Postcard depiction of the 20th Century Limited train being pulled by a Lake Shore and Michigan Southern locomotive, ca. 1905.

(Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



The Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway, established in 1833, and sometimes referred to as the Lake Shore, was a major part of the New York Central Railroad's Water Level Route from Buffalo, New York, to Chicago, Illinois, primarily along the south shore of Lake Erie (in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio) and across northern Indiana. The line's trackage remains a major rail transportation corridor used by Amtrak passenger trains and several freight lines; in 1998, its ownership was split at Cleveland, Ohio, between CSX Transportation to the east and Norfolk Southern Railway in the west.


1850 map of the Michigan Southern Rail Road with connections.

(Michigan Southern Railroad, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



Early history: 1835–1869

Toledo to Chicago

On April 22, 1833, the Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad was chartered in the Territory of Michigan, to run from the former Port Lawrence, Michigan, now Toledo, Ohio, near Lake Erie, northwest to Adrian, Michigan, on the River Raisin. The Toledo War soon gave about one-third of the route to the state of Ohio. Horse-drawn trains began operating on November 2, 1836; the horses were replaced by a newly arrived steam locomotive, Adrian No. 1, in August 1837.

The Buffalo and Mississippi Railroad was chartered in Indiana on February 6, 1835, to run from Buffalo, New York, to the Mississippi River. The name was changed on February 6, 1837, to the Northern Indiana Railroad, which would run from the eastern border of Indiana, west to Michigan City, Indiana, on Lake Michigan. Some grading between Michigan City, and La Porte, Indiana, was done in 1838, but money ran out.


LSMS double arch bridge over the East Branch of the Huron River, just west of Norwalk, Ohio.

A similar, but smaller-sized bridge, exists to the east in the Ohio town of Wakeman.

(Afries52 at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


Around 1838, the state of Michigan started to build the Southern Railroad, running from Monroe, Michigan, on Lake Erie, west to New Buffalo, Michigan, on Lake Michigan. The first section, from Monroe, west to Petersburg, Michigan, opened in 1839. Extensions opened in 1840, to Adrian, and 1843, to Hillsdale, Michigan. On May 9, 1846, the partially completed line was sold to the Michigan Southern Rail Road, which changed the planned western terminal to Chicago, using the charter of the Northern Indiana Railroad. The grading that had been done was not used, as the grade was too steep, and instead the original Buffalo and Mississippi Railroad charter was used west of La Porte. The Michigan Southern leased the Erie and Kalamazoo on August 1, 1849, giving it a branch to Toledo, and a connection to planned railroads to the east.

Due to lobbying by the Michigan Central Railroad, a competitor of the Michigan Southern, the latter's charter prevented it from going within two miles (3.2 km) of the Indiana state line east of Constantine, Michigan. However, the most practical route went closer than two miles, west of White Pigeon, Michigan. To allow for this, Judge Stanfield, of South Bend, Indiana, bought the right-of-way from White Pigeonm to the state line, and leased it to the railroad company for about 10 years, until the charter was modified to allow the company to own it.

The Northern Indiana and Chicago Railroad was chartered on November 30, 1850. Its initial tracks, from the Michigan Southern at the state line running west-southwest to Elkhart, Indiana, then west through Osceola, Indiana, and Mishawaka, Indiana, to South Bend, opened on October 4, 1851. The full line west to Chicago, opened on February 20, 1852, (running to the predecessor of Englewood station, together with the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad). A more direct line was soon planned from Elkhart, east to Toledo, and the Northern Indiana Railroad was chartered in Ohio, on March 3, 1851. On July 8, 1853, the Ohio and Indiana companies merged, and on February 7, 1855, the Northern Indiana and Chicago Railroad and the Buffalo and Mississippi Railroad were merged into the Northern Indiana Railroad. On April 25, 1855, that company in turn merged with the Michigan Southern Rail Road to form the Michigan Southern and Northern Indiana Railroad. In 1858,  the new alignment (Northern Indiana Air Line) from Elkhart, east to Air Line Junction, in Toledo, was completed. The company now owned a main line from Chicago to Toledo, with an alternate route through southern Michigan, east of Elkhart, and a branch off that alternate to Monroe. Also included was the Detroit, Monroe and Toledo Railroad, leased July 1, 1856, and providing a branch from Toledo, past Monroe, to Detroit, Michigan.

