Oshawa and Electric Rail

By Adam A., Summer Student

Hello once again! While working of the Discover Historic Oshawa website I learned many new details about the city. One particularly surprising detail being that the City of Oshawa has a surprisingly long history with electric rail.

The Oshawa Railway, incorporated in 1887, used electricity to power its street cars and the “shunters” which pulled freight around between factories and the major rail systems. For most of its history, the OR was entirely electric. The only exceptions being early on when some, as of yet unelectrified, sections were handled by small steam engines and after June of 1964 when all electrified operations of the OR ceased.


Oshawa’s next flirtation with electric rail came in 1923, when the Toronto Eastern Railway came to town and promptly died. The Toronto Eastern Railway was a subsidiary of by the industrialist William Mackenzie’s Canadian Northern Railway. It was to be a “high speed” electric railway intended by Mackenzie to better connect Ontario’s urban centres. It was incorporated in 1910, but the outbreak of the First World War delayed construction, a fact not helped by the parent company defaulting on its debts and being acquired by the federal government in 1917. The line would only be built out to Oshawa in 1923 and was abandoned the following year due to lack of funding.

Oshawa Railway Line Map, 1920

Oshawa had another near brush with an electric line in the 1980s. The Government of Ontario set its hopes on expanding GO service out to Oshawa by means of an express light rail between downtown Oshawa and the Pickering GO Station. These were to be electric vehicles travelling at an average of 70km/h. In the mid-1980s, changes in federally legislated rail right of way and difficulties developing the ALRT vehicle, prompted the Government of Ontario to abandon the project in favour of extending conventional GO service out to Oshawa.

Will electric rail come to Oshawa again? Will it even be proposed again? Well, there’s no way to know for sure, but some sort of zero carbon emission mass transit system is probably going to be proposed at some point, perhaps as a new transportation project, or perhaps as a modification of the existing passenger rail infrastructure.

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