Columbus, OH to Ridgeville, IN
This railroad, known as the Columbus to Chicago Main Line, began life as the Columbus, Piqua and Indiana Railroad in 1858. After a series of acquisitions and mergers, it became the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad in 1916. In 1921, the railroad became part of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
In its heyday, this line was one of the PRR's mainlines, and (based on system maps) was double tracked for the majority of the route. Between Urbana, OH and Piqua, OH, this line was triple-tracked. At Bradford, the Columbus-to-Indianapolis (via Bradford) main line branched out and went south (also abandoned, see Bradford, OH to Indianapolis, IN).
Tragedy struck on May 21, 1945, when a westbound train carrying soldiers home from the war derailed, killing 1 and injuring 24. Details of this wreck can be found here.
In 1968, the PRR merged with the NYC to become the Penn Central, itself becoming part of Conrail in 1976. Conrail abandoned this route in 1983.
Today, the ROW remains largely undeveloped, except in Piqua, OH, where an 11-mile long railtrail, dubbed "Linear Park" has been built.
Thanks to Aaron M. for contributing information.
It is positively criminal that this line was taken out, especially the connecting section between Columbus and Indianapolis. It would have made an ideal high-speed corridor between the two cities. Credit our always short-sighted public representatives.
L. Stanley Crane of Conrail decided to abandon this line in the early 80s, continuing the rationalization of their lines, but it was more of an anti-competitive move to keep Sante Fe from buying the line and infringing on Conrail service territory. You can search Google to find more about that. The State of Ohio put millions into this line in the late 70s to help Conrail but then they ripped it up, so our public officials did try to help, but I'm guessing they didn't have the funds to purchase the line from Conrail (early 80s were tough times). There is a McDonald's in Plain City and if you sit in the front of the restaurant you are sitting right on the former double-track main. Also there is a curvy bridge on OH 161 just west of Plain City, taking you over the ROW.
In 1981,when we lived in Piqua,OH,I remember seeing eight or so trains a day on this line after L Stanley Crane had downgraded the traffic. Also I remember the TP&W trains as well as the N&W coal drags pulled by Conrail locomotives. I enjoyed seeing the Bradford,OH tower and talking with the operators.In 1984 the line experienced a increase in traffic for the last time due to Conrail's work on the B Line ex Big Four, NYC Line. It was a sad day to see the Panhandle Line being taken up through the Piqua area the year later. If this line was still open it would be busy with train traffic.
The ROW has been sold to a number of private owners, mostly farmers. Many have mined out the ballast to sell as gravel fill. The segment from Plain City Ohio to just east of Urbana offers the off-road motorcyclist an easy and pleasant path. However, although not posted, some landowners object to riders passing thru - mostly due to people cutting off where bridges are not possible and riding thru crop fields. Supermoto motorcycles are a great way to explore these old lines as the smooth tires do not damage the land and the quiet engines do not draw attention.
There is a short section about 1.5 miles long left in Urbana. The Indiana and Ohio uses it to switch a few industries in Urbana. The train goes into town 3-5 days a week.
The train goes north from Springfield on teh old NYC Bellefontaine branch and uses the connecting track to get down to the right of way of this line. The old Pennsylvania depot is maintained as a nice little coffeehouse. The old Erie line to Dayton right of way is made into a nice bike trail as well.
Since the former Panhandle right-of-way is still largely undeveloped, it would be a prime candidate for an east-west line. I truly see a "resurrection" in it's future, if not for high-speed passenger, freight service. Obsessive abandonment in the 70's and 80's has resulted in bottlenecking today with freight and passenger traffic. Fiscal conservatives may fight kicking and screaming, but high-speed rail will be built in the U.S., and it will require dedicated routes.
I lived in Piqua most of my life and came to love watching the trains travel through on both the Pennsy and B & O. A lot of history there but I feel that the chances of this line ever being resurrected are slim to none since the embankment through downtown Piqua was taken out. As much as I would love to see it make a comeback it would pretty much be cost prohibitive to restore this line to service. It's a shame it wasn't railbanked.
Note: There is a 6 1/2 mile stretch that has been converted to a asphalted bike trail between Hilliard on West side of Columbus, Ohio to near Plain City, Ohio. If it would go another 2 miles, it would be in downtown Plain City and access to restaurants and shops.
Does any one know what the the stone blocks around the bike bath where the railroad was located?