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On Track

Madison Railroad takes step forward
in five-year plan

Recent upgrades celebrated
with luncheon, train rides

By: Tess Worrell
Contributing Writer

(December 2012) – In 1841, the Madison Railroad became famous for including a 5.9 percent grade. The railroad was one of the earliest in Indiana, running from Madison to Lafayette. In 1890, the railroad became part of the Pennsylvania Railroad Co. After Pennsylvania Co. went bankrupt in 1976, Madison faced a loss of railroad service vital to the area. The Madison Port Authority took over the 26-mile portion running from Madison to North Vernon and has kept the rail service running.

Railroad Staff

Photo provided

The Madison Railroad staff
includes (from left) Cathy
Hale (executive director),
Terry Fletcher, Ira Sprong, Robert
Griffin, Chris Brawner and Casey Goode.

This year, the Madison Railroad made news again as it completed major renovations to upgrade service to customers. On Oct. 24, the railroad celebrated its latest achievements with a ceremony including Madison Mayor Damon Welch, along with guests from the communities that made the improvements possible – the Madison Redevelopment Commission, the city of North Vernon, the city of Vernon, Jefferson County, the Lawrenceburg Regional Economic Development Foundation, and the Indiana Department of Transportation Rail Section.
Cathy Hale, CEO of Madison Railroad, notes the celebration was a milestone event. “We celebrated the replacement of two bridges – each 70 feet high and 200 feet long, a huge accomplishment.”
The replacement came as part of a five-year plan to upgrade the railroad’s infrastructure, which was necessary for the railroad to continue to serve its customers. The railroad was built to carry cars holding up to 263,000 pounds. But over the years, standard weights for railroad car have increased to 286,000 pounds. Though existing rail customers continued using the 263,000 pound cars in order to run on the Madison tracks, finding the lighter cars had become a challenge for local businesses. So the railroad developed a five-year plan to upgrade all the track to support the heavier loads, rehabilitate or replace the bridges and upgrade locomotives to accommodate the heavier cars.
In four years, the railroad has achieved the vast majority of the plan replacing the majority of the track, replacing or rehabilitating the five bridges and upgrading locomotives. Only 4.7 miles of track remain – track running from just outside Jefferson Proving Grounds to the Madison hilltop, the oldest track on the railroad. “Once we upgrade that last 4.7 miles to 70-pound rails, we will be able to run the heavier cars the entire route,” says Hale.
Under the direction of the Madison Port Authority, the railroad moved from being largely supported by government subsidies to self-sustaining funding and has operated in the black for the last 15 years. The upgrades will allow the railroad to increase services to customers throughout southern Indiana and continue to be profitable.

Cathy Hale

Photo by Patti Watson

Cathy Hale guides the Madison Railroad
operations as its executive director.

Jerry Thaden, Chairman of the Board of the Madison Port Authority, notes that the railroad offers critical opportunities for economic development in the area. “Due to our distance from the interstate, the difficulty for trucks navigating two-lane highways such as Hwy. 7, and the aging bridge – industry had a hard time locating here and moving inventory. The railroad has provided that economic opportunity.
“Madison has been fortunate to keep this short line railroad. Many of the larger companies were selling them off. But by keeping the railroad, we have been able to serve the companies such as IKEC and others. We feel very pleased that we’ve been able to keep that going,” says Thaden.
The railroad is now seeking grants to fund the replacement of the remaining track. “The demand for rail service is growing. We need to be in a position to provide that service,” says Hale. The railroad has about three-quarters of a million dollars for seed money toward the approximately $3 million total; the rest must come through fundraising.
“We’ve come so far. We’ve completed every part of our five-year plan with the exception of the 4.7-mile stretch. We can’t wait to get that done so we are up and running,” says Hale.
The project enjoys wide support. More than 85 percent of the invited guests attended the October ceremony to celebrate the completion of the bridges – a percentage far surpassing anyone’s expectations. Guests enjoyed a ride on the newly completed track as well as inspection of two bridges, the recently rehabilitated Middlefork Bridge as well as the Big Creek Bridge, which was entirely replaced. During the celebration, many who contributed to the success of the project were honored.
As celebrants traveled by train to the bridges, Madison resident Drew Geerts sang the theme song for the day, and for the project, “Steel Wheels Keep on Turning.” Hale says the song perfectly captures the railroad’s efforts.
“We want people to know dreams really can come true. We dreamed this project, and it is so close to being finished.”

Back to December 2012 Articles.

 

 

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