Indiana Interurbans and Streetcars

Last revised: May 21, 2023

By: Adam Burns

Indiana was behind only Ohio in interurban mileage, containing 1,825 miles at its peak.  According to Dr. George Hilton and John Due's authoritative book, "The Electric Interurban Railways In America," every notable town/city in the state was served by a rapid transit system, except Bloomington.  

Nearly all of these systems radiated away from Indianapolis and most of Indiana was blanketed, except the southwestern section between Evansville and Indianapolis.  In fact, the state was so well served one could travel all of the way from Louisville, Kentucky to Chicago via a rapid transit system, via Indianapolis, South Bend, and Gary.

Going further one could also travel direct from Indianapolis to Columbus as well as Fort Wayne, Toledo, Cleveland, and Detroit.  The regions of Ohio, Indiana, and southern Michigan were well suited for interurbans with medium-sized cities within close proximity of one another.  In addition, the topography was generally flat allowing these systems to be built relatively cheaply.

For all of these reasons, several notable interurbans sprang up here including the Gary Railways, Union Traction Company, Indiana Railroad, and Chicago, South Shore & South Bend.

91835278235872386976802709387.jpgUnited Traction Company's bridge over the Wabash River at Logansport, Indiana, circa 1910.

Beech Grove Traction Company

The Beech Grove Traction Company served downtown Indianapolis and the suburb of Beech Grove. It began operations in 1911 operating a six-mile system and remained in service until 1938 when it was discontinued due to its electricity being cut over lack of payment.

Evansville Electric Railway

The Evansville Electric Railway served the city of Evansville and operated for only a few years between 1901 and 1906.

Evansville & Ohio Valley Railway

The Evansville & Ohio Valley Railway was formed through the merger of three smaller systems the Evansville & Eastern Electric Railway, Evansville & Mount Vernon Electric Railway and Evansville, Henderson & Owensboro Railway.

Along with serving Evansville the interurban connected Henderson, Mount Vernon and Grandview.

Evansville, Suburban & Newburgh Railway

The Evansville, Suburban & Newburgh Railway was an 11-mile system connecting. The ES&N was originally chartered in December of 1887 reaching Newburgh a few years later.

Along with passenger services the railroad also served a coal mines in the area. In 1905 the railroad was upgraded to electric operation. Unfortunately by the late 1920s encroachment by highways and automobiles was taking its toll and by 1930 downgrading began with passenger service ending.

Between 1941 and 1947 the ES&N also lost its freight business after the area coal mines shut down and in May of 1948 the entire route was abandoned.

Indiana Railways & Light Company

The Indiana Railways & Light Company was the creation of a merger in December of 1912:

  • The Kokomo Frankfort & Western Traction Company (created in 1911 and connected Kokomo and Frankfort, a distance of 26 miles).
  • Kokomo Marion & Western Traction Company (created in 1903 from smaller companies and connected Kokomo and Greentown).

It lasted only ten years before being merged into the Northern Indiana Power Company. The interurban lines remained in operation until the spring of 1932 when they were discontinued.

Indiana Service Corporation

The Indiana Service Corporation was created in 1902. In 1914 it took over the operations of the Fort Wayne & Northern Indiana Traction Company (formerly the Fort Wayne & Wabash Valley Traction Company), and a few years later purchased the Fort Wayne & Northwestern Railway and Marion & Bluffton Traction Company.

ISC served northeastern Indiana and remained in operation until it was purchased by the Indiana Railroad in 1930 (not to be confused with today's Indiana Rail Road, a Class II freight railroad).

Toledo & Chicago Interurban Railway

The Toledo & Chicago Interurban Railway was created in 1906 and would eventually serve the counties of Allen, DeKalb and Noble. Passenger services were discontinued in 1937 and freight operations (between Fort Wayne and Garrett) remained on until they too were finally abandoned in 1945.

Fort Wayne & Decatur Traction Company

The FW&DT began life in 1903 as the Fort Wayne & Springfield Railway connecting Fort Wayne to Decatur (a distance of 22 miles) by early 1907.

It was never very profitable and never reached Springfield going bankrupt in 1912 at which time it was renamed as the Fort Wayne & Decatur Traction. Again, never profitable it too was bankrupt by 1927 and eventually abandoned.

Wabash River Traction Company

The Wabash River Traction Company served the town of Peru and was a short-lived operation between 1901 and 1904 before being taken over by the Fort Wayne & Wabash Valley Traction Company.

Gary & Interurban Railroad

The Gary & Interurban Railroad was created in 1913 through the mergers of the Goshen, South Bend & Chicago Railroad; Valparaiso & Northern Railway; Gary Connecting Railways Company; and Gary & Interurban Railway.

Bluffton, Geneva & Celina Traction

The Bluffton, Geneva & Celina Traction connected Bluffton and Geneva beginning operations in 1910. It was a mostly unsuccessful operation serving sparsely populated towns and went bankrupt in 1917.

Chicago & Calumet District Transit

The Chicago & Calumet District Transit was a very late interurban operation created in 1931 through the merger of the Calumet Railways, Gary Railways, Shore Line Motor Coach Company, and Midwest Motor Coach Company.

By this time part of the route also operated buses but rail service was still being provided as well. The C&CDT would survive all of the way into 1974 before being dissolved. However, its interurban rail operations had been abandoned some years earlier in the mid-1940s.

Union Traction Company

The Union Traction Company was by far Indiana's (and one of the country's) largest interurbans, operating an impressive 410-mile system serving the region surrounding Indianapolis.

It began operations in the late 1910 when the Indianapolis, New Castle & Toledo Electric Railway was reorganized as the Union Traction Company upon the completion of its line between Indianapolis and New Castle.

The UTC quickly grew through construction and merger. Some of its acquisitions included the Marion Electric Street Railway; Elwood & Alexandria Railway; Indiana Northern; Muncie, Hartford & Fort Wayne; Dayton & Muncie Traction; and the Muncie & Portland Traction.

After 1917, however, the system would not earn a profit through its passenger services. Freight continued to carry the railroad until it too began to decline after 1926. In 1930 the UTC became part of Samuel Insull's Midland United Corporation (the UTC routes not abandoned were operated by Insull's Indiana Railroad).

70092873246162531yh12988.jpgSouth Shore Line car #108 is stopped at the depot along Lasalle Avenue and Michigan Street in South Bend, Indiana; July 9, 1960. collection.

Indianapolis & Cincinnati Traction Company

The Indianapolis & Cincinnati Traction Company was an ambitious plan to connect its namesake cities. Unfortunately it would not come to pass although it would operate a 91-mile system.

The I&CT was created in 1902 extending from Indianapolis to Rushville by 1905 and then to Connersville a year later. In 1906 the railroad purchased the Shelbyville & Southeastern Traction which operated a 28-mile system between Indianapolis and Shelbyville as well as a branch to Greensburg, a 21-mile line.

The I&CT was unique in that it operated single-phase AC electrification instead of the traditional direct-current systems. While more efficient and powerful AC system are also much more expensive. By 1906 the I&CT was bankrupt and while it emerged in 1910 found little success.

In 1923 it switched to a more conventional DC system and was reorganized as the Indianapolis & Southeastern Railroad in 1929. Three years later in January of 1932 the rail service was discontinued altogether in favor of buses.

Indianapolis & Eastern Railway

The Indianapolis & Eastern Railway operated between Indianapolis and Richmond. It began services in July of 1902 and was purchased by the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company in March of 1907.

Indianapolis & Louisville Traction

The Indianapolis & Louisville Traction Company began operations in 1907 connecting Seymour and Sellersburg and was one part of three different interurbans that completed the link between Indianapolis and Louisville, Kentucky.

It operated on a 1200-volt D.C. electrification system and remained in service until 1931 when it was purchased by the Indiana Railroad.

Indianapolis, Columbus & Southern Traction

The Indianapolis, Columbus & Southern Traction was created in 1895 as the Indianapolis, Greenwood & Franklin Railroad, changing its name to the IC&S in 1901.

The interurban would eventually connect Indianapolis with Columbus serving a 59-mile system. It became part of the Indiana Railroad in 1930.

