give towns unique attraction
Madison, Ind.s railroad history,
some question why it doesnt offer train rides
(October 2009) Masked bandits, with their
hats pulled low and guns drawn, burst into the passenger car of a loaded
train. As the robbers relieve the riders of their worldly possessions,
the crowd erupts in laughter, cheers and applause.
It doesnt sound quite like the reaction one would expect of people
being robbed, but thats what happens during special train excursions
at the Kentucky Railway Museum.
Each year, more than 40,000 visit the museum in New Haven, Ky., a small
town located 15 miles from the closest interstate and with a population
of 849 people. More than 33,000 of those visitors come for the special
train excursions offered at the museum, according to Lynn Dawson, marketing
Dubois County, Ind., is home to 40,000 people, including the city of
Jasper, with a population of approximately 14,000. In efforts to increase
tourism and help economic development, the city is working to take advantage
of its railroad history. City officials there have been working for
six years to establish tourism train rides, and final details are nearly
completion. The city built a replica depot of its original one, acquired
three passenger cars and is hoping to run train excursions regularly
from Jasper to French Lick.
The economic downturn in the past year has forced many communities to
examine innovative and creative ways to increase revenue. Many have
looked at increasing economic development through tourism. Madison,
Ind., a town of 13,000 residents, is already known for historic preservation.
Some believe it is in a prime position to capitalize on another aspect
of its well-rounded history: the railroad.
Like the other communities, Madison is rich in railroad history. It
is site of the first railroad in the state and it was the site of the
steepest incline in the country during the mid-18th century. Today,
the historic passenger depot, built in 1895, is located on its original
site and currently houses the Railroad Station Museum, owned by the
Jefferson County Historical Society. The museum, situated on the same
grounds as the Heritage Center, 615 W. First St., sees about 5,000 visitors
annually. It has no regular train excursions for visitors.
officials in Dubois
County, Ind., are planning to begin
operating a tourism train between
Jasper and French Lick. Dining events
are popular at the Indiana Railway
Museum in French Lick
This year, however, the Madison Railroad, which owns the
remaining segments of the rail line in Madison, and the historical society
worked together to offer the Historic Railroad Excursion Train for five
special rides on Oct. 17-18. Tickets for the event were sold out in
just a few hours, according to Joe Carr, the historical societys
Wed be willing to work with the Madison Area Convention
and Visitors Bureau, the Madison Railroad and other groups to help attract
more regional interest for our train museum, said Carr. Weve
already come a tremendous way in the last year. Madison Railroad has
been remarkably generous in supplying the crew, cars, fuel. Theyve
seen the interest in these excursions.
But he adds that it will take money, cooperation and commitment from
various organizations to make regular train excursions a reality in
Railway history in Madison
With the arrival of the steamboat early in its history, Madison eventually
earned the nickname Porkopolis from its growth in livestock
exports, one of the major reasons the railroad was built here.
According to the Madison Jefferson County Public Librarys River
to Rail digital history project, Indianas first railroad,
the Madison & Indianapolis Railroad, was built between 1836 and
1847. Chartered in 1832 by the Indiana State Legislature as the Madison
Indianapolis & Lafayette Railroad, construction on it began Sept.
The historic first ride took place on Nov. 28, 1838. The trip included
then-Indiana Gov. David Wallace and a company of prominent citizens.
They rode to Grahams Fork on the Muscatatuck River and back, a
distance of 34 miles. At one point, the train was zipping by at the
extraordinary speed of eight mph, according to reports.
The railroad was transferred to private ownership on Jan. 31, 1843,
as the Madison & Indianapolis Railroad. Successful for more than
a decade, the railroad went into decline and was sold at foreclosure
in 1862, renamed the Indianapolis & Madison Railroad, and after
a series of corporate transfers, became part of the massive Pennsylvania
Railroad system in 1921.
Kentucky Railway Museum in
New Haven, Ky., offers birthday
rides (above), holiday and special
events. Passengers board (below)
at the train depot in New Haven.
