The switch controlling the connecting track from the Milwaukee Road to the former Monon in Bedford, Ind., is shown as it appeared in the early 1990s. At the time, the switch was remotely controlled by an operator in the former Monon passenger station shown at right.
This is how the switch to the connection to the Milwaukee Road looked in May 2014. It is now a hand-thrown switch that hasn’t been thrown in years.
Last of Three Articles
The switch is quiet now. It hasn’t been thrown for at least five years. Who would know by looking at it that a fierce legal battle that went all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court was once fought over what that switch made possible.
The story begins in April 1969. The Interstate Commerce Commission was holding hearings on the proposed merger of the Louisville & Nashville, and the Monon.
Appearing at a hearing on April 28, Milwaukee Road President Curtis E. Crippen asked that his railroad be given trackage rights on the soon-to-be former Monon between Bedford, Ind., and Louisville, Ky., so that it could interchange with railroads serving the Southeast, particularly the Southern Railway.
The Milwaukee had operated a branch in Indiana since 1921, but the coal and limestone business that had sustained the line for decades had pretty much dried up.
The CTH&SE has been classified as an eastern railroad, which worked to the advantage of the Milwaukee when it came to interchange traffic. For rate division purposes, it was to the Milwaukee’s advantage to interchange traffic with eastern railroads somewhere along the former CTH&SE rather than in Chicago.
The Milwaukee had some interchange bridge traffic with the Monon at Bedford but the acquisition of the Monon by the L&N likely would end that. Already, Crippen told the ICC, the Milwaukee had lost interchange business in Terre Haute when L&N had taken over the Chicago & Eastern Illinois.
The ICC on Sept. 9, 1970, said it would approve the L&N-Monon merger subject to certain conditions. No. 3 on that list was that the L&N grant the Milwaukee trackage rights between Bedford and Louisville. The L&N was to sell to the Milwaukee a one-quarter interest in the Kentucky & Indiana Terminal, which the Monon used to reach Louisville.
The Milwaukee later decided that it didn’t want to buy an ownership stake in the K&IT, but instead wanted to be a tenant of the L&N and K&IT.
The L&N balked at that and insisted that the Milwaukee’s refusal to buy an ownership stake in the K&IT had nullified Condition 3 of the ICC order.
The L&N-Monon merger was consummated on July 31, 1971, but it would be two years before the Milwaukee could begin using the ex-Monon.
The ICC had left it up to the Milwaukee and L&N to negotiate the terms of the access to Louisville and after the two railroads reached an impasse in November 1971, the Milwaukee went to the ICC and asked it to order the L&N to allow it to use its tracks.
An ICC hearing examiner sided with the Milwaukee in August 1972 as did the Commission, which on Jan. 10, 1973, ordered the trackage rights arrangement become effective on March 1, 1973.
The L&N went to court and a federal judge in Louisville issued a restraining order against implementation of the ICC order as the L&N litigated the ICC’s trackage rights decision.
A federal appeals court on Feb. 26 dissolved the restraining order, which cleared the way for the Milwaukee to begin serving Louisville.
In the meantime, the Milwaukee began construction in late February of a connecting track to the ex-Monon. Otherwise, Milwaukee trains would have to cross the ex-Monon at grade and reach the ex-Monon via an industrial loop track used by both railroads.
That would have meant that a Louisville-bound Milwaukee Road train would cross the Milwaukee-Monon diamond that it had already crossed once because it would have gone in a circle.
On Feb. 27, the L&N asked the federal judge in Louisville who had issued the original restraining order to reinstate it. The judge declined.
The Milwaukee already had plans for the first train to Louisville, which was expected to arrive on March 1. The railroad also would host a dinner and other meetings with shippers and civic officials.
But that was in jeopardy as the L&N asked the U.S. Supreme Court to issue an emergency stay of the ICC order granting the Milwaukee access to Louisville via the L&N.
The high court declined to do so, issuing its decision 16 hours before the scheduled arrival of the first Milwaukee Road train.
That train arrived at the K&IT Youngtown Yard at 10:30 a.m. on March 1. The Milwaukee thus created a 2,886-mile single-line freight haul between Portland, Ore., and Louisville.
By one account, the Milwaukee did not develop the Louisville gateway as much as it could have even though the Southern was willing for provide interchange traffic. The Milwaukee was hamstrung by the poor condition of its tracks in Indiana, a legacy of the years of neglect after the coal and limestone business largely evaporated.
The Milwaukee had made some track repairs of its Indiana branch in preparation for opening the Louisville service and this enabled it to switch from four-axle to six-axle motive power. To gain money to further rehab the line, the Milwaukee abandoned its own track north of Terre Haute in 1979 in favor of trackage rights on the former New York Central’s “Egyptian” line that ran parallel to the Illinois-Indiana border to deep Southern Illinois.
The “Egyptian” line was itself a secondary route in so-so condition, but Conrail and the Milwaukee could split the maintenance expenses. The Milwaukee rebuilt the line between Bedford and Terre Haute.
The Southern wanted to start a 48-hour service between Chicago and Atlanta, using the Milwaukee Road north of Louisville. But tracks conditions were such that it took the Milwaukee 48 hours just to operate over the 343 miles between Chicago and Bedford.
One story from the era is that the Milwaukee refused to handle a circus train that originated on the Southern because the Milwaukee was afraid of what the animals might do if the train derailed.
Nonetheless, the Milwaukee’s Louisville trains continued to operate over the ex-Monon for the next three decades. The Milwaukee Road was absorbed by the Soo Line in 1986. Eventually the Soo Line disappeared into Canadian Pacific.
The Indiana Rail Road acquired the former Milwaukee Road trackage in Indiana on May 28, 2006. At the time, the INRD envisioned developing a Chicago-Louisville market.
For three years, the INRD operated trains to Louisville. But the business was a shadow of what the Milwaukee Road and Soo Line had enjoyed.
When CSX won regulatory approval in early 2009 to cease freight service on the Hoosier Sub, it meant that the INRD would be responsible for the 62-mile route’s maintenance.
Many of those ancient semaphore signals that railfan phototgraphers loved had been rendered inoperative when thieves stole the copper wiring. This forced INRD trains to limp along at 10 mph. INRD service to Louisville fell to once a week.
INRD management arranged a trackage rights arrangement between Indianapolis and Louisville over a former Pennsylvania Railroad route now owned by the Louisville & Indiana.
That was implemented in early 2010. Internet reports indicate that the last INRD train on the Hoosier Sub operated in July 2009. The INRD won regulatory approval to abandon 23 miles of the ex-Milwaukee Road trackage between Bedford and the Crane U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center in spring 2010.
The stretch passes through some scenic, but desolate, territory and includes a tunnel. At one time a resort hotel was located along the line at Spring Hill.
It left the switch between the Milwaukee and Monon in place in the event that a plan talked about by Lawrence County officials to acquire the Hoosier Sub to Mitchell and a connection with the former St. Louis line of the Baltimore & Ohio ever materializes.
Trains would need to use this switch to access the former Milwaukee Road trackage in order to reach Bedford’s industrial loop track.
Many of those who fought the long battle to establish this switch are either retired or deceased. What might they think about the sight of a tree growing through it today?
More than likely they would note that the needs of railroads are never static. It made sense in the 1970s to establish the Louisville gateway, but things have changed and it isn’t needed anymore.
So the connecting track, the switch to the Hoosier Sub and even the rails of the Hoosier Sub itself lie dormant, waiting for another wind to sweep in change that will either result in these tracks seeing service again or being removed.
Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders