1891 : St. Clair Railroad Tunnel Completed

September 19, 2020 all-day
Port Huron, Michigan, United States
to Sarnia, Ontario, Canada
Completed 1891

The St. Clair tunnel between Sarnia and Port Huron was opened on September 19, 1891. It was built by the Grand Trunk Railway and it was the first railroad tunnel to connect two countries.

The first St. Clair Tunnel remains an engineering wonder even after more than one hundred years in operation. Running under the St. Clair River, which joins Lake Huron to Lake St. Clair, the single bore tunnel provided a link between Port Huron, Michigan, USA and Sarnia, Ontario. On October 24, 1891, the first revenue freight train passed through the tunnel from Port Huron to Sarnia, however, it was not until December 7th that the first passenger train travelled through the tunnel. The ferry boats were then removed from service. In 1898, one was transferred to Grand Trunk’s Windsor ferry operation while the other was sold.

Photo from HAER MICH,74-POHU,3–15 from mi0363
Photocopy of Illustration (original in Scientific American, 9 August 1890), photographer unknown. DRAWING SHOWING THE TUNNELING SHIELD AT WORK, WITH SEGMENT HOIST AND WORKMEN, 1890. – St. Clair Tunnel, Under St. Clair River between Port Huron, MI, & Sarnia, ON, Canada, Port Huron, St. Clair County, MI

A Day’s Pay According to tunnel records, the following pay rates were established for the 600-700 laborers required for this 1891 project:

  1. 17.5 cents per hour for diggers
  2. 15 cents per hour for erectors
  3. 12.5 cents per hour for others
  4. One additional dollar per day for working in compressed air

On May 5, 1995, a new railroad tunnel between Sarnia and Port Huron was dedicated. This new tunnel courtesy of the Canadian National Railroad was built due to the increase in size of railroad cars and increased traffic.


Kane, Joseph Nathan; Anzovin, Steven; Podell, Janet (1997). Famous first facts: a record of first happenings, discoveries, and inventions in American history (Fifth ed.). New York: The H. W. Wilson Company. ISBN 0-8242-0930-3. The first underwater railroad tunnel to a foreign country was the St. Clair Railway tunnel between Port Huron, MI, and Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, which was opened for freight traffic on September 19, 1891, and for passenger traffic on December 7. The tunnel was designed and built under the supervision of Joseph Hobson, chief engineer of the Grand Trunk Railway (later the Canadian National Railways), at a cost of $2.7 million. Its length from portal to portal was 6,025 feet.

CN/GTW St. Clair Tunnels at Port Huron, MI“, Industrial History, February 3, 2019.

St. Clair Tunnel, ASCE.

St. Clair River Tunnel, Michigan.gov

St. Clair Tunnel Wikipedia Entry.

St. Clair Tunnel Company Web Site.