When rumbling through transportation history, its hard to miss the elephant in the room that is the railroads versus highways debate. And how that was mostly won by highways. And one would not be blamed for blaming that loss on the coming of the interstate highways. For years, that is what I thought. However, what appears on the surface is not always the right answer.
Since the federal government started pumping money into state highway programs in the mid-1910’s, state and local governments have been trying to find a happy medium between efficiency and the want to have every highway possible. As the call for safer and more capacity highways grew, the governments involved finally realized something that should have been completely obvious from the beginning…the railroads were there first.
And state and local governments had their hands tied. Railroads were privately owned organizations. Most of the time the same governments that wanted them to move or just go away were the ones that gave the land to build there in the first place. Unlike roads, which were getting basically a reboot at the beginning of the twentieth century, railroads were in place. With very few exceptions, they hadn’t changed much, in routing, in the 20th century. There were new lines being recommended, but very few new lines came into being after around 1900.
Then, in July 1947, an Indiana Congressman decided to introduce a bill to the U. S. House of Representatives that would help out the local governments when it came to those pesky railroads. The legislation, introduced by Congressman George Gillie, would give cities the right to require rerouting of railroads when their location was seen as a hazard to the federal highway.
Newspaper reports, especially from the Muncie Star Press of 11 July 1947, roughly detail the plan. It was covered in Muncie since that city, as well as Fort Wayne, would most likely be the beneficiaries of such legislation in Indiana.
“The bill was introduced by Representative Gillie would authorize municipalities to reroute railroads in such a manner as to eliminate a declared hazard provided the municipality first obtained from federal and state authorities a declaration that public safety would be served by railroad relocation.”
Covering the same bill, the Indianapolis Star of 10 July 1947 mentions that “Congressman Gillie’s office said the bill was intended to apply to the present routing of the Nickel Plate Railroad through Fort Wayne, the congressman’s home city.” It went on to mention that “grade crossings on the Nickel Plate’s line now affect main highway traffic through the city of Fort Wayne. A relocation project for the railroad has been in dispute for several years.”
Muncie had the same problem with the same railroad. The location of the Nickel Plate tracks on Madison Street, which had become, or soon would become, the routing of US 35, SR 3 and SR 67 through the city. This stemmed from the fact that the Nickel Plate line north out of Muncie to Fort Wayne ran right down the middle of Madison Street before turning slightly northeast to head out of Delaware County. The giant curve of track south of White River and McCullough Park actually entered a railroad yard on the southside of White River, through which the Chesapeake & Ohio and the Pennsylvania traveled. It would be later reconfigured to carry the Muncie-Fort Wayne mainline off of Madison Street.
The diamond that allows the Nickel Plate to cross the Bee Line, a location I have spent many a day watching trains with my friend, actually allowed the Nickel Plate to continue across its own track (the track running more east and west) and curve its way onto Madison Street. Map evidence shows that the track was gone from Madison Street by 1962.
Whether the legislation got passed or not, it is clear that the railroads were affected directly by plans of the same ilk. Muncie removed its Nickel Plate tracks from the state road. The state later removed the state road from Muncie.