Early on, there was no direct way to get the railroad
out of Madison except by means of a steep incline. In order to do this,
a train had to climb 413 feet and achieve a grade, or slope, with a
rise of 113 feet per mile, an equivalent of an average grade of 5.89
percent with a length of 7,012 feet. Workers began the arduous task
in 1836 of carving by hand and blasting with black powder charge through
solid rock to create the incline. The mostly Irish workers laboriously
hauled the stones out of the right-of-way with mules and horses. They
finished it in 1845, and at that time, Madisons incline was given
the dubious honor of being the steepest line-haul grade in the country.
By 1848, there was regular rail traffic between Madison and Indianapolis.
Each day, except for Sunday, passengers could travel to and from the
cities. Freight was also shipped every day but Sunday.
By the mid-1800s, the city was the center of transportation, industry
and commerce for the entire region, but that prosperity eventually declined,
and the last passenger train left the Madison depot on June 22, 1931.
In 1987, the Railroad Station was purchased by the Jefferson County
Historical Society from Wilco Electric Co., which bought the building
in 1961 from the Pennsylvania Railroad. After an extensive overhaul
and restoration, the new museum opened. In 1995, on its 100th anniversary,
it was re-dedicated and re-opened. Today, it stands as a reminder of
the heyday of the railroad and tells through pictures and historic artifacts
the history of the railroad in Madison.
John White, a retired Indiana State trooper who now resides in Hanover,
Ind., began volunteering for the JCHS eight years ago. He is the weekend
manager of the Heritage Center but also gives tours of the Railroad
White is part of the attraction of the railroad museum. His anecdotal
stories tell more than what pictures and their descriptions can. He
helps bring to life the amazing era of the railroad.
from the JCHS Museum
Archives The Madison
Train Depot is pictured during its
heydey in the late 19th century.
Do you see the bullet hole in the ticket window?
he asked. No, there wasnt a robbery here, but the best we
can figure out is the night watchman may have had too much bourbon and
shot the place up.
The ticket window was the original one in the station. The bullet hole
is at the top left side of it. In addition to the ticket window, there
is a telegraph system set up, historic traveling trunks, the station
bell that was rung to announce arrivals and departures, a variety of
rail tracks in different sizes, a model train, a bell children enjoy
ringing and even a mannequin ticket master who sets in the original
ticket office. Pictures adorn every wall, and narrate the entire story
of the railroad. Walking into the depot is like taking a step back in
time. One can almost hear the hustle and bustle.
People are shocked to know that this station has flush toilets
and electricity in 1895, he said as he led the way through the
ladies waiting area. Had you walked in when this place was
in operation, it would have been filled with cigar smoke and spittoons.
Women were given the opportunity to have their own waiting room to escape
all the smells and noise.
White would love to see more tourism development with the railroad,
but he understands that cost is the biggest problem. I would dearly
love to see this place busy and flourishing, he said. Usually,
he gets just a few people a day to visit.
At the Kentucky Railway Museum, Dawson said people come
from as far away as California to ride the train and visit the museum.
People find trains fascinating, she said. We are one
of three operating tourist railroads in the state, and people simply
love to come here.
The museum is one of the top three attractions for the Nelson County-Bardstown,
Ky., area. We definitely bring in lots of revenue for our economy,
said Dawson. People who travel here from a long distance will
end up shopping, staying in our hotels and dining.
During the summer, the museum had nearly 14,000 visitors arrive over
five days to see Thomas the Tank Engine. Dawson said 50
percent of those visitors stayed in area hotels. Its a big
boon for our economy.
by Konnie McCollum
White, weekend manager of
the Jefferson County Historical
Societys Heritage Center also
conducts tours of the Train Depot,
located on the museum grounds.
The museum has only six paid employees, so much of the
work is done by volunteers.
Our engineers, conductors, crew are all volunteers who donate
their time, she said. If a community wants to start a tourist
railroad, it takes planning and cooperation. Its all about working
to make your visitors happy. We focus on that.
