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 cities of Cincinnati, Dayton,Springfield, Columbus, and Toledo. It had a substantial freight business and interchanged with other interurbans to serve Detroit and Cleveland. 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. The C&LE failed because of the weak economy and the loss of interchange partners and 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 passenger cars and freight locomotives. He spent $500,000 to acquire the railroad and $1.5 million on improvements. The company's prospects improved, and in 1929 it handled 83,000 short tons (75,000 t) of freight in Cincinnati. Conway contemplated an extensive to Toledo, Ohio and thence to Detroit where the C&HD could tap the lucrative automotive industry.
The CH&D acquired the Indiana, Columbus and Eastern and the Lima-Toledo as the two teetered at the edge of bankruptcy. These acquisitions gave the new Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad access to Toledo. In early January, 1930, the three combined lines were officially incorporated as the Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad.
Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad
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 Division, Columbus Division, and the Toledo Division. The company operating center was located in Dayton, Ohio. At Toledo it had connections with other interurbans to Detroit and Cleveland.
The Columbus Division ran parallel to U.S. Route 40, meeting the Toledo Division in Springfield, Ohio. There was substantial street trackage in both Springfield and Dayton, leading to friction with municipal authorities. 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, ran parallel to the route of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
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 after a prolonged freight agent strike. The loss of these vital connections proved fatal to the C&LE's prospects. At Dayton it interchanged with the Dayton and Western Traction Company 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. The company finally failed in 1937.
Part of Conway's effort to rejuvenate the C&LE involved new rolling stock on faster passenger schedules. To that end 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. 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 car #126 and an airplane; the car "won" after topping out at 97 miles per hour (156 km/h). The Red Devils operated on 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 and Toledo, 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. The expanded freight business created tension with local municipalities who did not appreciate heavy freight motors operating on their streets, mixing with automobiles and pedestrians. Springfield finally sued the C&LE for damages to the city streets and won damages which the railroad was unable to pay.
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.
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- 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.
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