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  Railroads of Madison County
Life and Times Series #5
Roger Hensley
Rail Transportation

Light Rail

December 05, 2002

Years ago, I found that my grandmother from Westport Indiana had relatives here in Anderson and in Alexandria and had spent time in both. Since she didn't drive, I often wondered how this happened. In fact, she was married to her second husband here. I spent a number of summers in the 1950s in Westport visiting, but still the connection eluded me. To make matters more confusing, Greensburg and North Vernon could be added to the mix. How?

It wasn't I picked up an interest in the history and function of the railroads in Madison County that I found the answer. It was the railroad. The Big Four (NYC) had a line running from Elkhart to Jeffersonville. All these folks had to do was to walk over to the train station, buy a ticket and ride north or south. Some came for work and stayed. Others came and went with ease. No traffic congestion. No cars. No gasoline. Talk about leaving the driving to someone else! Not to mention no taxes for construction of the highway system that cars and buses require. The railroads built their own roads and PAID taxes!

How about convenience? In the 1920s, you could take the train or the interurban. Headway for traction cars to Marion or Indianapolis was one hour. Yes, you could catch a traction car to Marion or Indy every hour. How's that for a commute or for shopping? The cities were served by city street car lines. Transportation was good. Transportation was easy!

Fast forward a few years and enter the automobile and buses and the new highways and roads that they required. The rail passenger systems around here were dismantled with the interurban shutting down just ahead of WW II when we would desperately need it. Too bad! So sad! Let's all ride the bus or buy our own car and try to find a place to park it! Now, we can spread out our cities and shopping areas because we need a place to park right next to the door 'for convenience' don'tcha know.

Okay, today we call it 'Light Rail' and many areas throughout the country are rediscovering a form of transportation we gave up 60 years ago. What have we done to ourselves? We need Light Rail from Anderson to Noblesville, Fishers, Carmel, Castleton and Indy (not to speak of Muncie). A direct line could run right down the center of I-69. How about I-69 down by Fishers? Have you tried to drive through there at drive time, or should I say drive and sit time? Light Rail is needed on the Noblesville to Indy Corridor, but instead, they want to add more lanes to I-69? What good is that? You still have to get on and off the highway and traffic is still going to sit at the exit ramps. Real good thinking people!

Is there a bottom line to this, you ask? Yes, we are going to have to bite the bullet and get out of our cars for shopping trips to Castleton and for commutes to Fishers, Carmel and Indy. We're going to have to pay the taxes necessary to rebuild what we tossed away 60 years ago. A map of 1916 shows clearly what we lost, one of the finest transportation networks any state ever had. The lines on the map aren't highways, they are rail lines and you could travel virtually anywhere in Indiana easily by rail or interurban. Let's do it again! We can! We must!

Roger Hensley

Published in the Anderson Herald-Bulletin on December 05, 2002

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