Erie to Cleveland

The Franklin Canal Company was chartered on May 21, 1844, and built a railroad from Erie, Pennsylvania, southwest to the Ohio border. The Cleveland, Painesville and Ashtabula Railroad was incorporated February 18, 1848, to build northeast from Cleveland, to join the Canal Company's railroad at the state line, and the full line from Erie to Cleveland, opened November 20, 1852. The Cleveland, Painesville and Ashtabula bought the Franklin Canal Company on June 20, 1854.


Buffalo to Erie

The Buffalo and State Line Railroad was incorporated October 13, 1849, and opened January 1, 1852, from Dunkirk, New York, west to Pennsylvania. The rest of the line from Dunkirk to Buffalo, opened on February 22. The Erie and North East Railroad was chartered April 12, 1842, to build the part from the state line west to Erie, and opened on January 19, 1852. On November 16, 1853, an agreement was made between the two railroads, which had been built at 6 ft (1,829 mm) broad gauge, to relay the rails at 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge to match the Franklin Canal Company's railroad (see below) on the other side of Erie, and for the Buffalo and State Line to operate the Erie and Northeast. This would result in through passengers no longer having to change trains at Erie, and on December 7, 1853, the Erie Gauge War began between the railroads and the townspeople. On February 1, 1854, the relaying was finished and the first train passed through Erie. On May 15, 1867, the two companies between Buffalo and Erie merged to form the Buffalo and Erie Railroad.


Cleveland to Toledo

The Junction Railroad was chartered March 2, 1846, to build from Cleveland, west to Toledo. The Toledo, Norwalk and Cleveland Railroad was chartered March 7, 1850, to build from Toledo, east to Grafton, Ohio, on the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad. The latter company opened on January 24, 1853, finally forming a continuous Buffalo-Chicago line. On September 1, the two companies merged to form the Cleveland and Toledo Railroad, with the Junction Railroad becoming the Northern Division and the Toledo, Norwalk and Cleveland, the Southern Division. The Northern Division opened from Cleveland, west to Sandusky, Ohio, on October 24, 1853, and the rest of the way to Toledo, on April 24, 1855. The Northern Division was abandoned west of Sandusky, due to lack of business, but the track was re-laid in 1872, merging with the Southern Division, at Millbury, Ohio, east of Toledo. In 1866, the Southern Division, east of Oberlin, Ohio, was abandoned and a new line was built to Elyria, Ohio, on the Northern Division, ending the use of the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad.



In October 1867, the Cleveland, Painesville and Ashtabula Railroad leased the Cleveland and Toledo Railroad. The CP&A changed its name to the Lake Shore Railway on March 31, 1868, and on February 11, 1869, the Lake Shore absorbed the Cleveland and Toledo. On April 6, the Michigan Southern and Northern Indiana Railroad and Lake Shore merged to form the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway, which absorbed the Buffalo and Erie Railroad on June 22, giving one company the whole route from Buffalo to Chicago. The main route passed through Dunkirk; Erie; Ashtabula, Ohio; Cleveland; Toledo; Waterloo, Indiana; and South Bend. An alternate route, the Sandusky Division, in Ohio, ran north of the main line between Elyria, and Millbury, Ohio, not all track was laid until 1872. From Toledo to Elkhart, the Old Road ran to the north, through southern Michigan, and the through route was called the Air Line Division or Northern Indiana Air Line. Along with various branches that had been acquired (see below), the Monroe Branch ran east from Adrian, to Monroe, where it intersected the leased Detroit, Monroe and Toledo Railroad. At some point the original line to Toledo was abandoned west of the branch to Jackson, Michigan, the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Railroad, with the new connection at Lenawee Junction, the crossing between that branch and the line to Monroe.


Gold Bond of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway Company, issued 1 June 1897.

(Unbekannte Autoren und Grafiker; Scan vom EDHAC e.V., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway: 1869–1914

Around 1877, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and his New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, gained a majority of stock of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway. The line provided an ideal extension of the New York Central main line from Buffalo, west to Chicago, along with the route across southern Ontario, the Canada Southern Railway and the Michigan Central Railroad.


The Elkhart, Indiana shops in 1903.

(F.S. Timmins, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


New York Central Railroad: 1914–1968

On December 22, 1914, the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad merged with the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway to form the New York Central Railroad. While the original main line was to the south of Sandusky Bay, between Toledo and Elyria, the northern alignment, the Sandusky Division, eventually became the main line.


