Originally through to Boston) crossed the US/CAN Border 3 times. First it crossed into the US for about 10 miles to serve a couple of Vermont towns then back into Canada for 10 miles to a couple of stops in Quebec then finally back into Vermont. Don’t know how US and Canadian Customs handled that one!

  • Member since
    September, 2014
  • 26 posts
Posted by JOHN L CLARK on Thursday, December 07, 2017 5:35 PM

This past September 30th, I was in Port Huron and stopped at the Amtrak station and counted 43 cars in the parking lot.  40 had Canadian plates while 3 had Michigan plates on them.  

CSSHEGEWISCH

I wouldn't call it a great loss.  On the Canadian side, it was part of VIA's service between Toronto and Sarnia/Windsor, while on the American side, it was the only train on the route east of Kalamazoo.  It would be interesting to note the passenger count across the border compared to passenger counts within each country only.

 

  • Member since
    June, 2009
  • 213 posts
Posted by CNSF on Monday, December 11, 2017 5:01 PM
I rode the Chicago-Toronto train a few times in the '90's as well, and it was always at least as well patronized crossing the border as the New York - Toronto train is today, if not more so. That said, I'm not sure through runs are really the best answer. In my opinion, the best approach for both Chicago and New York service to Toronto would be to locate stations on both sides of the border bridge/tunnel, pick one to house both Canada and US customs/immigration clearance, and have the "domestic" trains of both Amtrak and VIA terminate there. Toronto-New York is almost ready for this, with the stations for Niagara Falls ON and NY located directly across the Rainbow Bridge from each other. In a few years, there will be frequent all-day GO train service between Toronto and Niagara Falls; simply have those trains terminate on the NY side (or conversely, have the Amtraks cross the bridge to ON) and you now have the potential for multiple daily connecting schedules with an improved customs process that doesn't delay an entire train because there's an issue with one or two passengers. It's a little more complicated at Detroit-Windsor, but still doable. The VIA station would have to be relocated to the former CASO east of the tunnel.
  • Member since
    September, 2014
  • 38 posts
Posted by GARTH STEVENSON on Monday, December 11, 2017 7:32 PM

Tucker

Back in the 90's our family traveled from Chicago to Toronto via AMTRAK/VIA's INTERNATIONAL. That train was discontinued sometime after 9/11.  Today AMTRAK has the BLUE WATER that leaves Chicago and terminates in Port Huron, MI while a VIA train across the river travels from Sarnia, ON to Toronto.  

Has anyone traveled on these two trains and has found a way to connect between Port Huron and Sarnia?  Any suggestions? 

 

Amtrak arrives at Port Huron late in the evening and Via Rail leaves Sarnia early in the morning, so you would miss a night's sleep by trying to make this "connection". A better option is to use Amtrak from Chicago to Detroit and  Via Rail from Windsor to Toronto. It is easy to get a taxi in Detroit that will take you to Windsor, or vice-versa. Most taxi drivers based in Windsor seem to have passports and are used to crossing the border.

  • Member since
    August, 2005
  • From: At the Crossroads of the West
  • 8,590 posts
Posted by Deggesty on Monday, December 11, 2017 7:57 PM

GARTH STEVENSON

 

 
Tucker

Back in the 90's our family traveled from Chicago to Toronto via AMTRAK/VIA's INTERNATIONAL. That train was discontinued sometime after 9/11.  Today AMTRAK has the BLUE WATER that leaves Chicago and terminates in Port Huron, MI while a VIA train across the river travels from Sarnia, ON to Toronto.  

Has anyone traveled on these two trains and has found a way to connect between Port Huron and Sarnia?  Any suggestions? 

 

 

 

Amtrak arrives at Port Huron late in the evening and Via Rail leaves Sarnia early in the morning, so you would miss a night's sleep by trying to make this "connection". A better option is to use Amtrak from Chicago to Detroit and  Via Rail from Windsor to Toronto. It is easy to get a taxi in Detroit that will take you to Windsor, or vice-versa. Most taxi drivers based in Windsor seem to have passports and are used to crossing the border.

 

 

The taxi situation in both cities may have changed in the nine years since my wife and I went to Ottawa through Detroit and Windsor--we had to wait in both cities for a taxi the driver of which had a passport.

Johnny

  • Member since
    January, 2008
  • 534 posts
Posted by Sunnyland on Monday, December 11, 2017 8:02 PM

Times have changed.  When parents and I did that route years ago, it was on GTW and we crossed border at Pt. Huron, customs boarded at Sarnia and asked routine questions, we stayed on train all the way to Toronto.  Same way coming home in reverse, with customs boarding at Pt. Huron.  But it's 2 different RR's today, so causes confusion.  

  • Member since
    August, 2005
  • From: At the Crossroads of the West
  • 8,590 posts
Posted by Deggesty on Monday, December 11, 2017 8:27 PM

I do not remember how it was when I went to Toronto from Chicago in 1984; the customs people in Sarnia were not frightening in the least, nor were the U.S. customs people in Niagara Falls overbearing. 

In 1989, we went through customs in Vancover, Rouses Point, Cantic--and Port Huron. The first three were quick--and at the fourth, we were asked one question: "Are you two hitched?"

Johnny

  • Member since
    September, 2013
  • 1,945 posts
Posted by Miningman on Tuesday, December 12, 2017 8:44 PM

402_403 at CPR John Street roundhouse. These units will be dispatched on Number 329 
the "Buffalo" an overnight sleeper train to New York City. 
Leaving Union Station 7.35 P.M. Daily.

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy

Search the Community