Indiana Railroad

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Indiana Railroad Interurban
Dates of operation1930–1941
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
HeadquartersIndianapolis, Indiana

The Indiana Railroad (IR) was the last of the typical Midwestern United States interurban lines. It was formed in 1930-31 by combining the operations of the five major interurban systems in central Indiana into one entity. The predecessor companies came under the control of Midland Utilities, owned by Samuel Insull. It was Insull's plan to transform the Indiana interurban network into a new Indiana Railroad by modernizing the profitable routes and abandoning the unprofitable ones. With the onset of the Great Depression, the Insull empire collapsed and the Indiana Railroad was left with a decaying infrastructure and little hope for overcoming the growing competition of the automobile for passenger business and the truck for freight business. The IR faced bankruptcy in 1933, and receiver Bowman Elder was designated to run the company. Payments on bonded debt were suspended. Elder was able to keep the system virtually intact for four years, and IR operated about 600 miles (970 km) of interurban lines throughout Indiana during this period. During the late 1930s, the routes were abandoned one by one until a 1941 wreck with fatalities south of Indianapolis put an abrupt end to the last operation of interurbans in Indiana.

Predecessor interurban companies[edit]

Map of the Indiana Railroad showing predecessor lines.

The late 1890s was a time of horse-drawn carriages and wagons pulled along unpaved streets and roads, so the arrival of the town streetcar was appreciated. Some of these trolley lines eventually expanded into the countryside and by 1911 grew into hundreds of miles of interurban lines networked across Indiana. "When before we had moved by horse and carriage, we now rode on plush seats to places 20 miles (32 km), 30 miles (48 km), even 50 miles (80 km) distant."[1] In 1930, this unprofitable network became the new Indiana Railroad interurban. The plan was to increase both passenger and freight business and improve efficiency. A brief description of these IR predecessor interurban companies follows.

Union Traction Company[edit]

The Indiana Railroad was created on July 2, 1930 when Midland Utilities purchased the Union Traction Company of Indiana and transferred ownership to IR. Union Traction (UTC) was the largest interurban system in Indiana with 410 miles (660 km) of interurban trackage and 44 miles (71 km) of streetcar lines in Anderson, Elwood, Marion and Muncie. UTC was created in 1897 to operate an initial line between Anderson and Alexandria, and in 1902 came under the control of the Schoepf-McGowan Syndicate. UTC purchased or leased several neighboring interurban lines in short order: the Elwood and Alexandria was bought in 1903, the Indiana Northern in 1905, and the Indiana Muncie Hartford and Fort Wayne was leased in 1906. In 1906 UTC also purchased all of the Dayton and Muncie's trackage in Indiana. In 1910, UTC had a very bad wreck at Kingsland. Two wood bodied cars impacted head on, with one "telescoping" into the other, resulting in over forty fatalities.[2] This is considered the worst accident in the history of interurban transit. UTC absorbed the Indianapolis, New Castle, and Toledo in 1912 and extended its trackage from New Castle to Muncie, but it did not reach Toledo. Although it attempted a passenger revival with the purchase of new equipment, UTC went into decline in the 1920s along with the other Indiana interurban systems. In 1925, it entered receivership whereby it continued operating by delaying paying interest on its bonded debt. It survived this bankruptcy whole and passed into IR control in 1930 intact.

Interstate Public Service[edit]

At the same time as UTC was acquired, three other systems already owned by Midland Utilities were put under the control of IR. The largest was the Interstate Public Service Company (IPS), which was reorganized as an independent company known as Public Service Company of Indiana, but was operated under the auspices of IR. The IPS operated the line from Indianapolis to Louisville, which had been built between 1896 and 1907 under a variety of small independent lines. Through service between Indianapolis and Louisville was inaugurated over these separate lines in 1908, but it was not until 1912 that ownership of the different segments was consolidated and IPS was created. During the 1920s, IPS modernized its fleet of cars extensively. It operated extensive passenger services from Indianapolis to Louisville and operated suburban services around Louisville. By 1930 it was one of the strongest of the Indiana interurban lines. IPS operated three-car overnight sleeper trains each way between Indianapolis and Louisville during the years before the Great Depression. The all-steel interurban sleeper cars, with traction controls and motors removed, were purchased and used into the 1960s by British Columbia Railway. [Classic Trains, 2008]

