Last revised: December 31, 2023
By: Adam Burns
Indiana's location in the Midwest makes it an ideal place to see the fall colors amid rolling hills and bucolic farmland. It's also a state steeped in rail history where there was once more than 7,000 miles of track, and dozens of well known companies serving the state.
Today, nearly a dozen museums and heritage railroads can be found in Indiana whose mission is tell the story of names like the Pennsylvania, New York Central, Erie/Erie Lackawanna, and many others once located there.
Today, only around half of Indiana's peak rail mileage remains in use. There are currently two locations that host public excursions during the autumn season, the Ohio River Scenic Railway, Whitewater Valley Railroad, and Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum.
The former organization is quite interesting if one enjoys not only a train ride but also rail history. It is located in the small town of North Judson, a town with fewer than 2,000 residents.
However, prior to the 1980s this community was the epicenter of four main lines of four different railroads. If you were a train enthusiast at this time it was quite a busy location that witnessed dozens of freight and passenger trains every day.
Unfortunately, the industry's long decline after World War II peaked during the 1970s when numerous companies entered bankruptcy that saw key main lines removed throughout Indiana, including, amazingly, all four corridors through North Judson by the 1980s. The community is a true microcosm of the railroad's fall from grace in the United States.
Today, just a few segments of the old Erie/Erie Lackawanna and Chesapeake & Ohio survive in North Judson although the old C&O has been retained to the northwest, which still provides the town with a rail link to the national network.
(North Judson): Railroad history is rich and pervasive in the small town of North Judson which once featured four major lines; the Pennsylvania, Erie/Erie Lackawanna, Chesapeake & Ohio, and New York Central.
Alas, as the industry fell on hard times, companies devolved into bankruptcy, and other transportation modes grabbed market share, all were abandoned as through corridors.
Through the 1970's the location still witnessed an incredible 125 trains every day! Today, only a portion of the C&O and an Erie Railroad remnant are still in place at North Judson.
The Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum hosts excursions over a 5-mile section of the old C&O; each fall they offer Fall Harvest Trains and Pumpkin Trains in late September and October.
These trips depart from a replica C&O depot and head northwesterly through open farmland and scattered woodline before crossing the Kankakee River at English Lake whereupon trains return to North Judson.
This excursion is located in northeast Indiana with trips departing from various locations including Angola, South Milford, Pleasant Lake, and Hillsdale (Michigan). The excursions are operated in a partnership between the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society and the Indiana Northeastern Railroad, the latter a short line freight carrier.
The historical society is well known for having maintaining Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 #765, a Berkshire type steam locomotive built by the Lima Locomotive Works in 1944, in operatable condition for many years. During that time the big engine has pulled many excursions.
The Indiana Rail Experience hosts both diesel and steam powered excursions for the public. During one weekend in October they host the "Indiana Fall Color Train" between Pleasant Lake, Indiana and Hillsdale, Michigan, a nearly 40-mile steam-powered excursion that lasts all day!
Out Of Service
(Tell City): The Ohio River Scenic operates over the former Southern Railway's Cannelton Branch, running 22.7 miles from Lincoln City to Cannelton via Evanston. The line hosts freight service as the Hoosier Southern Railroad.
The railroad does not host dedicated fall foliage trips but they do continue running through the autumn, allowing guests the chance to see the wonderful fall colors along this stretch of the Ohio River.
Unfortunately, the railroad has currently suspended public excursions due to deteriorating track conditions. Please visit their website for more information and the latest updates regarding when train rides may resume.
(Connersville): Based in Connersville this tourist line operates a former New York Central branch, of which about 18 miles have been preserved.
They host the Pumpkinliner during late October allowing kids to enjoy a train and pick out a pumpkin for Halloween. All trips depart from the replica depot at Grand Avenue/5th Street.
The entire 18-mile corridor to Metamora was acquired in 1972 from the bankrupt Penn Central Transportation Company (New York Central's successor) which would have otherwise been abandoned.
Your trip will head south out of Connersville where the topography immediately changes to beautiful open farmland with distance woodline. Next, you will skirt the Whitewater River and again pass tilled fields, barns, and well-kept property.
At the town of Laurel you will cross the river before arriving in Metamora a few miles further, location of the historic Whitewater Canal.