A lasting impact

Madison hopes to receive grant
to rehabilitate railroad incline

Guided walking tours
are possibility for restored Incline

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(November 2008) – Madison residents and visitors may soon be able to hike a new walking trail along the historic Madison Railroad Incline, should the City of Madison succeed in obtaining a $1 million federal Transportation Enhancement grant.

Bob Greene

Photo by Konnie McCollum

Community volunteers led by Bob Greene
and the Madison Correctional Facility’s
Plus Unit have worked for months
clearing the historic railroad Incline.

The city has applied for the grant to rehabilitate the historic Madison Railroad incline and the stone arch bridge that crosses Crooked Creek. The project could provide several new tourism possibilities to Madison. The Incline lies adjacent to the Heritage Trail of Madison, a bicycle and walking trail, but it has been off limits to the public because of fallen rocks and dangerous crevices.
Nine local public agencies in the Seymour District applied for $1,34 million in available federal funds for projects, according to Indiana Department of Transportation’s Brandy Fichvogt.
“Madison’s project was certainly a good one,” she said. “We will know on Nov. 6 which project or projects were selected to receive the funds.” She said INDOT was not sure whether the money would be split between several projects or awarded to one single project.
Cathy Hale, president of Madison Railroad, said grant money would be used primarily to rehabilitate the steep incline and the historic Crooked Creek stone arch bridge to allow public access, possibly in the form of a guided walking trail.
“We will not be running a train up the incline,” she said. “The track in the area has a natural tendency to erode, and it constantly needs maintenance.”
Instead, Madison Railroad officials are working with the Jefferson County Historical Society and the Madison Port Authority to develop opportunities to “show railroading as it used to be, including a working example,” said Hale.
The Madison Railroad board has purchased an old passenger coach and is working to restore the interior of it. The coach will be part of a special events train that will offer train rides to the public. Madison Railroad already offers a special Santa Claus train during the holiday season that transports guests from North Vernon, Ind., to Vernon and back.
“We are putting together a special ‘history train’ excursion through part of Madison that will be offered during our Madison Bicentennial Celebration,” said Hale.
Jan Vetrhus, coordinator for the Madison Bicentennial Celebration Committee, said the train excursion will be an “exciting opportunity” during the Bicentennial. “I believe the train ride will run from North Madison to Dupont and will feature historic characters on board,” she said. “It’s going to be a real treat for everyone.”
The Madison Bicentennial Committee is also looking for a sponsor to help purchase a historic hand car that will offer a unique opportunity for train enthusiasts to experience railroading at its earliest.

Incline Railroad Tracks

Photo by Don Ward

The Reuben Wells locomotive that
used to run the incline is on display at
the Children's Museum in Indianapolis.

Community activist Bob Greene, who has played an instrumental part in clearing debris from the riverside portion of the Heritage Trail and the Madison Railroad Incline, proposed the idea that a small, hand-operated railroad car could be a major tourist attraction for Madison.
“The railroad tracks between Vaughn Drive and Vernon Street to Main Street would have to be rehabilitated in order to accommodate the hand car,” said Green, “But this opportunity could help re-integrate the Madison Railroad into the fabric of downtown Madison in a way that would bring enormous economic opportunity to the community.”
Greene, with the help of other volunteers, including a specialized unit of women offenders from the Madison Correctional Facility, has worked for months on clearing debris along the historic railroad incline and unique “cat steps” leading up the steep hill to the Madison State Hospital grounds.
Greene has envisioned officials eventually opening up the landmarks for unique historic walking trails that would offer tourists and residents more opportunity to experience Madison’s historic legacy.
“I call the railroad Incline and the cat steps the greatest architectural landmarks in Madison,” said Greene. “What a tremendous contribution these make to our already rich historic tradition. It will be wonderful when residents and tourists can walk these sites and experience the magnitude of effort that went into the making of these landmarks.”
Hale praised Greene for his enthusiasm in clearing the Incline. “We are very appreciative of the work that Bob Greene and the Madison Corrections workers have done on the Incline,” she said. “We’ve been looking for some time at options to best use the incline. Bob Greene’s enthusiasm has pushed us ahead of schedule.”
When Greene and the other volunteers finish clearing what they can along the Incline, Hale said railroad authorities hope to move in with equipment and remove the boulders on the track.
The Madison Railroad incline was built by 1,000 Irish immigrants over a four-year period in 1836-1841 as part of Indiana’s 1836 Internal Improvement Act. The incline measures 7,012 feet long and elevates 413 feet to achieve a 5.89 percent grade. More than 500,000 tons of rock and earth were moved in construction. It is still considered to be the steepest standard gauge main track ascended by wheel-adhesion locomotives in the United States. The locomotive, the Rueben Wells, that used to run on the Incline, is on display inside the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.
Madison Railroad began operation in September 1978. The railroad operates the remaining segment of Indiana’s first rail line, the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad, which dates back to 1836. The railroad was the oldest in the Pennsylvania system west of Harrisburg, Pa.
Madison Railroad has been owned and operated by the City of Madison since 1981. The line was purchased from Penn Central in order to maintain rail service to the community.

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