Indiana Service Corporation[edit]

At the same time IPS became part of IR, the Indiana Service Corporation (ISC) did as well. ISC was the successor to the Fort Wayne and Wabash Valley Traction Company, a system that had been assembled from smaller predecessors around 1902. The FW&WV had gone into bankruptcy following the terrible Kingsland wreck of 1910, the worst interurban disaster ever, which had killed 41 people. It had been reorganized as the Fort Wayne and Northern Indiana, and it was this company that failed in 1919 and was purchased by ISC. ISC had also acquired two other lines, the Fort Wayne and Northwestern and the Marion and Bluffton Traction Company, in 1924 and 1926, respectively. In the 1920s, IPS purchased a group of heavy steel combines and coaches (class 400) from St. Louis Car Company. ISC was absorbed into IR essentially intact, with only the Battle Ground branch having been previously abandoned. The 400 class ISC cars were operated by Indiana Railroad along with IR's new high speed cars until abandonment. One of the combines was eventually purchased by the CSS&SB South Shore Line, where it still operates today as a catenary maintenance car.

Northern Indiana Power[edit]

Absorbed into IR along with ISC and IPS was the Northern Indiana Power Company, which was a successor to the old Kokomo Marion and Western Traction Company. This line was the smallest and weakest of the companies that were folded into IR.

Terre Haute Indianapolis and Eastern[edit]

It was not until a year later, on June 23, 1931, that the final piece of the IR system was added when the Terre Haute Indianapolis and Eastern (THI&E) was purchased at auction. The THI&E was the second-largest interurban system in Indiana, operating just over 400 miles (640 km) of interurban lines as well as streetcar service in several western Indiana cities. It operated branches out of Indianapolis west to Terre Haute and Brazil, to the university town of Lafayette, and east to Richmond. It stretched nearly from the eastern to the western boundaries of the state. Due to lack of operating revenue and funds, it had never modernized (as had Union Traction, for example), and was financially among the weakest of the Indiana lines. As a power utility it had profits, but the interurban division had been losing money for a decade. It fell into receivership (a form of bankruptcy where the company continues to operate but does not pay interest on its bonded debt) in 1930, and several major branches, including lines to Danville, Martinsville, Lafayette, Crawfordsville, Sullivan and Clinton were abandoned prior to absorption by IR in 1931. Its Indianapolis to Richmond line connecting with the Dayton and Western interurban was a very important IR link to the Ohio interurbans for interchange of freight. From 1930 to 1938, the Indiana Railroad and the Cincinnati and Lake Erie were very important to each other. IR quickly retired the very dated THI&E arch-windowed wood combines.[3][4][5]

The essential Dayton and Western connection[edit]

As mentioned above, the Indiana Railroad was able to interchange passengers and considerable freight with the very busy Cincinnati and Lake Erie interurban in Ohio, but the financially very weak Dayton and Western interurban was the essential rail link between the two companies. The 53 mile D&W tied into IR tracks at its west end at Richmond, Indiana, and into C&LE tracks at its eastern end at Dayton, Ohio. The D&W connection allowed the IR to ship freight from Indiana to Dayton, and from there on the C&LE north to Toledo and Cleveland, south to Cincinnati, and east to Columbus. Like many interurbans, the Dayton and Western struggled financially into the 1930s. Its track ran adjacent to the new U.S. Route 40 highway between Richmond and Dayton, and as the 1920s passed, the Dayton and Western crews apprehensively watched as more and more of their business moved onto that highway in the form of cars, trucks, and buses. From 1931 to 1933, the Cincinnati & Lake Erie leased the D&W to prop it up, and later in 1936, the IR took over the lease, but in May 1937 it had to drop the lease for lack of funds. Thus the D&W was forced to abandon operations. The resulting loss of revenue business to Ohio wounded the IR. In the good national economy of the early 1920s, the Terre Haute, Indianapolis, & Eastern (the predecessor to the IR on the Indianapolis to Richmond route) had combined with the D&W to run well-patronized express passenger interurbans and to interchange considerable freight the entire 108 miles between Dayton and Indianapolis, but those good days were over by the late 1920s.

