Interurban Freight Service

In the Golden Age of Electric Traction, the interurban lines covered quite a bit of the state of Indiana. This is a subject that I have covered several times in Indiana Transportation History. However, today, I want to cover more than just Indiana, in a way. In 1924, a freight service was created using the interconnected electric traction lines across several states. It was given the name of “the Minute Man of the Traffic World.”

The freight system set up, covering 4,728 miles of electric traction track, covering an area from Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and Buffalo, New York, in the east to Chicago and beyond in the west. It was entirely possible to ship something, via interurban, across Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

A statement, issued on 18 July 1924, by Harry Reid of the Central Electric Railway Association, “described the position of the interurban railway as that of a minute man always ready to rush out on a hurry call.” The interurbans were in an ideal place to serve industries and their workers. (Source: Muncie Evening Press, 18 July 1924, pp 15)

“The development of the motor car has taken much local traffic off the hands of the electric and steam roads, but the demand for speedy service has more than repaid the electric lines, at least, for the loss of that business.”

One of the advantages the electric railroads had over the steam roads was less than carload deliveries. Steam railroads would spend a great deal of time and money on the creation of truck trailer service and less than carload service. Traction lines used free space to move parcels.

Fresh fruit, for instance, was shipped by rail into places like Indianapolis. Then the interurbans could deliver that produce to smaller towns along the line. Even livestock was transported by interurban. Indianapolis itself, in 1923, received 10,510 car loads of livestock…and sent out 1,086.

The Indianapolis traction freight yards, also in 1923, handled 229,150 tons of freight. “With the development of the new Indianapolis electric freight terminal, and the addition of new rolling stock by all lines, this total should be greatly exceeded this year.”

This freight service would find itself in trouble in less than a decade. With the Federal Government ordering the separation of electric utilities and electric traction companies, and the Great Depression, the traction lines would start failing. Private automobiles also helped in the demise. The Traction Freight Terminal, located on Kentucky Avenue near White River, didn’t last long. And the interurban was completely gone from Indianapolis in 1941.

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