In Jasper, Tourism Director Kristen Ruhe is excited about her communitys
soon-to-be venture into train tourism. Every single day since
word got out about our endeavor, we get phone calls asking when our
train will be up and running, she said. Final details are
being tweaked, and officials hope it wont be too long.
The three rail cars her community owns are finely restored. Each holds
approximately 40 passengers. One is a bar, or lounge, car. Another one
features dining tables and chairs, while the last one has booth seating.
All of them are climate controlled and have restroom facilities.
Dubois County is the neighbor of Orange County, which is already providing
scenic railway excursion through the Indiana Railway Museum, located
in French Lick.
That community has a population of approximately 1,900 people. The museum
began to operate train excursions on a 10-mile stretch of its track
in 1978. Today, more than 23,000 people each year take advantage of
the scenic two-hour train tours offered by the museum.
Alan Barnett, general manager of the museum and railway, said there
are approximately 150 to 200 tourist railroads around the country, and
most of them are very popular attractions. Many train attractions offer
birthday parties, special holiday excursions, such as a Polar Express
to the North Pole, and murder mystery rides.
Riding a train takes you back to and era when things were not
as rushed, he said. We get grandparents here who havent
ridden a train since they got off one at the end of World War II. They
get on with their grandchildren who are excited because theyve
never ridden a train.
During the 20-mile round trip on the French Lick Scenic Railway, volunteers
give narratives about points of interest along the way, and during special
events riders may even get to experience a train robbery.
It is a great opportunity to simply relax and have fun, he said.
This is not something a community can just jump into, however,
he said. You have to get the right people working together to do it
correctly and safely.
Steven Chittick, a longtime Madison resident, is a train
buff. During the 1990s, Chittick, who retired at the end of September
as a State Farm Insurance agent, spent countless hours collecting and
researching Madisons train history.
Historic train excursions are incredibly popular. It would be
a wonderful way for Madison to draw in people and boost the economy,
he said. Madison is known for the history of the railroad. Its
where it all began in this state. We can do it if we want to.
Chittick was thrilled when he found out about the October excursions
the Madison Railroad was going to offer. I got my tickets, and
I cant wait, he said.
Ron Grimes and his wife, Jackie, both researchers at the Jefferson County
Historical Societys Research Library, are also railroad fans.
They travel the country seeking out tourism railroads.
Offering regular train excursions would be wonderful for tourists
looking for something to do, said Ron. It would work here;
there is lots of scenery for riders.
He would also love to see the historic incline developed into some type
of walking trail. Heritage Trail President Bob Greene has worked with
Madison Correctional Facility inmates to clear portions of the incline.
He is working on plans to develop a green space that could eventually
include a tourism trail along the historic incline.
The Madison Railroad is owned by the City of Madison through the Port
Authority and possesses 25 miles of short line rail between Madison
and North Vernon. Its office is headquartered inside the former Jefferson
Proving Ground, where there is 17 miles of rail and large train storage
Madison Railroad President Cathy Hale made a presentation on the railroad
Sept. 23 at the at the Economic Development Partners of Jefferson County
summit, held at Ivy Tech Community College. Hale said constant erosion
because of the natural geography of the area prohibits the incline from
being opened for actual train service. The last time it was used was
in 1992 when the steep rail line was cleared and repaired to bring a
large piece of new equipment down the hill to the Indiana-Kentucky Electric
She said her company was happy to help with the October passenger train
excursions, and she noted that another excursion is planned during the
upcoming holiday season. Several excursions may be offered next year.
She said the interest in the train rides did not surprise her, but conducting
them put extra strain on her six-person staff because of federal laws
about work hours.
At this point, our mission at Madison Railroad is freight,
said Hale, who has been with the railroad since 1978 and the CEO since
1998. We have offered the recent excursions, including one in
the summer, as a service to our community, but any more than that would
have to be a decision made by our board of directors.
Back to October 2009