Sunday, October 26th, 2008

More Louisville Transit Goodness

In my Pecha Kucha presentation and my list of quick, easy, and cheap improvements to Indianapolis transit, I suggested a better “How to Ride” guide and video. Well, Indy may not have done that, but Louisville did. Here’s a cool rap video on how to use a TARC bike rack on the bus.

I actually think this video could be improved. There’s too much focus on the performers rather than the actual content of how you are supposed to actually use the bike rack, but still it’s a great entry. I particularly like the use of rap to make it interesting and not just a dry instructional video.

Moving on, my previous posts about Louisville’s historic rail systems (see here and here) created some controversy. A commenter named “timecruncher” said:

“People, people! Louisville did not have an ‘el system.’ There were some grade separations on existing steam rail lines that were built to separate rail main lines from street crossings where lenghty delays were problematic.

“The abandoned Baxter Avenue station was built by the L&N Railroad and served its trains between Louisville, Cincinnati and Lexington (and points in eastern Kentucky). The CCC&StL bridge — also known as the ‘Big Four’ bridge, did, indeed, carry electric interurbans of the Indiana Railroad and its predicessors across the Ohio River, but it was not in any way an elevated passenger railway in the sense of Chicago or New York systems. By the same token, streetcars of the Louisville & New Albany Electric Railway (The Daisy Line), used to operate over the K&IT bridge between Portland and Vincennes Street in New Albany. These streetcars were wide-guage to operate on Louisville Railway trackage on the Kentucky side of the river. This was streetcar service, however, and simply operated on a freight railroad river bridge!

“Steam (and later diesel) – powered passenger trains used all of these bridges at one time or another, but commuter rail service in and out of Louisville on the major rail lines never amounted to more than a couple of ‘accommodation’ trains out to LaGrange or Bardstown.

“Baxter Avenue station is no more than a sad testament to the loss of good intercity rail passenger service. This was once a convenient boarding spot for north and eastbound trains that did not require driving downtown to Union Station. L&N ceased using it in the early 1960s.”

This got David Schooling’s authorship juices flowing. He sent the note and photos below to make his side of the case.

“Louisville did indeed have an elevated electric train system. This was the Kentucky & Indiana Bridge Company’s ORIGINAL 5.5 mi. elevated from Louisville to New Albany IN. In the downtown Louisville the El segment was 15 blocks along with three elevated stations, stretching primarily along the Ohio riverfront wharf area. The trains upon it were three cars or longer and multi-unit, NOT TROLLEYS.

“This is an indisputable, concrete historical fact. Sources are vast and deep and far too numerous however here’s a short list; Kentucky Historical Society, Louisville Board of trade, Harpers Weekly News, the Encyclopedia of Louisville, Local Libraries, University of Louisville.

“From the 1880’s forward not only grade separations, but lengthy elevated rail projects and structures were completed in and around Louisville, not just downtown, from the 1880’s till the late 1930’s. The end result of 50 years left Louisville with numerous sections of elevated rail. These were done by The K & I, Ill. Central, New York Central, C&O. and Pennsylvania Lines.

“Due to a quickly mushrooming population, early in Louisville’s history when it was the nation’s 12th largest city, there were repeated calls for a metro system and or subway. Neither was accomplished, instead one entrepreneurial group installed in 1886 an elevated commuter train system with operations starting simultaneous to the opening of their newly built rail and horse drawn conveyance bridge. That train went from a steam operation to being electrified in 1893.

“Some get confused on several points. The Baxter El and The Baxter El station which never saw electrification. It was primarily an in-city elevated boarding station for numerous long distance passenger trains. No freight was ever handled only baggage, mail and parcels. It was a passenger station only. Commuter trains to Bloomfield did run from this station as well as other noted stops and stations on this line such as; Crescent Hill, St. Matthews, Long Run, Simpsonville, Scotts Station and Shelbyville as commuters took advantage of the close-city portions of the numerous long distant trains scheduled to and from this station.

“No one ever insinuated that the Baxter line was electric, and conversely not being electric does not negate the fact that it was an elevated line crossing five major streets, with an elevated station and an elevated line running over one mile in length that also happened to serve commuters also. It functioned indisputably an elevated commuter and passenger line.

“The Big Four bridge and attendant elevated approach lines, is an interesting item. First of all, the original 1895 version had perhaps the highest elevated station in the world at an amazing 60 ft. in the air. To deny the fact that elevated structures with trains atop them were elevateds is non-sense.

“They were over three miles of long elevateds in three different sections, each elevated segment had rail still over 50 ft in the air in the air well over a mile from the actual Big 4 bridge, all manner of trains steam, electric, diesel, passenger, local passenger commuter, freight were atop these elevateds and some even stopped disgorging and picking up passengers at the one of the highest elevated stations in the United States, in Jeffersonville Indiana. The 2 1/2 story station elevated over 60’in the sky was locally dubbed ‘Sky station’.

