The Pennsylvania Railroad was one of the four major northeastern rail systems that served Indianapolis. The oldest predecessor line, the Madison And Indianapolis (M&I), was completed to Indianapolis in 1847. Following a brief period of prosperity, the M&I was absorbed by its rival, the Jeffersonville Railroad. 

The Jeffersonville Railroad was chartered in 1832 as the Ohio & Indianapolis. A bitter confrontation with M&I followed completion to Columbus in 1852 that culminated in an agreement giving the Jeffersonville access to Indianapolis over the Madison road’s line. The Jeffersonville merged the reorganized M&I in 1866 to form the Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis (JM&I), which Pennsylvania interests leased in 1871.

Chartered in 1847 to bisect the state from east to west, the Terre Haute & Richmond (TH&R) was built east from the Wabash River. When support for the line east of Indianapolis languished, the Richmond-Indianapolis portion was separately rechartered as the Indiana Central in 1851. The TH&R (renamed the Terre Haute & Indianapolis in 1865) was finally completed to Indianapolis in 1852.

Aerial view of a train turntable.
The Pennsylvania Railroad roundhouse, a major service hub, 1913 Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

The Indiana Central line was completed to Richmond in 1854 as a link to Cincinnati, Dayton, and Columbus. The company formed an alliance with the Columbus & Indianapolis Railroad in 1863, which blossomed one year later into a merger creating the Columbus & Indianapolis Central. After further consolidations, the company emerged in 1868 as the Columbus, Chicago, & Indiana Central (CC&IC), and was leased in 1869 to the Pennsylvania-owned Pittsburg [sic], Cincinnati & St. Louis (nicknamed “The Panhandle”).

The Indianapolis & Vincennes Railroad (I&V) was chartered in 1865 and attracted the sponsorship of former Union general, Rhode Island politician, and railroad promoter Ambrose E. Burnside, who quickly enlisted the support of the Indianapolis, Cincinnati & Lafayette and the Pennsylvania interests.

The Pennsylvania soon assumed complete financial responsibility, and with an eye to acquiring a Burnside-promoted extension from Vincennes to Cairo, Illinois, opened the line to Vincennes in 1869. The Cairo line was never acquired, leaving the I&V a perennial loser until coal mining developed on the line in Greene County in 1884.

By 1871, the Pennsylvania System had nearly assumed its ultimate dimensions. The Terre Haute & Indianapolis, strengthened by heavy traffic in Brazil-area coal and dominated by its Terre Haute owners, eluded direct control until 1893. The Pennsylvania consolidated the CC&IC and JM&I with the Panhandle in 1890, and the TH&I, I&V, and other lines were merged to form the Vandalia Railroad in 1905.

A set of railroad tracks that lead into a set of covered bays.
Indianapolis Track Elevation, east of train shed. No. 13370, June 1922 Credit: Indiana Historical Society View Source

The Vandalia disappeared into the Panhandle in 1916, and the Panhandle itself ceased independent operations with a lease to the Pennsylvania in 1921. In 1918, the Pennsylvania opened the Indianapolis & Frankfort (I&F), replacing running rights acquired in 1882 between Indianapolis and Kokomo over the line of the former Indianapolis, Peru & Chicago.

The Pennsylvania’s Indianapolis-area lines operated intact until its unsuccessful 1968 merger with the New York Central. The collapse of the new Penn Central in 1970 and the rocky start-up of successor Conrail culminated in the abandonment of former Pennsylvania lines east to Richmond and west of Terre Haute, leaving the I&V to Sandborn, JM&I to Louisville, and the I&F to Frankfort and Logansport as survivors.

In 1994, the Louisville and Indiana Railroad (LIRC) purchased the JM&I line from Conrail. The Indiana Railroad serves Louisville and Jeffersonville through a haulage agreement with LIRC. In 1997, after a takeover battle, CSX and Norfolk Southern Railway split most of Conrail’s assets, which included the I&F. CSX still operates on the track between Indianapolis and Frankfort. The Indianapolis Southern Railroad, which began operations in 1992 as RailTex property and was acquired by RailAmerica in 2000 and Genesse & Wyoming in 2012, runs on tracks that belonged to the Pennsylvania Railroad V&I Branch.

Revised March 2021

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