Inherited rolling stock[edit]

This Fort Wayne & Wabash Valley all wood heavy interurban is typical of the numerous pre-1910 wood combines which were inherited by IR.

IR inherited a very large fleet of interurban cars from its various predecessor companies, totaling perhaps 100-150 interurban cars (of which about 60 were retained), probably 200 or so streetcars (of which about 150 were retained), around 50 pieces of freight equipment and about 55 work cars of various types.

The interurban cars varied considerably in age and design. A number of pre-1910 very large arch-windowed wooden combines that had survived in service on ISC and THI&E were disposed of within the first couple of years of IR's existence, leaving a fleet made up predominantly of heavy steel single-ended combines.[6] There were about half a dozen 400 class ISC combines, 30 UTC steel combines (including 15 modern cars only five years old), and nine of Interstate IPS's handsome heavyweight combines, parlor and sleeping cars. A few of these former Interstate cars were still operated by a British Columbia railroad in the 1990s. (Classic Trains Magazine, Sept 2008.)

The city cars, excluding earlier wooden types that were scrapped, consisted mainly of single-truck Birney cars inherited from UTC and THI&E. The only exceptions were a handful of double-truck cars left over from UTC and from IPS's suburban Louisville operations.

The freight and work equipment was a hodgepodge of mainly homebuilt designs, outdated passenger cars converted for alternate use, and secondhand equipment. Most of this equipment was quite old, but even some equipment dating to before 1905 remained in IR's employ for years. Some of the retired passenger coaches that were in better condition were rebuilt into box motors and utility cars.[6]

New rolling stock[edit]

Car number 65, now preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum, was built for IR by Pullman in 1931.

IR purchased two series of modern interurban cars during its life, and it was the first series - the famed Indiana Railroad High-Speeds - that always symbolized the railroad. When IR was created, its owners knew that they would have to modernize their fleet of interurban cars if they hoped to prevent further erosion of their ridership. In 1930 and 1931, IR designed a series of lightweight, low center of gravity, high-speed interurban cars that could operate quickly and economically on the far-flung IR network. The new cars owed much to the Cincinnati and Lake Erie lightweight cars built a year before. They were single-ended, low-floor cars designed for operation by a single man and were built largely of aluminum to save weight and, therefore, require less power to operate. The biggest difference from the C&LE cars was in the trucks: whereas the C&LE cars had smaller arch-bar trucks, the IR cars were designed with heavy Commonwealth cast steel trucks designed specifically for high-speed service and to cope with poor light rail track.[6]

A total of 35 cars was ordered. The first 14, cars 50-63, came from the American Car and Foundry and were deluxe cars with coach seating at the front and parlor car chairs at the back. The remaining 21 cars, numbered 64-84, came from Pullman and had all coach seating with a small baggage section at the rear. Delivery of the new high-speeds began in July 1931 and they were an immediate success, making it possible for IR to reduce running times on some of its routes and economize on its operations.

The second series of new cars was a group of ten Cummings-built lightweight cars that were bought in 1935. They were not brand new; they had been constructed in 1930 for the Northern Indiana Railway but had been seized by Cummings when the Northern Indiana couldn't pay for them. These cars were numbered 90-99.

Freight operation[edit]