A 0-10-0 "Decapod" switching locomotive of 1907.

(Andy Dingley (scanner), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


Post-NYC: 1968–present

In 1968, the New York Central merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad to form the Penn Central Transportation Company, Penn Central, which two years later, filed for bankruptcy. In 1976, it became part of Conrail. In 1976, the Southern Division, from Elyria to Millbury, was abandoned, with parts of the former right of way now in use as a recreational trail, the North Coast Inland Trail. Under Conrail, the Lake Shore main line was part of the New York City–Chicago, Chicago Line.

In 1998, Conrail was split between CSX and Norfolk Southern. The Chicago Line east of Cleveland, went to CSX, and was split into several subdivisions: the Lake Shore Subdivision, from Buffalo, to Erie, the Erie West Subdivision, from Erie, to east of Cleveland, and the Cleveland Terminal Subdivision, into downtown Cleveland. From the former Cleveland and Pittsburgh Railroad junction in Cleveland, west to Chicago, the line is now Norfolk Southern's Chicago Line.

Amtrak's New York City–Chicago Lake Shore Limited runs along the full route from Buffalo west. The Capitol Limited joins in Cleveland, at the "Amtrak Connection" from the former Pennsylvania Railroad, C&P line, just east of the present Cleveland Station (MP 181), on its way from Washington, D.C., to Chicago. Passenger trains along the route originally terminated at LaSalle Street Station, but now run to Union Station, switching to the parallel former Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railway, Pennsylvania Railroad, at a crossover in Whiting, Indiana, Indiana, (41.68480°N 87.49534°W) to get there.



A major branch of the LS&MS extended from Northeastern Ohio, to the coal and oil fields of northwestern Pennsylvania, terminating near Brookville. Originally the line extended to the oil fields and refineries on the Allegheny River, at Franklin, and Oil City, Pennsylvania.

The line was later extended from Polk Junction, west of Franklin, to Rose, Pennsylvania, just west of Brookville. Also added was a connector south from Franklin, to the Allegheny River crossing on the new extension. This line included perhaps the most impressive engineering structures on the LS&MS, as well as the later NYC, with several large trestles, bridges, and tunnels, near Brookville, including a bridge-tunnel-bridge-tunnel-fill combination near Piney, Pennsylvania, and two magnificent trestles west of Brookville, near Corsica, Pennsylvania. The New York Central used trackage rights over the Pennsylvania Railroad and the B&O Railroad to connect from Rose to NYC lines at Clearfield, Pennsylvania.

There were several mines on this line near Brookville, as well as a connection to the Lake Erie, Franklin and Clarion (LEF&C) at Sutton, Pennsylvania, and connections to the Pennsylvania Railroad, and via the Pennsy, to the Pittsburgh & Shawmut, at Brookville.

Once coal traffic dried up in the late 1990s, this line was severed and cut back to the mine at Piney. Many of the larger trestles were taken out in the late 2000s, reportedly on orders of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), although the bridge across the Clarion River survived, as of 2015.


A Gallery of Locomotives


20th Century Limited led by 4-6-0 No. 604. (The original uploader was Cornischong at Luxembourgish Wikipedia., CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)


LS&MS 4-4-0 American No. 599, 1893. (Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons)

LS&MS Ten-Wheeler No. 563, built by Brooks, 1893. (Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons)

LS&MS 2-8-0 No. 1000 with schematic diagrams, 1903. (Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons) 

LS&MS Brooks-built 4-4-0 American No. 599, 1893. (Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons)

In 1907, this was "The Largest Passenger Locomotive in the World. A 2-6-2 "Prairie"-type for the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern. (Andy Dingley (scanner), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


LS&MS 0-6-0 No. 368 with slope back tender, 1903.  (Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons)

Postcard photo of the inspection engine "Chicago" of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad in 1910. (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Station listing

For a list of stations click HERE.


This is a map of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway as of 1914 drawn on the New York Central system as of 1918, with trackage rights in yellow.

(By No machine-readable author provided. NE2 assumed (based on copyright claims). - No machine-readable source provided.

Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., Public Domain,



Locale: Buffalo, NY to Chicago, IL
Dates of operation: 1839–1914
Successor: New York Central Railroad
Track gauge: 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Previous gauge: 6 ft (1,829 mm)