The Big Four Railway

When considering the history of Indiana railroads, especially those connecting to Indianapolis, there were basically two railroad companies that ruled the roost for the first three-quarters of the 20th Century*. One was discussed in a previous entry, the Pennsylvania Railroad and its previous companies. The other being the New York Central System. And one of the major components of the NYC was the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway, known collectively as the Big Four.

When the Big Four was created in 1889, the one city left out of the name of the railroad was the one that was in every one of the companies that merged to create it: Indianapolis. On 30 June 1889, the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati & Indianapolis Railway, the Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis & Chicago Railway and the Indianapolis & St. Louis Railway were consolidated to create the Big Four. When it was created, the Big Four was headquartered in Cincinnati (according to the Interstate Commerce Commission). By 1930, the headquarters had moved to Indianapolis. It was also in 1930 when the Big Four ceased being operated as a separate company from its majority stock holder, the New York Central.

There were 45 company transitions that created the final product. Some of these companies did very little to build the road in any way.

One of the major lines into Indianapolis, for instance, is still called the “B” line, short for the Indianapolis & Bellefontaine Railroad. The I&B started life chartered as the Pendleton & Indianapolis Railroad on 15 January 1846. By 1851, when the “B” line’s 110 miles were built in Indiana, the railroad had already changed its name to “Indianapolis, Pittsburgh & Cleveland Railroad.” The IP&C merged with several Ohio only routes to become the constituent Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati & Indianapolis Railway.

Another constituent company of the Big Four was the Indianapolis & St. Louis Railway. This line was chartered in 1867. The entire 72 miles of main line, from Indianapolis to Terre Haute, was built by the St. Louis & Indianapolis Railroad in 1870. This route could have led to an entire different history, as part owner of the StL&I was none other than Pennsylvania Railroad interests. The PLWPE was concerned because the Terre Haute & Indianapolis wasn’t falling completely into their sphere of influence. This created problems since the line leading from Terre Haute to East St. Louis was already pretty much a PLWPE. The StL&I was thought to be able to alleviate any of those concerns. When the Vandalia was created, including the TH&I, those concerns lessened, and the PL got out of the StL&I.

The major constituent company of the Big Four, as far as Indiana is concerned, was the Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis & Chicago Railway. Unlike other companies, this one consisted of 153 miles of main line track in Indiana. This company had another 21 miles in Ohio to connect to Cincinnati.

60 miles of that track was built in 1852 by the Lafayette and Indianapolis Railroad. The L&I, and its successors, had changed quite a bit before Conrail abandoned it. This is the track where the Purdue crash occurred on 31 October 1903. (See the blog entries and for details.)

The rest of the company’s tracks were built by the Indianapolis & Cincinnati Railroad. The original line was to connect Indianapolis to Lawrenceburgh (spelling at the time), and 90 miles of track was built in 1853 for that purpose. When the company decided to connect to Cincinnati, the two miles between Lawrenceburg and the state line was added in 1870. This short section connected to the Cincinnati & Indiana Railroad, the 21 miles from the state line to Cincinnati, which was built in 1863.

Another line in the Big Four system in Indiana included the Fairland, Franklin & Martinsville (connecting the I&C at Fairland to the Vandalia [PRR] at Martinsville), built by the Cincinnati & Martinsville Railroad (12 miles from Fairland to Franklin in 1866) and the Martinsville & Franklin Railroad, built as a feeder road the to the Madison & Indianapolis in 1853 (26 miles). This line was purchased by the Big Four on 16 June 1915. During WWII, the section of the line connecting Trafalgar to Martinsville was abandoned. In 1950, that abandonment was increased, this time all the way back to Franklin.

The Columbus, Hope and Greensburg Railroad, which connected the PRR at Columbus to the Big Four Cincinnati line at Greensburg was a leased and operated line by the Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Chicago. This lease started with the beginning of operation in May 1884. Stock ownership of the 24 mile line by the Big Four made it part of the NYC system after the ICC reports of World War I. At the time of those reports, the CH&G was still, technically, a separate line.

Numerous other lines fell into the New York Central system via the Big Four. The Peoria & Eastern, a line that connected Peoria, Illinois, with Springfield, Ohio, via Indianapolis was one of these lines. The P&E was leased to the Big Four, but the section east of Indianapolis was flat out given to the CCC&StL. So the P&E consisted only of the trackage west of Indianapolis. In this way, the P&E pretty much stayed a separate company until the NYC consolidations of the 1930s.

Ultimately, the Big Four had trackage in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan. When the Big Four was finally consolidated into the New York Central, this led to several lines that were duplicates for the NYC. This happened mainly in northern Indiana where the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern had been operating. The LS&MS had already been consolidated into the NYC in 1914. The Big Four, prior to becoming an official part of the NYC, had connections with it in numerous places along the “Water Level Route” between Chicago and Cleveland.

* Both the Pennsylvania and the New York Central ceased to independently exist on 1 February, 1968. On that day, the two giants merged to become the Pennsylvania New York Central Transportation Company, known colloquially as the Penn Central. [Technically, the Pennsylvania Railroad changed its name to Penn Central as it absorbed the New York Central. This was a sore subject to most NYC management in the end.] The end of the Penn Central came on 1 April 1976, when five of the bankrupt northeast railroad companies were merged to create the Consolidated Rail Corporation, or Conrail. Or at least, most of them. Not all of the properties owned by the Penn Central became part of Conrail. Indiana was pruned quite a bit by what was and was not accepted into Conrail.)

5 thoughts on “The Big Four Railway

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s