This week Lionel and the LCCA are racing to Indianapolis for the LCCA’s 2014 Convention. While this city is best known for a different sort of “track” there is plenty of railroad history and contemporary action to entertain any rail fan.
Indianapolis Union Railway
To get a good picture of the total Indianapolis railroad scene you just have to start with one company, the Indianapolis Union Railway. Indianapolis was the first city in the world to host a “Union Station” – that is a station which served more than one company equally. When opened in 1853, the new station offered the citizens of Indianapolis a single, central station from which they could catch a train on a number of different railroads which radiated out of town like the spokes of a wheel. For travelers making connections in Indianapolis, the unified facility meant catching another train was never much more difficult than walking to a different platform instead of arranging transportation across town to another rail head.
The IU was organized in 1850 as the Union Track Railway Company with a total of about 3 miles of track built or ceded by three railroads. The name changed to Indianapolis Union in 1853. Over the coming years, more railroads would be added as the efficiency of Union Station spurred commerce in and around the city. By the early 2oth Century, the list of owners included the Pennsylvania, New York Central, Baltimore and Ohio, Nickel Plate, Illinois Central and the Monon.
In the 1930s, ownership of the IU was consolidated down to just the Pennsylvania and New York Central, with the other companies paying rent and continuing to run into the station. In 1968 the IU became a wholly owned subsidiary of Penn Central then passed to Conrail and finally to CSX. The passenger trains of course ran under only the Amtrak banner after 1971.
Today’s freight operations include Norfolk Southern and CSX as well as the regional Indiana Railroad and shortlines Indiana Southern and Louisville and Indiana. The latter three roads all began as Conrail shed duplicate main and branchlines around the city in the 1980s and 1990s. CSX inherited most of the remaining Conrail property in the city in 1999, with Norfolk Southern operating on trackage rights.
Avon Yard, on the west side of the city near the airport, serves as the major classification point for traffic heading east-west as well as connections north-south. While much of the traffic still passes right through the heart of the city thanks to the elevated right-of-way built for the station more than a century ago, connecting lines and branches can provide a different look in any direction as you travel around the area. Whether you’re after heavy action on a Class 1 railroad with an urban backdrop or a local freight on bucolic rural branch line, all can be had within a short drive and from safe, public vantage points.