By 1914 interurban lines in Indiana totaled more than 2,318 miles of track. Indianapolis’ Traction Terminal building was on the corner of Illinois and Market Street and that was its hub. The interurban served every major community in the state except Bloomington, Madison and Vincennes.
But unfortunately Indiana’s transportation utopia was built on shaky ground. Four companies controlled all lines coming into Indianapolis, Indianapolis & Cincinnati Traction Company; Interstate Public Service Company; Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction; and Union Traction.
At the same time thirty-two additional companies were operating electric railways in the state. In 1914 only 9 of these 36 companies were able to pay a dividend while 11 others barely operated in the black. Combined net income for the twenty solvent companies was $1,667, 944. Stock outstanding totaled $109,217,285 and outstanding bonds were pegged at $93,010,047. Although the combined bottom line for Indiana’s traction companies was bleak, passenger traffic at Indy’s terminal peaked at seven million riders which caused a bright future for Indianapolis business interests.
Disasters generated by Mother Nature and the nature of man, took their toll on Indiana’s interstate mass transit system. The most catastrophic accident in the history of electric rail travel occurred just north of Kingsland, Indiana, shortly after noon on September 21, 1910. The big Wabash Valley Traction Extra Limited 303 crashed head-on at a high rate of speed into the smaller Union Traction northbound 233. Forty-one passengers were killed in the crash and four were critically injured. Most of the passengers were Bluffton people coming to the Fort Wayne Fair. Except for the crew, the 303 was running empty since it had been dispatched out of Fort Wayne to pick up the overflow crowd coming from Bluffton. The Fort Wayne car had orders to pull off on a siding south of Ossian and wait for the other car, but it over-rode the siding and caused the tragedy. Damage claims and litigation fees from that accident forced the line into receivership.
The 1913 flood put the Cincinnati, Lawrenceberg and Aurora line out of business. Other railroad beds were also seriously damaged by high waters, causing unanticipated maintenance and exacerbating the tenuous financial position of several transit companies.
The beginning of the end for Indiana’s traction companies started with World War I and the mass production of automobiles, between the years of 1917-1918 seven more interurban lines failed. Immediately after World War I, rider numbers continued to decline which ended traditional low consumer fares and those price increases created a heated public opposition to any further rate hikes.
Noble efforts were made to rejuvenate the mass transit business throughout the 1920s; better service was offered on express routes when new comfortably furnished parlor cars were added. These efforts helped because passenger service in Indiana hit an all time high of fifty-million in 1923 and stimulated a great economic boom for Indiana businesses. Rider numbers stayed in the fifty-million ranges four more years before starting another precipitous decline. Further decline was caused by Henry Ford’s mass produced Model “T,” which sold for about $275.00. By 1924 Henry Ford had produced ten million cars and with improved roads Indiana’s interurban system was nearing its end.
To be continued…
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