The Rise and Fall of River and Rail transportation in Madison, Indiana.

Gone Forever

Train at downtown Madison station

On May 8, 1931, the Pennsylvania Railroad declared that short haul passenger traffic was gone from the railroads forever and that the only thing that the carriers could do was abandon train service in all instances where revenue was less than cost of operation. Therefore, the railroad said it would be forced to give up service between Madison and Columbus. Those arguments were resisted by representatives of the city of Madison. The Courier remarked, “It is safe to say that both the railroad men and those representing the city will be prepared to fight the abandonment question to a finish as neither showed any sign of retreating from their position”.

At a meeting in North Vernon a delegation representing Madison, North Vernon, Dupont, Elizabethtown and Scipio “flayed” the railroad, accusing it of poor service, high rates and lack of agents. They vowed to fight to retain passenger service between Madison and Columbus.

On May 22, before members of the Public Service Commission, the Pennsylvania Railroad defended its decision to discontinue service on four passenger trains operating between Madison and Columbus because they were a drastic loss of revenue for the company. Representatives for the city charged that worn out equipment, inadequate schedules and lack of effort to secure business had driven patrons of the community from the trains. The railroad contended that in the month of March only fifteen passengers had used the train. It also noted that baggage taken on and off the various stations totaled only four pieces during a one week period during that same month. It contended that the road expended $1,020 a month in maintaining a locomotive that pulled the passenger and freight trains on the Madison branch. Upon questioning, however, it was ascertained that the company was moving two and three cars of meat out of Madison each week with the passenger locomotive and that those receipts were not being credited to the passenger receipts. It was disclosed, also, that hundreds of carloads of coal were hauled to North Vernon to be weighed and then returned to the State Hospital, there being no scales nearer to the hospital. This led to much argument between the two sides with accusations and condemnations flying about.

An Olive Branch

Mr. Miller, superintendent of the railroad asked to make a few remarks. He said he was much impressed by the interest shown by the citizens of the community in response to the road’s petition to take off passenger train service. He stated the railroad wanted to be a good neighbor and that the community and the railroad were bound together by social and economic ties. He reiterated that the railroad could not continue to operate at the losses it was presently experiencing. He then announced that the railroad was willing to try an experiment. He proposed the use of a gas-electric car for operation between Madison and Columbus which would cost considerably less than the steam train operation. He expressed the hope that the people of the community would support the gas-electric service but, also, consider using the railroads to transport freight, as much was now being lost to movement by truck. “We will be willing to try this experiment for awhile, and see how it will work out, take off our steam train and put on a gas-electric car and see whether it will be self-supporting”. A round table discussion between members of the Madison Chamber of Commerce committee and representatives of the railroad was to take up discussion of the matter.

A Ten Cent Taxi

On June 19 the Madison Courier stated, “The schedule committee appointed at yesterday’s railroad meeting, after some discussion, accepted the schedule of trains offered by the Pennsylvania Railroad”. Also, according to the terms, all tickets would be sold at the North Madison station and all trains would terminate on the hilltop with the Victoria Taxi Company conveying passengers to and from North Madison for the sum of ten cents, including personal baggage. Provision was made for heavier baggage to be taken by truck to and from Madison. The taxi company was to be informed of the exact number of passengers so as to avoid over crowding. The terminal for the taxi was to be located at the depot on West First Street.

After some fine tuning, the final schedule for transportation on the gas-electric train was announced on June 27th. The morning train was to leave North Madison at 8:30 and arrive in Columbus at 9:55 where connection would be made with train #317 which would arrive in Indianapolis at 11:20 a. m. The evening train would leave North Madison 5:30 and terminate at Indianapolis at 10:30 p. m. The #326 train would depart from Indianapolis at 8:15 a. m., arrive in Columbus at 9:25 and connect with the gas-electric train #926 and arrive at North Madison at 11:00 p. m. Those wishing to make afternoon connections would depart from Indianapolis at 6:15 p. m. on the #324 train, arrive in Columbus at 7:09 and transfer to the gas-electric train #916 leaving at 7:45 and arrive in North Madison at 9:05 p. m.

The Doodlebug

The doodlebugThe community was at ease with its new form of transportation for a few years. They named the gas-electric trains “The Doodlebug”. It is yet to be determined if this was a term of endearment or derision. This accommodation would prove to be only a stop-gap measure that prolonged the inevitable. Lack of interest in rail transportation and losses for the railroad brought the end of passenger service to Madison on August 16, 1935. In “Pioneer Railroad of the Northwest” Phil Anderson writes, “A coach was attached to the daily local freight to accommodate the line’s few passengers. At the same time U. S. mail and less-than-carload (LCL) shipments began to be handled by trucks. The coach was discontinued October 10, 1938, ending all passenger service on the Madison- Columbus Secondary Track”.

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