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Ontario Southern & Great Lakes

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Ontario Southern & Great Lakes

Ontario Southern & Great Lakes

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Owner: Jeremy Oreskovich

Routes: The main routes of the OS&GL pretty much follow the southern three Great Lakes. The main line runs from Montreal to Toronto and on to Cambridge and London, there splitting, one line to Windsor and another to Sarnia (Sound like CN? There's your prototype...) CN does exist in Southern Ontario in my little world, but not to the extent it does today. The line from London to Windsor follows the St.L&H right-of-way instead of CN, and the route to Sarnia is a little north of the real CN, meeting up just outside of Sarnia to proceed through the St. Clair Tunnel (double tracked in 1989) and on to Chicago via the GTW main. At Burlington, Ontario the line splits off to the south through Fort Erie/Buffalo and again splits east/west one line to Detroit via Cleveland and Toledo and the other to Rochester and then south to NYC (trackage rights to NYC are handled via New York Central's Water Level Route).

Notable on the main lines from Montreal to both Chicago and New York are high-speed electrified passenger lines. In 1994, dedicated rails were laid for the passenger service (the Great Lakes Lightning) from Toronto to Chicago via Sarnia using German ICE passenger equipment. The Lightning is separate from VIA Rail Canada and is the jewel in OS&GL's crown. Plans are afoot to elecrify the service to New York as well to link up with the Acela providing high-speed service from Chicago to New York.

History: The Ontario Southern & Great Lakes and the Ontario Northland railways are intertwined throughout their respective histories. The OS&GL was formed in 1878 from the ashes of the less-than-sucessful Upper Canada and Huron (which itself dated from before Confederation in 1867) and had the goal of bringing rail service to and linking the communities of Southern Ontario and adjoining areas. In 1919 the OS&GL purchased the financially struggling Grand Trunk Western railway incorporating it into normal operations over the next ten years.

In the meantime the Ontario government, with the aim of expanding colonization to Ontario's North, formed the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario (true) which operated as a department of the Ontario government. Until 1936, that is, when the findings of the Roche Report on Monopolies (also true) found that the government's influence in the railroad was corruptive and counterproductive. Mr. J Bourne, a member of the board of OS&GL and also of the T&NO proposed a partial Ontario Southern buyout of the gov't's 100% share; at first only 30% but that was to expand over the next few years. By 1941, Ontario Southern was to own a majority stake in the railway.

This expansion had a price, however. A financially unsound OS&GL teetered on the brink of bankruptcy through the 1940's and early 50's until an expatriate German named Scheib took over as chairman. Using his German railway connections, he restructured the railway to operate more on the European model and this allowed the railway to regain it's financial footing.

The legacy of the German restructuring can be felt to this day. DB owns a share of OS&GL and Ontario Northland (renamed in 1945) and the operations and equipment are somewhat different than that of other North American railways. For example, the final steam engines on the road are ex Reichsbahn 2-10-0's bought in 1954 and used for local freight around Sarnia, Ontario until 1960. OS&GL still runs it's own local passenger service using railbuses and express trains (the main southern lines were electrified in the late 50's).

Freightwise, the "Big Engine" theory expoused by Union Pacific was shared on the Canadian line. OS&GL was in on the Krauss Maffei purchase in the 60's (passing some on to Ontario Northland and buying remaindered SP units for ONR use) and also experimented with turbine engines. The most recent innovation is the adoption of the DB Cargosprinter idea where cab-equipped powered flatcars tow small intermodal trains (3-4 cars) on special express runs for single customers. The timetables are flexible and because each train goes to one location only, arrival times are all but guaranteed.

The German influence can be seen in all elements of capital procurement on the Ontario Southern, resulting in a railroad unlike anything else in North America. Krauss Maffei ML4000's can still be found plying most of Ontario Southern's trackage. The present locomotive roster includes Alco C643H's (built by MLW with "Draper Taper"-style carbodies), remanufactured UP turbines, and six C855's (also with carbodies). In fact, the railroad will only purchase carbody-style locomotives.

Since the late 70's, most of the railroad's capital improvement and some research work has been done at OS&GL's own erecting shop/factory in Oakville Ontario (the K-M's were basically rebuilt here in the mid Eighties) and Pettengill Locomotive Manufacturing also does work for other railways.

As a result of the odd policies, the railroad has a distinct European flavour. The latest purchase of ten EMD GT46MAC's (see EMD's website) only continues this practice.

The future continues to look bright for the OS&GL.
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