Indianapolis Track Elevation, Revisited

In the early 1910’s, the City of Indianapolis and the several railroad companies that entered downtown came to an agreement to elevate the tracks connecting to Union Station. But, technically, it was one railroad that was responsible for dealing with doing the work. The tracks leading to the Union Station all belonged to the Indianapolis Union Railway (IU).

The original contracts that were let for the work, as reported in the Indianapolis Star of 28 January 1913, also included a determined elevation level for the tracks and the grade to be put in place.

The story in the Star reported that there were problems in the City Council about the contract, and delays involved with it. The Law Subcommittee, consisting of R. W. McBride, Caleb S. Denny, Ralph Bamberger, Reginald H. Sullivan and Frank E. Gavin, “reported adversely on the contract.” The main concern was that the city would be on the hook for helping to pay for “increasing the facilities of the railroads.” The Council announced that they want to talk to lawyers about this situation.

Now to the specifics of what is to be done. Article Two of the contract laid out grades and elevation levels of the tracks through downtown. The tracks were to be elevated to the level of the railroad bridges over the White River, rising at a grade of 4/10 of a foot per 100 feet eastward to Illinois Street. From Illinois to Pennsylvania Streets, the tracks were to be level. After Pennsylvania Street, the downgrade would be .256 feet per 100 feet to Virginia Avenue. It would go back up .335 feet per 100 feet until the center of Washington Street. The Panhandle (PRR) and Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton (B&O) tracks were to descend .7 feet per 100 from East Street to Noble Street (College Avenue). The grade of the wye to connect the Madison line, also part of the Panhandle at that point, would ascend at a rate of .76 feet per 100 from Meridian Street to South Street. From Delaware Street to South Street, the wye would ascend .88 feet per 100.

The street clearances were also laid out in Article two of the contract. The following is what was decided, from the newspaper itself:

Indianapolis Star, 28 June 1913, Elevations for Indianapolis Union Railway tracks through downtown Indianapolis.


Of all the streets that would be affected by the elevation, only one was to be removed from the map of the city of Indianapolis. That street was then called Liberty Avenue. Today, it is called Park Avenue.

What caused part of the problem with the City Council is the idea that the ordinance basically ordering the railroad to perform this work (passed in 1905) stated that the city and county would contribute to the elevation of the tracks. But the city refused to pay for any expansion of railroad facilities during this time. Any expansion of the yard facilities that would occur while the elevation was taking place would be borne by the railroad.

The cost was broken up in the contract as follows: Indianapolis Union Railway pays 75%; the remaining 25% would be shared by the City of Indianapolis, the County of Marion, the Town of Woodruff Place and the Indianapolis Street Railway Company/Indianapolis Traction and Terminal Company (both at this point are owned by the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company).

“It is provided, however, that the railway company alone shall bear the cost of laying the tracks after the elevation is completed.”

The history of the track elevation in Indianapolis was covered in the Indiana Transportation History entry of 7 October 2019 called “Indianapolis Track Elevation.”

Richmond, 1907: Interurban Accident with City Street Car

I have mentioned several times that when interurban cars entered most of the bigger cities in Indiana, they would not run on tracks that were owned by the traction company, but owned by the city street railway. In cities like Indianapolis and Terre Haute, this really wasn’t a problem, since the street railways in both cities were owned by the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company. (That also meant that the THI&E paid a ton of money in franchise fees, but that is a story for a different day.)

Now, we go to 4 November 1907. A collision, involving a Richmond street car, a THI&E passenger car, and a THI&E freight car created such a stink in and around Richmond that it was thought that the city street cars were going to undergo a massive change in operations. The accident, according to the Richmond Palladium, occurred in “the western limits of the city.” This was located near the country club. Due to the accident, officials of the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern were holding a “court martial” and an investigation of the circumstances in their eastern division offices at Greenfield.

The purpose of the meeting in Greenfield was bluntly stated, in the newspaper, that the company was “fully realizing that the street car wreck of Monday….was the direct result of carelessness on the part of some of the operators.” And that carelessness was considered to be on the part of the street car operators, not the interurban ones. The people involved in the accident were “Motorman Elmer Rhodes of the city car, Raydo Flower of No. 68, the interurban, and Riley Cook, of the freight car.” Additionally, Conductors J. C. Beldsoe (sic…listed as Bledsoe later) and Oliver Hill were asked to go to Greenfield to attend.

The property loss to the interurban company was considered to be “great than at first thought.” The braking system of THI&E car #68 was completely destroyed. Car #68 was crashed into by the Richmond city car. The car also happened to be relatively new, only being in service between Richmond and Indianapolis for “a short time.” The freight car was considered to be a total loss, to the tune of $3,500.

“When asked to roughly estimate the property loss, Superintendent A. Gordon of the city lines, said he had not the slightest idea, but it would be heavy. When asked if $6,000 would cover it, he said it might, but he would not say.” In addition, the THI&E “will undoubtedly be defendant in several damage suits which will call for large amounts. Claim Agent Kitchner was on the spot immediately on his arrival in the city and secured the names of the injured and set about making settlements.”

One person was commended for his actions during the situation. Conductor J. C. Bledsoe gave a warning to the 28 passengers of the danger, and his quick actions getting the passengers off of the wrecked car. “Many men would have stood on the rear platform with head in a whirl,” stated Superintendent Gordon. “Had the passengers remained in the passenger coach longer than they did, it is very probable the list of injured would have been larger, as a panic would have ensued had the passengers known of the great danger.”

