Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad
|Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad|
C&LE #119, one of the famed "Red Devils", at the Ohio Railway Museum in 1966
|Dates of operation||1930–1939|
|Predecessor||Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton Railway|
|Length||323 miles (520 km)|
The Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad (C&LE) was a short-lived electric interurban railway that operated in 1930-1939 Depression-era Ohio and ran between the major Ohio cities of Cincinnati, Dayton,Springfield, Columbus, and Toledo. It interchanged with other interurban lines to serve Detroit,Clevelandand Indianapolis. Its twenty high-speed "Red Devil" interurban passenger cars operated daily between Cincinnati and Cleveland via Toledo, the longest such run by an interurban in the United States. With its interchange partners, it had a substantial freight business from central and southern Ohio to heavily industrialized Cleveland. The C&LE failed because of the weak Depression-era economy and the eventual loss of its vital interurban interchange partners. It ceased operating in 1939.
The Cincinnati and Lake Erie was legally formed as a corporate entity in January, 1930, from the consolidation of three existing 1929 electric interurban lines: the Cincinnati, Hamilton, and Dayton (CH&D); the Indiana, Columbus and Eastern (IC&E); and the Lima-Toledo Railroad (LT). The combination of these three companies created an interurban system that operated a south-north line from Cincinnati through Dayton and Springfield to Toledo, and an east bound line from Springfield to Columbus.
The Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton Railway was reorganized in 1926 by Dr. Thomas Conway, Jr, a professor of business at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. He made substantial investments in infrastructure and rolling stock, including purchasing new passenger cars and freight locomotives. He borrowed from banks and spent $500,000 to acquire the interurban railroad and $1.5 million on improvements. The company's business improved, and in 1929 it handled 83,000 short tons (75,000 t) of freight in Cincinnati. Conway contemplated an extension to Toledo, Ohio and thence to Detroit where the CH&D could tap the lucrative automotive industry. He then acquired the Indiana, Columbus and Eastern and the Lima-Toledo interurbans as the two teetered at the edge of bankruptcy. In early January, 1930, the three combined lines were officially incorporated as the Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad, and thus Conway was provided access to Toledo, and with connections there to two other interurbans, access to heavily industrialized Detroit and Cleveland. The new company issued $3.7 million in stock and $3.5 million in bonds and began a round of infrastructure improvements. The timing proved unfortunate for the C&LE: this borrowing came as the United States entered the Great Depression, which lasted through the end of the 1930s. The new railroad totaled 323 miles (520 km), organized into three operating divisions: Cincinnati, Columbus, and Toledo Divisions. The company's operating center was in Dayton, Ohio. The Columbus Division from ran parallel to U.S. Route 40, meeting the Toledo Division at Springfield, Ohio. There was substantial street trackage in both Springfield and Dayton leading to friction with the municipal authorities due to traffic congestion with cars and destruction of the brick streets. The Cincinnati Division followed the old towpath of the Miami and Erie Canal for part of its route. The Toledo Division, formerly the Lima-Toledo Traction, ran parallel to the route of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
Improving passenger and freight service
Part of Conway's effort to rejuvenate the C&LE involved new rolling stock running faster passenger schedules, so in 1929 the C&LE ordered twenty lightweight "Red Devil" cars from the Cincinnati Car Company. These cars featured Art deco styling and a distinctive bright red paint scheme and used considerable aluminum. C&LE's engineering department working with the Cincinnati Car Company designed unique lightweight high speed passenger cars. Twenty were purchased in 1930, and the bright red cars came to be called "Red Devils." The Cincinnati & Lake Erie's 260 mile Cincinnati-Toledo-Detroit Red Devil run was the longest same-equipment interurban passenger trip historically in the United States. Three round trips operated daily. For many years, its 315-mile Cincinnati-Toledo-Cleveland route was the longest same equipment interurban freight run in the United States. Half of the cars were outfitted as parlor cars with first class seating. To demonstrate the new equipment, the C&LE staged a race between Red Devil #126 and an airplane. The car "won" after topping out at 97 miles per hour (156 km/h). The Red Devils operated on express and local daily service between Cincinnati–Toledo–Detroit (260 miles (420 km)) and Cincinnati–Toledo–Cleveland (315 miles (507 km)). These were the longest through operations the same equipment on any interurban in the United States.