Although considerable planning and expenditure in 1930 was going into improving the passenger operation, it was hoped to increase revenue from the IR's freight business. Less-than-carload (LCL) overnight deliveries between the various IR-linked towns (and to or from Ohio) was not available from the competing railroads; the latter typically required two to three days to complete a shipment. An example is delivering machined parts made in Terre Haute overnight to Fort Wayne auto manufacturer Auburn. Prior to 1930, cartage business already existed due to the interurban's ties to local power companies. At night the IR's arch windowed wood bodied box motors would rumble down the quiet brick streets of an Indiana town towing one or two gondolas loaded with coal for the local power plant. In some cases, freight trains operating on city streets became an objection of town councils, particularly if those trains operated during the day. Many merchants, newspapers, and small manufacturing companies used the frequent interurban scheduling provided. Had this freight business increased with an improving economy along with the greater sales generated by a motivated sales force, the IR would have had a promising future. The idea was a good one, but the national economy didn't improve. Instead, it collapsed further. When the Indiana Railroad lost its important freight interchange connection with neighboring interurban Dayton and Western (which connected at Dayton with the busy Cincinnati and Lake Erie interurban to the Ohio towns of Toledo, Cincinnati, Springfield, and Columbus) prospects for the line's survival were poor. The C&LE abandoned operations in early 1938 when it lost its interurban connection to Cleveland. The IR continued to barely survive with just Indiana freight business, but its lines were abandoned one by one. Today, one operation on IR track survives as the Southern Indiana Railroad between Speed and Watson Jct handling concrete from Essroc Cement for interchange with the CSX/B&O at Watson trains using diesel locomotives.


In its startup years just before the beginning of the unexpected Great Depression, the Indiana Railroad obtained funds for improving its physical plant and purchasing new interurban coaches and freight equipment. These funds were obtained by selling corporate stock and bonds. Interest was to be paid on the bonds semi-annually from operating income along with paying normal rail operating and business expenses, but the company's operating income declined and eventually became inadequate to repay the bond interest. This forced an eventual declaration of bankruptcy. The public's desire to travel by interurban diminished as the Depression deepened, plus more roads were being paved with more cars driven on them. On July 28, 1933, IR went into bankruptcy but continued to operate. Control was placed by bankruptcy court into the hands of receiver Bowman Elder. Elder was able to keep the system virtually intact for four more years with increasing income from freight. The IR was operating about 600 miles (970 km) of interurban lines throughout Indiana during this period. In 1936, IR actually showed an operating profit: the only time in its history that it did so. In that year, the IR found it necessary in order to maintain an essential freight business to Dayton, brought under its control the Dayton and Western, which it leased for two years. This continued its valuable freight link to the very active Cincinnati and Lake Erie Ohio interurban which ran from Cincinnati through Dayton to Toledo and east to Cleveland using the Lake Shore Electric interurban. The IR and the C&LE moved much freight at the time to Cleveland. When the Lakeshore Electric was abandoned, severing the ability to ship to Cleveland, the C&LE soon stopped running too.[7] The Dayton and Western provided a connection from the IR to the C&LE. Eventually, the IR did not have the funds to continue to lease the D&W. The lease was dropped, the D&W shut down, and the important freight connection was lost.

In 1937 the final slide into bankruptcy began. By order of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Midland Utilities was dissolved and the interurban lines it controlled were divorced from the subsidy income of their parent electric power generating company. In March 1937, the line abandonments began. The old Indiana Service Corporation ISC lines from Fort Wayne north to Waterloo, Garrett and Kendallville were abandoned on March 15. On May 9, the former THI&E line east of Indianapolis to Richmond was abandoned. This severed the IR's important connection with the Ohio C&LE interurban network and hurt both the IRR and the C&LE by ending their interchange business. In September 1938, the former Union Traction line from Indianapolis to Fort Wayne via Peru was abandoned leaving the more southern Indianapolis to Ft Wayne via Muncie route intact. A year later, the major trunk of the former Interstate Public Service Indianapolis to Louisville line was cut back to Seymour. In January 1940, the former THI&E line west of Indianapolis to Brazil, Greencastle and Terre Haute was abandoned. On January 18, 1941, the remaining Union Traction Indianapolis to Fort Wayne and Bluffton and Muncie to New Castle branch were abandoned, ending practically all service on the IR.[6][8] The final operation, Indianapolis to Seymour, was abandoned following a fatal wreck of a passenger car and a freight motor.