Indiana Railroad

The Indiana Railroad was a creation in 1930 by its owner Samuel Insull and was made up of five of Indiana's largest interurbans; the Union Traction Company, Interstate Public Service Company, Indiana Service Corporation, Northern Indiana Power and Terre Haute, Indiana & Eastern Traction.

In total it operated about a 600-mile system, which included both freight and passenger services. Unfortunately the Great Depression was very hard on the IR, along with increased competition from buses and automobiles and by July of 1933 it was in receivership.

In 1937 IR's parent, Midland Utilities, was dissolved by the Securities and Exchange Commission due to bankruptcy and its system was mostly abandoned by the early 1940s.

Indianapolis Traction Terminal

The Indianapolis Traction Terminal was more of a terminal railroad but which operated to serve interurban lines.

It was created in 1904 to manage and consolidate the stations of the various interurbans serving Indianapolis. It's decline followed the interurbans and was gone by the 1930s although its impressive station, staging tracks and shed had been built for large amounts of traffic that never came.

Lafayette Street Railway

The Lafayette Street Railway was an interurban serving downtown Lafayette. It was created in 1884 originally operated as a horse-powered service but by 1888 had been electrified.

In 1903 it became part of the Fort Wayne, Logansport, Lafayette & Lima Traction Company although after a number of name changes became the Lafayette Street Railway again in 1922. Interurban rail service remained in operation until 1940 when it was discontinued in favor of buses.

St. Joseph Valley Traction Company

This interurban operated a system serving Elkhart and Bristol, opening in 1910 and covering about 9 miles. It later expanded operations building a 24-mile line serving Bristol and La Grange.

It also operated a subsidiary, the St. Joseph Valley Railway, which connected La Grange and Columbia, Ohio, a distance of 37 miles. It was never a profitable system given the small communities it served and abandoned operations on April 17, 1918.

Northern Indiana Railway

This line was created in 1905 through the merger of smaller systems that served South Bend, Goshen, Elkhart, La Porte, Niles, and Michigan City as well as St. Joseph, Michigan.

It was later renamed as the Chicago, South Bend & Northern Indiana Railway but never built any further than its 1905 merger. The company also operated a subsidiary, the Michigan Railway.

Initially profitable, the early 1920s were difficult on the company and bankruptcy occurred by 1927. It was reorganized as the Northern Indiana Railways but it also fell into bankruptcy by the end of 1931. The system was eventually completely converted to buses in 1940.

Chicago-New York Air Line

The Chicago-New York Air Line was an ambitious, almost impossible, plan to connect Chicago and New York via a 742-mile straight and flat "air line".

It was chartered in 1906 but made it no further than a few miles of line constructed near LaPorte, Indiana. The scheme turned out to be nothing more than a scam as the builders took the Chicago investors' money who had financed the fist stages of the grand railroad and were never heard from again.

Marion City Railway

The Marion City Railway was a short-lived interurban that took over the Indiana Railroad's street operations in Marion in 1933. It remained in operation until 1947 when the service was abandoned altogether in favor of buses.

Marion, Bluffton & Eastern Traction

The Marion, Bluffton & Eastern Traction was created in December of 1905 and connected its namesake cities. It remained in operation until 1931 when rail services were abandoned.

Twin Branch Railroad

The Twin Branch Railroad was not really an interurban passenger railroad but did operate electrified trackage (about two miles) hauling coal to a Michigan Power Company power plant located near Mishawka.

Marion & Bluffton Traction Company

The M&BT was incorporated in 1905 as the Marion, Bluffton & Eastern Traction Company to serve its namesake towns as well as Decatur.

It opened a year later on December 1, 1905 operating a total of 32 miles. In 1912 it was reorganized as the Marion & Bluffton Traction and operated for another 14 years before being purchased by the Indiana Service Corporation and later as another component of the Indiana Railroad.

Southern Indiana Gas & Electric Company

This system had a history that dated back to the Evansville & Princeton Traction Company of December, 1903 that served its two primary cities on a 28-mile system.

It came under different ownership throughout the first decade of the 20th century and later added a route to Patoka by 1908. In 1912 it was taken over by the Public Service Company of Evansville and renamed as the Southern Indiana Gas & Electric. It remained in operation until 1933.