To improve freight service the C&LE guaranteed overnight delivery between Cincinnati via Toledo to Cleveland, a service conventional steam railroads did not offer. This enabled the C&LE to secure new business, notably that of a Frigidaire plant near Dayton. The overnight service had the additional benefit of not interfering the new, fast "Red Devil" passenger interurbans. The C&LE also established through rates with some steam railroads. At Toledo the C&LE interchanged with the Lake Shore Electric Railway (LSE) for Cleveland and the Eastern Michigan Railway for Detroit. The Detroit connection ended in 1932 when the Eastern Michigan abandoned operations. The LSE abandoned operations in 1938 immediately when its freight agents went on strike. The loss of these vital freight exchange connections proved fatal to the C&LE's prospects. At Dayton it interchanged with the Dayton and Western for Indianapolis. By the 1930s, the D&W was so weak that the C&LE, in conjunction with the Indiana Railroad, provided the financial support to keep it operating. But eventually they no longer had the funds to do so, and the D&W finally failed in 1937.
The C&LE was remarkable because of how much freight that it handled for an interurban trolley line that in open country ran fast but in cities and towns ran slow multiple car trains down the center of streets and made sharp streetcar style turns at intersections. At Toledo, it handled 17 tons of freight daily on average according to Conway. It had connections with neighboring interurbans that allowed it to ship freight east to Cleveland (Lake Shoe Electric), north to Detroit (Eastern Michigan Railway), and west to Indianapolis and Ft. Wayne (Dayton and Western.) The expanded freight business created tension with local municipalities who did not want heavy freight motors operating on their streets, mixing with automobiles and pedestrians. Springfield finally sued the C&LE for damages of city streets and won damages which the railroad was unable to pay.
It transported enough freight to be serious competition to the region's steam railroads who could not meet its guaranteed 5pm to 8am overnight delivery from Cincinnati to Cleveland and elsewhere. The C&LE constantly struggled financially due to expenses always exceeding income except in 1936, plus periodically it fought floods that required very costly replacement of track, bridges, and electrical systems. Costly lawsuits resulted from fatal Red Devil wrecks. When its absolutely essential Toledo-Cleveland freight interchange partner (Lake Shore Electric) abandoned operations in 1938 due to an employee strike, the resulting dramatic loss of freight business forced the C&LE to abandon the next year. There are five reasons why the C&LE ultimately failed: the devastating impact of the Great Depression on the nation's and Ohio's economy from 1930 to 1940; increasing car use by former interurban riders and growing truck competition for freight shippers on an expanding network of new roads and highways; the operation of up to 12-car freight trains snaking through city and town streets which slowed delivery plus were a source of town anger; the lack of protective block signals on a very busy single track system which led to wrecks and lawsuits Had the C&LE and the Lake Shore Electric survived to the beginning of World War Two, they would have continued to operate through the war years due to a burst of business, but afterward they would have eventually quit due to overwhelming competition from trucks for freight shipments and automobiles for passengers.
The C&LE did not employ block signaling on the signal track portions of its network, relying on a system of train orders. The C&LE experienced several fatal wrecks in the 1930s; the settlement costs combined with the loss of rolling stock exceeded the cost of installing block signals.
Competition with a growing population of automobiles riding on state paved highways and the financial impact of the Depression led to a decline in C&LE passenger business. The freight business collapsed as the C&LE's interchange partners went out of business. The C&LE ceased operations in 1939. The innovative Red Devils were sold after abandonment: six to the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway (CRANDIC) and thirteen to the Lehigh Valley Transit Company.
- Middleton 1961, p. 147
- Keenan 1974, pp. 35–52
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- Harwood, Herbert (2000). Lake Shore Electric Railway Story. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-33797-6.
- Hilton, George W.; Due, John Fitzgerald (1960). The Electric Interurban Railways in America. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0804705534. OCLC 237973.
- Keenan, Jack (1974). Cincinnati & Lake Erie Railroad: Ohio's Great Interurban System. Corona Del Mar, CA: Golden West Books. ISBN 0-8709-5055-X.
- Keenan, Jack (2001). "The Fight for Survival: the C&LE and the Great Depression". Indiana Historical Society.
- Middleton, William D. (1961). The interurban era. Milwaukee, WI: Kalmbach Publishing. ISBN 0-8902-4003-5. OCLC 4357897.
- Middleton, William D.(2), The Interurbans Vol III: Interurban Freight, 182 pp, Golden West Books, San Marino, CA., 1985. (ISBN 9780-870950-858)
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