In the interurban era, almost all of the traction companies (the name given to electric light railroads, both interurban and street) radiating from Indianapolis ended up being part of one company, the Indiana Railroad (IR).
This Indiana Railroad is not to be confused with the current one that acquired the old Illinois Central tracks out of Indianapolis. The IR of the 1930s was almost entirely an interurban concern, with the exception of three street railroad companies (Terre Haute, Indianapolis and Richmond) owned by the Terre Haute, Indianapolis and Eastern Railroad.
The Indiana Railroad came into being in 1930 under a plan of the Midland Utilities, the electrical concern that gained control of the five major traction companies in Central Indiana. Samuel Insull, owner of Midland, decided he could take the profitable lines, pare the money losers, and make the IR a success.
Midland would purchase the Union Traction Company (UTC) on 2 July 1930. This company had, at the time, 410 miles of trackage in rural areas, and owned the street car companies in Anderson, Elwood, Marion and Muncie. The UTC entered bankruptcy in 1925. But it became part of the Indiana Railroad in tact in 1930.
The strongest of the Central Indiana traction companies was Interstate Public Service. It also happened to be the largest owned by Midland before the creation of the Indiana Railroad. Its lone route ended up being the last interurban line to the Indianapolis area after a train crash south of Columbus.
Another Midland owned route prior to creation of the IR was a northern Indiana traction company called the Indiana Service Corporation. By the time it was made part of the IR, the ISC consisted of the Fort Wayne and Wabash Valley Traction Company, the Fort Wayne and Northwestern, and the Marion and Bluffton Traction Company.
The last company that became part of the IR at the same time as the IPS and the ISC was the Northern Indiana Power Company, the successor to the Kokomo, Marion and Western Traction Company. This would be the weakest, and smallest, addition to the IR.
The last company to be added was the THI&E. This occurred on 23 June 1931. But the THI&E was very dependent on the Dayton & Western to connect the THE&I at Richmond to the Cincinnati & Lake Erie (C&LE) at Dayton.
There were two things working against Insull from the very beginning. First, the most profits of his new Indiana Railroad were coming from one subsidiary: Indianapolis Street Railways (ISR). ISR also owned the Indianapolis Traction Terminal, the building that was essentially an interurban version of Union Station. The problem was that the THE&I was hemorrhaging money other than the ISR.
The second problem was timing. 1930 was the beginning of the Great Depression. Any intercity travel was severely curtailed by lack of potential passenger and/or cargo money available from customers. THI&E lines to Danville, Martinsville, Lafayette and Crawfordsville were losing money hand over fist. These were among the first lines on the chopping block.
From there, it didn’t go well.
By 1933, the IR found itself in bankruptcy proceedings. The receiver of the company was left with an infrastructure that was crumbling in on itself. Also, the rise of cars and trucks didn’t help. The IR made a go of it, with about 600 miles of track, until about 1937. At that point, the IR was holding the lease for the Dayton & Western, a money losing concern for years. In May, the IR had to drop the lease, causing the D&W to fold under financial pressure. This had a domino effect on both sides of the Indiana-Ohio State Line. The IR was very dependent on the D&W financially. From there, the company started dropping lines one by one. The last line made it until 1941, when a train wreck on 8 September ended the interurban era in Central Indiana.