The Pere Marquette Railroad was incorporated on November 1, 1899 in anticipation of a merger of three Michigan-based railroad companies that had been agreed upon by all parties. It began operations on January 1, 1900, absorbing the following companies:
The 2004 film The Polar Express featured steam locomotive Pere Marquette 1225. The train in the movie (not the same train in the popular children's book) was a model of #1225 based on measurements and recordings of the 1225. It is the locomotive that Chris Van Allsberg said was the inspiration for the book, having seen it as a child when it was on the Michigan State University campus. The locomotive was scheduled to be at the premiere in Grand Rapids, where the writer was born, but was canceled because of interferences with the schedule of CSX. It is now housed and maintained at the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, Michigan.
On July 20, 1907 an excursion train carrying 800 passengers from Ionia to Detroit collided near Salem with a freight train, killing 31 and injuring 101. The accident apparently happened because of a hand-written schedule on unlined paper whose columns did not line up, and was misread by the freight crew. The Interstate Commerce Commission investigation also cited safety violations, including use of pine instead of oak for car walls and the omission of steel plates required for mail cars. This was Michigan's worst rail disaster.
Routes and current disposition
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Postcard illustration of sinking ferry 18, with ferry 17 coming to its aid.
On September 10, 1910, Pere Marquette 18 was bound for Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from Ludington, Michigan, with a load of 29 railroad freight cars and 62 persons. Near midnight, the vessel began to take on massive amounts of water. The captain dumped nine railroad cars into Lake Michigan, but this was no use—the ship was going down. The Pere Marquette 17, traveling nearby, picked up the distress call and sped to assist the foundering vessel. Soon after it arrived and it could come alongside, the Pere Marquette 18 sank with the loss of 28 lives; there were 33 survivors.