End of service[edit]

Azalia Indiana wreck[edit]

With the abandonment of its two principal remaining lines in January 1941, the IR was essentially gone. The name IR ceased to be used and the one remaining stub of serviceable trackage, between Indianapolis and Seymour along the old IPS (Interstate) to Louisville route, continued to be operated under the Public Service Company of Indiana name. This service was operated with just two of the high-speed cars (the balance were scrapped at the Anderson shops in 1941), running just one round-trip a day to fulfill franchise obligations. Even this fragment of interurban service did not last long. On September 8, 1941, one of the two high-speed cars still in use met the one remaining work car in a head-on collision at speed. The high-speed car had stalled, and the work car was sent from Indianapolis to investigate. But the first car had recovered and proceeded, leading to a head-on collision and injured passengers and crew. The operator of the high-speed car eventually died, as did one of the passengers. The Indianapolis to Seymour service immediately stopped, and soon the track was removed. This was the end of the Indiana Railroad.[9] It was an ignominious end to a great interurban system created ten years earlier to use and make profitable the former widespread network of 1920s Indiana interurbans.

Kingsland wreck[edit]

In the early years on the Union Traction a tragic wreck occurred at Kingsland, Indiana, between two wood cars. An excerpt from a local newspaper said: "FORT WAYNE, Ind., Sept. 22. -- The authorities of Wells county and officials of the traction company today are making a rigid investigation to attach responsibility for the collision of two traction cars on the Bluffton line of the Fort Wayne & Wabash Valley Traction company yesterday, in which forty persons were killed and eight injured. Today Frank I. HARDY, superintendent of transportation of the traction company, stated that disregard of orders caused the wreck and that B. T. CORKWELL, motorman of the southbound train, probably is the one to blame. The disaster, rated as the worst in all interurban history, occurred at a sharp curve, near Kingsland, six miles from Bluffton. The line is operated under a block system and until the railway makes public the orders issued the crews, it will not be definitely known which motorman was negligent."

Surviving rolling stock[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Rowsome: quotation p128; p138, photo of Indianapolis Traction Terminal in 1926 with its nine loading tracks, 7 million passengers a year, 500 scheduled trains; p178, photo of former Indiana Service now an Indiana Railroad steel combine at speed with dust flying approaching Terre Haute.
  2. ^ Rowsome: p131, photo of deadly Union Traction Kingsland wreck; p180, Union Traction publicity photograph of new passenger combine #427 called "Hoosierland."
  3. ^ Rowsome: p124, photo of arch window wood THE&E combine.
  4. ^ Bradley: entire book, details of the design and construction of new lightweights; line abandonments; 1941 Seymour wreck that forced total abandonment.
  5. ^ Keenan: p63, the vital Indiana Railroad-Dayton and Western Richmond, Indiana, connection which provided valuable freight interchange to the C&LE at Dayton, Ohio.
  6. ^ a b c d Bradley. Complete IR history. Details of design and construction of lightweights. Line abandonments and 1941 Seymour wreck that forced total abandonment.
  7. ^ Middleton. Discussion and photos of IR predecessor lines ISC, Union Traction, IPS, THI&E, NIPS, p69 and pp150–159; Kingsland's Union Traction wreck, p370; importance of Dayton and Western connection to Ohio interurban C&LE, p150; freight and express business and overnight delivery capability, p382-386.
  8. ^ Keenan. Indiana Railroad connection at Richmond, Indiana, for essential freight business interchange to C&LE interurban using Dayton and Western.
  9. ^ Bradley, p281: stalled passenger car and car sent to help collide.


