The eastern tip of the Milwaukee gets clipped

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Sunday, May 9, 2010

Almost from the day he bought the Indiana Rail Road from Illinois Central in 1986, Tom Hoback set his sights on acquiring what had once been Milwaukee Road’s Terre Haute Division. President and part owner of the Indiana, he envisioned the Chicago-Louisville line, then owned by Canadian Pacific, as a perfect fit to the old IC Indianapolis Branch. But scarcely four years after realizing that dream, Hoback is pulling up the easternmost 20 miles of what the Indiana Rail Road calls its Chicago Subdivision, and the boss couldn’t be happier. So happy, in fact, that he ran a special train on May 7 as a farewell visit to the affected trackage, between Crane and Bedford, Ind. (That’s Hoback, in the top photo, as his train backed to the end of Indiana Rail Road track in Bedford.)
What happened was that times change, and Hoback’s railroad had to change, too. At Bedford, the Chicago Sub connects with the CSX Hoosier Sub. Indiana Rail Road had trackage rights on CSX to Louisville, 72 miles. CSX, however, quit running its own trains on this stretch and charged the IRR for the entire cost of maintaining the line. Then thieves began stealing copper wire use to control automatic block signals on the Hoosier Sub, knocking out signals and requiring IRR trains to run almost the entire distance at restricted speed, 10 mph. Customers weren’t happy. Service between Hiawatha Yard in Jasonville, Ind., and Louisville fell to one round trip a week.
Hoback also knew that some day fairly soon his railroad would have to spend a significant sum to repair or daylight a deteriorating tunnel just south of Crane.
To deal with these operational and maintenance problems, Hoback arranged for the Louisville & Indiana Railway to handle his railroad’s traffic between Indianapolis and Louisville on its own trains, starting early in 2010. Indianapolis is somewhat out of the way for business going to Louisville from, say, Chicago. But frequencies are three days a week in each direction, shippers see far better service, and getting off of CSX will save the Indiana Rail Road somewhat more than $1 million a year. All of this makes the last 20 miles of the former Milwaukee Road line, beyond the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, unnecessary . . . . hence, the farewell train. Another benefit: 20 miles of heavy welded rail can be relaid on other parts of the railroad.
That special train, hauled by two of IRR’s sparkling-clean GP38-2 locomotives, featured Hoback’s former Santa Fe business car 56, IRR’s former Santa Fe El Capitan lounge 1389, and leased lounge and power cars, and operated from Jasonville (called Latta by the Milwaukee Road) to Bedford and back.

The Crane-to-Bedford segment is, without doubt, one of the most isolated stretches of railroad in Indiana. Crane, population 203 in the 2000 census, is home to the U.S. Navy’s weapons testing base, and for miles the tracks wander through its nether regions. Then the railroad enters Hoosier National Forest and follows the White River into Bedford. In Bedford, the train lingered half an hour while locomotives were repositioned for the return trip. By the looks of it, every train enthusiast in southern Indiana was on hand for the turnaround. The next trains visiting Bedford are likely to be those picking up the rails of the the Indiana Rail Road and CSX.

On the way back, inside the Naval weapons center, a photo-op occurred at the tunnel. There was one more item on this train’s agenda: A run down the brand-new (in fact, not quite finished), 5.2-mile spur to Peabody Energy’s Bear Run Mine, now being prepared for full production. Designed to produce 8.5 million tons per year, Bear Run will be the largest surface coal mine east of the Mississippi River, and the Indiana Rail Road will serve it exclusively, originating between two and four trains per day for electric-power plants on both the Indiana and connecting railroads.

So it was farewell to one part of the Indiana Rail Road and hello to the newest — quite a lot for one day. At midnight Friday, a general order went into effect taking the last 20 miles of the Chicago Subdivision out of service. Removal of the track structure was to begin the next week. As we passed the long-abandoned depot at Crane, a trailer to serve as ops center for the track removal was freshly put in its place. — Fred W. Frailey





































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