Lebanon-Thorntown Traction Company

This tiny interurban began operations in July, 1905 connecting its namesake towns and a connection with the THI&E. It remained in operation until July, 1926.

Angola Railway & Power Company

This small street railway served Paltytown and Lake James on a 3-mile system that opened in 1904 and was abandoned by 1918.

Fort Wayne & Northwestern Railway

The FW&N began life in 1907 as the Toledo & Chicago Interurban Railway opened a 42-mile route serving Kendallville, Garrett, Fort Wayne, and Waterloo.

In 1913 the company was reorganized as the Fort Wayne & Northeastern until 1924 when it was sold to the Indiana Service Corporation, later becoming part of the Indiana Railroad.

Home Transit, "The Daisy Line"

Home Transit, also known as the "Daisy Line", served the town of New Albany and took over operations of the street lines after the Indiana Railroad gave up on the route in the early 1930s.

It remained in operation until the mid-1940s before abandoning all operations itself.

New Albany & Louisville Electric Railway

The New Albany & Louisville Electric Railway was a latecomer to interurban operation beginning service in 1934 on a 4.75 mile railroad line in Louisville, a former Interstate Public Service property. The NA&L lasted until 1945 when it was discontinued.

Chicago, South Bend & Northern Indiana Railway

The Chicago, South Bend & Northern Indiana Railway was created in 1907 and took over the operations of the Northern Indiana Railway Company which served Michigan City.

In 1930 the CSB&NI was sold to the Northern Indiana Railway, Inc. and two years later all streetcar service was mothballed for buses.

Fort Wayne & Wabash Valley Traction Company

The FW&WV began operations in 1904 as a Schoepf-McGowan property (although it had a history of predecessors that dated back to 1901) and eventually connected Fort Wayne, Wabash, Peru, Logansport, and Lafayette.

By 1907 it had reached Bluffton, Muncie, and Indianapolis as well as the Tippecanoe Battle Ground. In 1911 the system was reorganized as the Fort Wayne & Northern Indiana Traction Company and again fell into bankruptcy, this time purchased by the Indiana Service Corporation. By 1930 it became part of the large Indiana Railroad system

Interstate Public Service Company

This company operated a significant interurban between Indianapolis and Louisville, Kentucky with a history that dated back to 1895 as the Indianapolis, Greenwood & Franklin Railroad.

Other lines that became part of the system included:

  • Louisville & Southern Indiana Traction Company (a Sam Insull property), which was building north from Louisville (it was purchased by the Louisville & Northern Railway & Lighting Company in 1905).
  • Indianapolis & Louisville Traction Company, which was created in 1905 to connect the two above systems and thereby giving a seamless right-of-way between Indianapolis and Louisville.

The Interstate proved to be one of the state's most successful systems offering upgraded passenger service between the two cities with sleepers and parlor cars. They even had two named trains; the Dixie Flyers and Hoosier Flyers.

The line was completely upgraded around 1920 and in 1931 it was renamed as the Public Service Company of Indiana. It later became part of the Indiana Railroad system.

Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company

The Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company was one of the state's largest operating over 400 miles of routes.

It began operations in 1907 from four smaller companies: 

  • Indianapolis & Western Railway
  • Indianapolis & Eastern Railway
  • Richmond Street & Interurban Railway
  • Indianapolis Coal Traction Company

Soon after it took over several other lines: 

  • Terre Haute Traction & Light Company
  • Indianapolis & Northwestern Traction Company
  • Indianapolis & Martinsville Rapid Transit Company
  • Indianapolis, Crawfordsville & Danville Electric Railway (also known as the "Ben Hur Route")

Its system radiated out in all directions from Indianapolis and remained in service until April of 1930 when it fell into bankruptcy. A year later it was acquired by Samuel Insull's Midland Utilities and operated by his Indiana Railroad.

Winona Railroad

The Winona Railroad began life in 1902 and known as the Winona & Warsaw Railway. The route served its namesake city but unfortunately was in bankruptcy for most its existence changing its name in 1905 to the Winona Interurban Railway.

It was again renamed in 1924 as the Winona Service Company before its final reorganization in 1926 when it came to be known as the Winona Railroad. Passenger service on the line survived until September 1 of 1934 with freight services lasting until May 31, 1952.

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