The newspaper went on to point out that street car officials have been under a microscope for the past week. Street cars were known to follow the interurban cars to closely, thought to have been due to a change in the interurban schedule. The change was made to shorten the time waiting in Richmond for transfers from the THI&E and the Dayton & Western, the interurban line connecting Richmond to Dayton, Ohio.

The major cause of the accident was thought to be in the hands of city street car motormen following the interurban too closely, and the interurbans stopping to pick up city passengers, something that is not done in other cities along the line where street cars and interurbans use the same lines.

Google Map of the location of the street car/
interurban crash.

All of the cars involved in the incident were heading west, which, according to the sub-headline of the Richmond Palladium of 4 November 1907, made “the accident one of the most peculiar on record.” This issue of the newspaper also mentions that the accident was “the third and most serious street car wreck that has occurred on the Richmond city street car lines within the past ten days.”

The accident occurred when Rhodes, operating the Easthaven street car, heard the cars of a man wanting to catch the street car. He brought his car to a halt a few feet east of the Clear Creek bridge, awaiting the arrival of Wilson Langley, the man who called for the street car. As Langley was boarding, the crash occurred. There was no scheduled stop at that spot on the line. Langley would suffer a broken left leg, badly cut face, and internal injuries. His condition was considered serious.

The crash occurred at the bottom of a small hill going westbound along the National Road. Tests were done with traction and street cars when it came to stopping while coming down that hill. The interurban operators had, during the test, turned on reverse power so high that, according to sources, “the wheels were spinning backward.” Slippery conditions of the rails, the stopped street car in a place where it should not have stopped, and the hill were thought to all be contributing factors.

Information after the wreck was limited in the newspapers…other than the people that were hurt recovering from their injuries.

Indianapolis Street Car Saturday – New Lines, 1866-1870

Today’s “Indianapolis Street Car Saturday” focuses on

1866. The East Washington Street line commences service. The original length of the line only connected Illinois Street to Liberty Street (now Park Avenue). Service along this line was truncated to Liberty Street until 1883, when it was extended one block to Noble Street (College Avenue). Five years later, East Washington Street became one of the longest mule car lines in the city when it was extended to the new suburb of Irvington, going all the way out to Audubon Avenue, turning south to a turntable near the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks that run through the town. Until this time, access to Irvington via street car was via the English Avenue line, which didn’t originally open until 1875.

The extension to Irvington of East Washington Street was due to its residents wanting a more direct route to downtown Indianapolis. I will get to the English route probably next week, describing the route that Irvington wanted to replace. The line was electrified in 1891. Two more extensions were added to the East Washington Line: in 1900, to west of Arlington Avenue; and in 1920, a purchase from the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company Richmond line extended Indianapolis Street Railways to Sheridan Avenue, where a “Y” turned cars around.

The last tracked street car to run along East Washington Street did so on 11 August 1950. This started a combination service using both trackless trolleys and busses.

In 1867, a new line was extended to the then new cemetery at Crown Hill, called the Northwestern Line. The line followed Illinois Street to 12th (21st) Street, crossed over to Northwestern Avenue, followed Northwestern to a spot where 34th Street would be later built. This line was a mule car line for its entire life, because it was completely removed in 1879.

Another 1867 line that commenced service was the Central Line. The start of this line is intertwined with the College Line, as it would for its entire life. In the beginning, it merely followed New Jersey Street from Washington Street to Fort Wayne Avenue. In 1888, the line was extended along Fort Wayne Avenue, then Central Avenue from Christian Avenue (11th Street) to a turn table at 11th (20th) Street. A short detour along Tenth (19th) Street to New Jersey would allow street cars to visit a barn facility located on New Jersey Street.

The line was rerouted in 1889, when it used Alabama Street from Fort Wayne to Home Avenue (13th Street), following Home to Central Avenue. Three years later, the Central line was again rerouted. This time, it would follow the College Line to 16th (24th) Street, turning west to Central Avenue, then north on Central to 26th (34th) Street. This was in 1892, the same year that the line was electrified. A loop was built in the line in 1894. The line was rerouted at the time, moving over to Central from College along the then Tenth (20th) Street to connected to the 1892 line at 16th (24th) Street. The loop then went west on 17th (25th) Street to New Jersey, and back to Central on 16th (24th) Street.

The last electric railed street car would run along this line on 20 March 1937.

1905 Indianapolis. Map showing the River
and Kentucky Avenue bridges.

Street cars would be added to Kentucky Avenue in 1868. The line was short: from the Louisiana Street barn to Tennessee Street (Capitol Avenue), then along Kentucky Avenue to Illinois and Washington Streets. The line was turned around, heading southwest from Tennessee Street in 1890. The line would end at River Avenue, which at that time was at the south end of Greenlawn Cemetery. This was located half way opposite of a point between what is now Merrill Street and Henry Street on Kentucky Avenue. The following year, the line was electrified. The last documented extension that I can find was in 1903, when the line crossed the White River on the River Avenue bridge (there was no bridge at Oliver Street), following River Avenue to Morris Street. I can find no more information on this line. It is entirely possible that it was extended, in 1914, to connect to the Indianapolis suburb of Mars Hill. But another line that started in 1881 might be the successor to this line. More research is needed.

The last line today is the Pennsylvania line. Started in 1870, the mule cars would run along Pennsylvania Street from Ohio to St. Joseph Street, where it turn west to Illinois Street for its trip downtown. 1873 saw the Illinois/St. Joseph turn removed, and the line wet north to Seventh (16th) Street where it turned east to Alabama. In 1891, the route turned north on Talbot from Seventh (16th) to a turn table at Tenth (19th) Street. 1894 saw the line electrified and extended to 14th (22nd) Street. The last car to use the rails would run on 18 July 1934.