As we celebrate the Sherman Minton Bridge not falling down and the shifting of noise and traffic jams back westward, it behooves us to recall what we tore down. Originally posted December 23, 2009, the absence of the following helps explain how we found ourselves in such a preposterous position with regional "leadership" calling for more.
As gratifying as it's been over the past year to finally hear the word "rail" included in transportation planning at the federal level and as frustrating as it is that local political leaders still tend to respond to that inclusion with clinched fists seemingly aimed at modernity, it's helpful to remember that, regardless of how those responses are framed, commuter rail is hardly a newfangled idea born of fantastical daydreams. One only has to look at a 100-year-old map to see how it could and did work.
R. David Schooling has been preparing a book, tentatively titled "Louisville's Elevated Rail and Electric Trains". I've been following him around the net a bit as he contributes information to various blogs and forums. Republished here are tidbits originally shared with the Urbanophile, City Data, and Go Kentucky Homes.
* Multi-car elevated electric trains with 15 minute headways, operating nearly 24/7, were running in Louisville Ky 114 years ago. The heavy rail elevated steam locomotive commuter trains started running in 1886 and were replaced with all electric trains in 1893. They were an instant hit and wildly popular with heavy ridership.
* This commuter rail service was owned and operated by the K&I Bridge and Railroad Company. The K&I bridge across the river held commuter tracks as well as a swivel section that allowed it to open for passing ships. This only happened four times, one of which was for an Australian convict ship. You can read more about the bridge on Wikipedia.
* Louisville also had one of the highest (in elevation) el stations (from ground level) in the country, an elevated station with a subterranean entry, and electric freight subway.
* The 3rd rail train that exhibited in Chicago for a few weeks in 1883 came directly to Louisville and ran for 4 years.
* In the early 1900's Louisville had nearly 100 steam and electric commuter rail stations. Its electric commuter trains ran on till as late as the eve of 1946.
* There were pictures of sixteen car commuter trains from Louisville in Life Magazine as late as the World War II era.
* In the early 1930's Louisville had electric commuter trains that ran at 70 mph on the Indianapolis run and were capable of nearly 100 mph. They were specifically designed and built with extensive use of aluminum and with special undercarriage trucks also designed for high speed. They were clones of the Ohio "Red Devils", but rebuilt on steroids.
* Stretching from the western edge of New Albany, to downtown Louisville to the current baseball park locale, to Mellwood Ave area, to the recently demolished Baxter elevated station, to Kentucky Ave., back to over the Ohio river north over 1 mi. to 11th st in Jeffersonville.......all amounted to about 10 miles of elevated rail lines, upon which all manner (freight & passenger) of trains operated.
* This 10 mile web of elevated lines were used by about a dozen different mainlines and four separate electric train operators, ( the electrics were on the riverfront el, and on the Jeffersonville ramp up to the Big Four then out to about 1 mile southward, where an incline descended to run another mile to downtown (surface) on standard gauge. All electric trains from Indiana with one quirky exception were all standard gauge.