Dale – A meeting of the PRR and Indianapolis Belt

Around the near center of Indianapolis is the Indianapolis Belt Railway. It never actually made it completely around the city, but it did make it enough to serve almost every major outlying industry in it. Today I want to focus on one part of the railroad…and one junction in particular: Dale.

Dale is located between Madison Avenue and East Streets, just south of Beecher. Visiting the junction is quite easy, as one could literally walk right up to it. It is still legally trespassing, so I recommend you do it at your own peril.

1875 Map of the junction of the Indianapolis Belt Railway and the Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis Railroad.

Dale junction is where the Indianapolis Belt meets the old Madison & Indianapolis. When the Belt was originally being constructed, Dale was the end of the line. The Belt came from the west, dead ending at the Belt just east of the old Madison State Road. Construction past this point, and to be honest the majority of the Indianapolis Belt Railway, began in 1876 heading east from Dale. Connections to the Madison went both ways from the Belt.

With the completion of the Belt east of the Madison, the two tracks connecting to the Belt heading west fell more or less into disuse. Most maps I have seen show the connections running east, both north and south of the Belt most of the time. The western connections vary. Some have the northwestern connection, some have the southwestern connection. Very few have both at the same time. And, hence, very few maps I have seen show all four connections in place.

1889 Map of the junction of the Indianapolis Belt Railway and the Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis Railroad.

By the time the first aerial photos are available, in 1937, the northwest corner of Dale no longer contained any connection tracks. It is hard to tell in the southwestern connection track was in place. It does, however, look like if it wasn’t in place, it hadn’t been gone for long. Also apparent in the 1937 aerial is the concentration of industrial tracks entering the Stokely plant that was at the Belt and East Street. This factory would go on to be the Gatorade Bottling plant, before it was moved in the late 1990’s – early 2000’s.

1937 aerial photograph from MapIndy showing the junction of the Indianapolis Belt and the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The northwestern connection track would never be put back in place. A factory was built in that section of the right of way, coming really close to both sets of tracks. The southwestern connection track kept coming and going. In 1941, it looks to be there, but the resolution isn’t the greatest. In 1956, it is mostly there…but again, with the resolution, it is hard to tell. That section of the map is unavailable in 1962. But it is in place in 1972, as shown below.

1972 aerial photograph from MapIndy showing the junction of the Indianapolis Belt (owned completely by the crossing railroad) and the Penn Central Railroad.

The southwestern connection track would finally be permanently removed sometime before 1978, probably under Conrail. The question that comes up when discussing this is: why not connect all the tracks in all directions? From what I can tell, there are two answers to that question. First, is, honestly, why connect them in all four directions. Train movements can be made, as long as the track isn’t overly busy, in all four directions using just two connecting tracks. Going west simply required some backing movements.

Second, tax purposes. For the longest time, railroads were getting hit really hard for property taxes across the United States. It was no different in Indiana. Some locations were jacking up the assessed value of the railroad rights of way, or, most often, charging much higher rates for those rights of way. Eliminating some of them cut taxes for the railroad quite a bit.

Sometime between 1979 and 1986, the Belt Railway was single tracked through the Dale crossing. It remains that way to this day. It does make for some interesting stories at times. One time, in 2000 or 2001, I was standing at the East Street crossing of the Belt watching trains. Two of them as a matter of fact. One was heading westbound on the Belt, just east of East Street. One was going eastbound, sitting in the middle of Dale crossing. I didn’t stay to see which of the long trains won that argument, as it was late at night, and I was tired.

One thought on “Dale – A meeting of the PRR and Indianapolis Belt

  1. Interesting! Thank you – my husband was a “Telephone Operator/Switch Tender” on the Belt Railroad when I first met him in Indianapolis in 1973. Eventually the Belt was taken over by Conrail & he left that job in early 1980 when we moved to Las Vegas.

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