  • Bradley, George (1989–90). CERA Bulletin #128: Indiana Railroad, the Magic Interurban, 224 pp. Chicago, Illinois: Central Electric Railfans' Association. ISBN 0-915348-28-4.
  • Middleton, William D. (1965). The Interurban Era. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 431pp. Excellent history of the interurban in the United States with many photographs well explained. Interurban lines are discussed by region with good coverage of Indiana and Ohio. On p10-11 is a dramatic two page head-on photo of a Union Traction arch window wood combine at speed in the Indiana countryside. Union Traction was an Indiana Railroad predecessor.: Kalmbach Publishing Co. 1985. ISBN 0-89024-003-5.
  • Middleton, William D. (1981, 1985.). Traction Classics: The Interurbans, Vol I, 248pp; Vol II, 179pp; Vol III, 182pp. San Marino, California.: Golden West Books. ISBN 978-0-87095-085-8. Check date values in: |year= (help)
  • Middleton, William D. (1999). South Shore: The Last Interurban. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Kalmbach Publishing.
  • Middleton, William D. (1983). Time of the Trolley. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Kalmbach Publishing.
  • CERA Bulletin #17, CERA staff (1941). Indiana Railroad 16pp. Chicago, Illinois: Central Electric Railfan's Association.
  • CERA Bulletin #30, CERA staff (1941). Terre Haute, Indianapolis, and Eastern. Chicago, Illinois: Central Electric Railfan's Association.
  • CERA Bulletin #91, Krambles, George (1973). Indiana Railroad System. Chicago, Illinois: Central Electric Railfan's Association.
  • CERA Bulletin #101, CERA staff (1958). Electric Railways of Indiana, part I. Chicago, Illinois: Central Electric Railfan's Association.
  • CERA Bulletin #102, CERA staff (1958). Electric Railways of Indiana, part II. Chicago, Illinois: Central Electric Railfan's Association.
  • CERA Bulletin #104, CERA staff (1960). The Electric Railways of Indiana, part III, 182pp. Chicago, Illinois: Central Electric Railfan's Association.
  • CERA Bulletin #109, CERA staff (1966). Ft. Wayne and Wabash Valley Trolleys. Chicago, Illinois: Central Electric Railfan's Association.
  • CERA Bulletin #119, CERA staff (1980). Remember When Trolley Wires Spanned The Nation. Chicago, Illinois: Central Electric Railfan's Association.
  • CERA Bulletin #128, Bradley, George (1996). Indiana Railroad: The Magic Interurban. Chicago, Illinois: Central Electric Railfan's Association.
  • CERA Bulletin #132, Bradley, George (1998). Northern Indiana Railway. Chicago, Illinois: Central Electric Railfan's Association.
  • CERA Bulletin #136, Middleton, Wm. (xxxx). The Last Interurbans. Chicago, Illinois: Central Electric Railfan's Association. Check date values in: |year= (help)
  • Keenan, Jack (2000). Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad. San Marino, California. A very lively, well written account of the history of the Ohio interurban Cincinnati and Lake Erie including stories related by former C&LE employees. The C&LE interchanged a large amount of freight with the Indiana Railroad at Springfield and Lima, Ohio.: Golden West Books.
  • Keenan, Jack. Lecture-Essay: The Fight For Survival, the Cincinnati and Lake Erie in the Depression. Internet available essay. 16 pages. Indiana Historical Society.
  • Hilton, George W., and Due, John F. (2000) [1960]. The Electric Interurban Railways in America. Stanford, California. Very thorough and scholarly book regarding the economics and technology of the interurban industry. No photographs.: . Stanford University Press.
  • Rowsome, Frank, Jr. (1989–90). Trolley Car Treasury. NYC, New York. Library Congress 56-11054: Bonanza Books. The trolley from horse car to interurban. Moderate number of photographs.
  • Moedinger, Frank (1987). The Trolley: Triumph of Transportation. Lebanon, Pennsylvania.: 32 pp, Appiled Arts Publishers. ISBN 0-911410-28-7.

External links[edit]

  • [1] Indiana Railroad photos on Dave's Rail Pix
  • [2] Interurban map of Indiana.
  • [3] Preserved North American Electric Railway Cars 2006: Hicks, Frank 2006.
  • [4] Central Electric Railfans' Association list of annual interurban Bulletins releases and authors. Many Bulletins are about Indiana interurbans.
  • [5] Indiana Railroad predecessor THI&E photos from Dave's Electric Railroads very large site of interurban photographs.
  • [6] Indiana Railroad predecessor THI&E photos from Don Ross' Rail Photos.
  • [7] Indiana Railroad Society: historical articles and maps regarding Indiana interurban lines.
  • [8] Indiana/Ohio Interurbans map.
  • [9] The Interurban: Bowling Green State University.
  • [10] Map of Ohio interurbans.