The First and Last Interurban Out of Indianapolis

8 September 1941. One mile south of Columbus, Indiana. Miscommunication between two trains causes a suspension of service that by 19 December 1941 would spell the end of interurban service out of Indianapolis. What began as the Indianapolis, Greenwood & Franklin (IG&F) Railroad in 1895 ended as the Indianapolis, Columbus & Southern (IC&S) Traction Company when tracks started to be ripped up for scrap following the US entry into World War II.

Let’s start with the history of the start of the line before we focus on the tragic end. The Edinburgh Daily Courier of 19 December 1941 lists the beginning and the end of the old “Greenwood” line. The interurban era, which would have a great effect on the city of Indianapolis, would begin with the incorporation of the IG&F in 1895. By January, 1900, the line was put into operation between Indianapolis and Greenwood, hence the long time “Greenwood line” moniker. One thing that is important to remember is that although the interurban was an important addition to the Indianapolis landscape, the traction lines officially ended at the city limits, with trackage rights allowing access to the city of city street car lines.

By 1904, the line had been extended to Columbus, with connections to Seymour opened in 1905. At Seymour, the IC&S connected to the Louisville and Northern Railway. This allowed interurban service between Indianapolis and Louisville, starting in 1908. 1912 saw the line leased to Interstate Public Service Company. It would be the Interstate Public Service Company that would provide the power for the line, and operate it as well. When the federal government ordered the separation of electric traction lines and electric supply companies, the IC&S became part of a company called the Indiana Railroad. IPS Company would eventually change its name to Public Service Indiana, which would become part of Cinergy on 24 October 1994. The remnants of PSI still exist as part of Duke Energy, which purchased Cinergy on 3 April 2006.

Sorry, short attention span…back to the transportation stuff. Interstate Public Service had signed a lease of 999 years in 1912. While this seems to be a very long lease, it was a very common length of term when it came to railroad companies. As an example, the Pennsylvania Railroad often used the same lease terms when they took over operation of steam railroads. Just like the IPS, the PRR is now just a memory.

Fast forward to 8 September, 1941. The attached newspaper article from the Edinburgh Daily Courier of that day describes the head-on crash that had occurred. The belief, at the time, was that the crash occurred due to a confusion in communication between the passenger train and the work train. The passenger train had apparently broken down near Azalia. The motorman of the train had phoned Columbus requesting repairs. Unfortunately, the passenger train had been restored to operation after the work train started out to complete repairs to the broken train. The previously broken traction train started for Columbus, meeting the repair train head-on just short of the city.

According to an article in the same newspaper the next day, “the wreck resulted in almost complete destruction of two of the four remaining pieces of rolling stock of the Indiana Railroad.” At this point, there had only been one passenger car a day on the line between Seymour and Indianapolis. The article goes on to say that “it is the last line of the vast network of interurban service operated for many years by the Indiana Railroad.”

Train service was suspended at the time of the crash. Given that the rolling stock of the company had been halved by the accident, I can see why that would be the case. It would be a little over three months when a plan was put into place, requiring approval of the Public Service Commission of Indiana and federal Securities and Exchange Commission, that would spell the official end of the Indiana Railroad and the IC&S. The plan called for almost complete abandonment of the line, with the exception of the “electric transmission line and other properties useful to its electric utility.” At the time of the plan, there were $973,000 in IC&S bonds still outstanding.

More of the abandonment payment plan is described in the newspaper article to the right that was published on 19 December 1941. It would cause the Public Service Company of Indiana to continue to pay lease payments, via bonds, until 7 December 1961.

Strangely, while the end of the IC&S was in the cards in December, 1941, the creation of Camp Atterbury would lead to politicians trying to force the reopening of the line. Earl Wilson, Indiana’s Ninth District representative to Congress, in an article dated 22 January 1942, stated that “traction line revival must be followed through and I intend to recommend that all the procedures now pending with regard to permanent abandonment and junking of the line be stopped by the government. The traction line can be a vital transportation agency for the cantonment and could play an important part in helping conserve rubber.” It was estimated that the camp would be completed within six months of the date of the article.

No restoration of the Indiana Railroad/IC&S would be accomplished. As it turned out, the Pennsylvania Railroad, the tenth President of which would have been the namesake of the camp (William Wallace Atterbury), would build a spur line from its Louisville line (the old Madison & Indianapolis) to the center of the US Army facility.

Very little remains of this very first interurban line from Indianapolis. The south side of the city, and south side of Greenwood, have several memorials to the traction route in the names of major streets: Stop 10, Stop 11, Stop 12, Stop 13 and Stop 18. Several pieces of the original right-of-way remain in place along Madison Avenue in Indianapolis. Along the west side of the road there are sections of Madison Avenue that have another “Madison Avenue” to the west of the main road. The tree lawn between the two was the location of the tracks. I am sure that there are more. If you know of any, please feel free to share.

5 thoughts on “The First and Last Interurban Out of Indianapolis

  1. There are still the electrical transmission lines in use from the railroad. Notice the huge power poles along Madison Ave. It’s easy to follow the old railroad, just look up.

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