End of the (Traction) Line in Greenfield

Starting in the early 1930’s, the Interurban era was beginning to come to an end. This coincided, yes, with the start of the Great Depression. This was especially brutal to the electric traction companies in Indiana, as most of them became part of one entity: the Indiana Railroad. Since the Indiana Railroad was classified as a utility, any changes to the routes of the traction lines had to be approved by the Indiana Public Service Commission (IPSC). This is the tail of one such IPSC commission hearing.

As reported in the Indianapolis News of 18 September 1931, there were plans put before the IPSC to abandon the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern (THI&E) line from Indianapolis to Richmond between Indianapolis and Dunreith. Trains going from Indianapolis to Richmond would take the “Honey Bee” line (which ran next to the Big Four Springfield Division line) through Mount Comfort, Maxwell, Wilkinson, Shirley, and Kennard to New Castle. From there, the plan was to use the THI&E New Castle branch line that connected New Castle to the Indianapolis-Richmond line at Dunreith.

One community was really not wanting any part of this plan: Greenfield. Lawyers for the city were hoping that service could be continued using the “new” one man cars. The Indiana Railroad, owner of a great number of interurban lines in Indiana, argued for the pan detailed above. According to Greenfield’s lawyers, the abandonment plans were in place in early June, according to an “off-the-record” letter written by the Executive Vice President of the Midland United Company, operator of the Indiana Railroad. At the time, the Indiana Railroad was technically in the charge of a receiver, having filed for bankruptcy in 1930. As such, the plan could not be acted upon without permission of the courts.

Lawyers for the Indiana Railroad were arguing that the earnings from the Greenfield section of the line (Indianapolis to Dunreith) were far below profitability. William A. Hough, Special Counsel for the City of Greenfield, asked specifically for earning numbers for Indianapolis-Dunreith segment and the Indianapolis-New Castle line. The railroad could produce the numbers for the former, but responded “we never broke up our accounts between these points” for the former. Hough responded “you did it from Indianapolis to Greenfield.”

Freight service on the Indiana Railroad was brought into question, as well. The railroad was accused of rerouting freight through New Castle, using the pending plan, in an effort to cut the earnings numbers for the section being planned for dismantlement. Hough asked “was there any reason for sending that freight twenty miles out of the way?” Railroad officials couldn’t answer the question to Hough’s expectations. But the auditor for the railroad testified that “he had ‘so many figures’ to handle that he was not able at the moment to say how much freight from New Castle had been ‘split up,’ as suggested by Hough.

The Indiana State Highway Commission was also involved in this particular hearing. William J. Titus, ISHC Chief Engineer, testified that the “widening of the National Road east of Cumberland had been postponed partly because of the fact that some of the right-of-way was occupied by the traction.” Although, he also admitted that discussions about building materials helped cause the delay in the expansion of US 40. Titus also admitted that there were no current plans for the ISHC to do anything with the National Road from Greenfield and Richmond.

The hearing for this plan would end up being continued to 24 September 1931. I couldn’t find any information, so far, about that hearing. Suffice it to say that, according to the Indianapolis News of 05 February 1932, lawyers for the railroad had approached the City of Greenfield about disposition of the “tracks, poles, lines in Main Street, real estate and a high tension line which crosses Greenfield east and west.” According to the charter allowing the original traction company to build through Greenfield, that property would revert to the city should the service be discontinued for a period of thirty days. This was a “plan B” pending the appeal of the IPSC decision ordering the abandonment of the line.

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