Light Rail in Indiana, Part I

Ben Ross :: Thursday, May 27th, 2010
Map of interurban lines in Indiana, 1910

Indiana's interurban light rail lines, 1910 (IHS)

Across the state, one finds fragments and ruins of what was the most comprehensive statewide interurban electric light rail transit system ever built in the United States.  Every city in Indiana with a population over 5,000 except for Bloomington, Madison and Evansville was connected by the interurban system (Evansville was connected to a regional network).

Interurbans were distinct from both the local streetcar (“trolley”) systems with which they connected and the heavy (steam) railroads with which they competed.  Interurban cars were about the size of a railroad passenger coach but were lightweight like a streetcar, allowing them to run effectively on electric motors. 

Plainfield's interurban depot (now used a community center), typical of the small-town stops along the interurban routes.

Plainfield's interurban depot (now used a community center), typical of the small-town stops along the interurban routes.

Built during the first decade of the twentieth century, the interurban system offered Hoosiers an easy, clean, safe and affordable means of travel between cities at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour, often on direct routes through the countryside.  Interurbans stopped at small towns along the way, giving residents of less populous places access to the amenities of the city.

70 mph electric light rail

70 mph electric light rail service, 1909

In 1907 the new Indianapolis Traction Terminal opened at the corner of Market and Illinois Streets, halfway between the State House and Monument Circle.  This urban center of mass transit, the largest interurban terminal in the U.S. for more than a decade, combined waiting rooms and amenities for passengers with a 10-story office building.  Passengers could transfer from the interurbans to local streetcar lines to reach any part of the city.

Indianapolis Traction Terminal, 1907 (IHS)

Indianapolis Traction Terminal, 1907 (IHS)

In 1913, the Traction Terminal recorded an average of 17,573 passenger arrivals and departures per day via interurban light rail (350 cars per day, hourly on most of the 25 lines), with more than 6 million passengers per year.  By the 1920s Indiana’s combined interurban systems carried over 50 million passengers per year, when the state’s population was just 3 million (that is about 16 trips per capita per year).

Rush hour at the Traction Terminal, c.1907

Rush hour at the Traction Terminal, c.1907

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To be continued…

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