“No the Louisville’s elevated system was never equal to – ‘the Chicago or New York’ systems. I have never taken such a position, but it is simply a fascinating look back a history and comes as total shock to many that we ever had such things not because they weren’t there or didn’t exist, but because they are very ethereal and almost totally unknown, even to some rail fans. In the plainest terms, no one has ever heretofore systematically documented and organized a coherent presentation of Louisville’s elevateds and electric trains.

“However the long and especially the early sections Louisville’s elevateds actually do bear striking physical, structural and photographic resemblances to systems in those huge metropolises.

“Admittedly our buildings aren’t as impressive but neither are we an enormous mega city like those megalopolises either.

“Here are also some really quirky, historical facts that do indeed tie into to Chicagoland. The early ‘L’ third rail electric train that exhibited in that city in 1893 for 8 weeks was packed up and shipped directly to Louisville. Here it ran at grade level for four years around Central Park, with many more passengers here, than there, many hundreds of thousands rode the 3rd rail trains here in Louisville. Who knew Louisville had a ‘THIRD RAIL ELECTRIC TRAIN’ and had it for years?

“Below is a K & I Bridge Co. elevated commuter train, was rolled out the concurrent, the same day the bridge opened in 1886.

“In 1893, that early steam commuter line converted to electric equipment. Thereafter the steam equipment was restricted to freight trains.

“The first electric elevated train in the United States ran over the ‘Daisy’ line elevated trackage between Louisville KY and New Albany, IN. The Chicago elevated ‘L’ trains converted from steam to electricity in 1895. This is also absolute historical fact. Check in with the University.

“Years later in 1908 when a new operator bought the bridge trackage rights, and equipment, and decided they were smarter than the K&I, and would henceforth start running single electric cars, not trains (excepting peak/rush hours) and furthermore negated the wonderful totally intersection and traffic free elevated route, by deciding to down ramp immediately over the bridge to fight 30+ blocks of traffic, and switched gauge to match street car gauge, and discontinued running on the elevated system, THAT’S when the trolleys ran.

“Was the new owner’s strategy successful? Yes and No. The new scheme certainly worked, but two car train units (broad gauge) consisting of power car and trail car equipment were still very necessary, due to the immense patronage the Elevated trains had racked up. The original K&I elevated trains had over 1.5 millions in ridership by 1907 by 1908 it peaked at 1.8 million.

“The downside was the longer transit times and commuters suffered in a staggering fashion. The direct and traffic hassle free elevated route of the elevated delivered passengers from New Albany to any of the downtown stations at Seventh, Fourth, or First Street elevated stations in 10 to 12 minutes. Ostensibly the idea was surely that by mixing single cars along with the trains, the Ridership would surely soar exponentially, Right? Wrong. Given over 30 blocks of street running to reach downtown, the new formula didn’t have a prayer of further exponential growth.

“That particular route was known as the ‘Daisy Line’ in various forms and iterations however lasted from 1886 until 1945 and even an afterlife as ‘Daisy Line’ bus transit up until the 1960’s. There was at some point single car movements over the K&I bridge, but timecrusher just did not know the entire story and focused only on a single facet of history.

“Louisville additionally enjoyed a thriving commuter train network, with minor and major rail lines providing that network.

“Railroads of the K & I, L & N, Louisville & Northern, Interstate, Indiana R.R., Louisville & Interurban, B & O, Ill. Central, Southern and Pennsylvania all provided inner city as well as suburban commuter trains with over 250 stations and stops on transit maps from 1910.

“Here the last electric train over the Big Four Bridge into Louisville, on Oct. 31st 1939, runs 50’ high on the Butchertown elevated.

The 16 car B&O Commuter trains served the Indiana Army Ordinance plant in Charlestown, Indiana, located 16 miles north of Louisville. The WWII train commuters arrived on three different shifts, as the plant was open and operating round-the-clock, or as we would say in today’s terms 24/7.

“Commuter trains also ran between Louisville and the Armor Center a Ft. Knox, 30 miles to the southwest.

“Over a long time span and certainly NOT just during war time, there was a tremendous amount of commuter train activity in, through, and all around Louisville and its surrounding bedroom communities.

“Other commuter trains, steam and diesel, ran from Louisville to: Prospect, Harrods Creek, Shepherdsville, Bardstown, Beuchel, Jeffersontown, Fisherville, Crescent Hill, Anchorage, Buckner, LaGrange, Pewee Valley, Eastwood, Simpsonville, Shelbyville, and in Indiana: New Albany, Clarksville, Jeffersonville, Charlestown, Sellersburg, Memphis, Scottsburg and many more.

“In 1910 there were more than 250 local and suburban stops and stations that had regular daily commuter service, some 3 or 4 times daily, others hourly. However, the exceptional and original El, ran from 5 am to 2:30 am, with 15 or 20 minute frequencies, until 9 pm after which it was on 30 minute schedules. This was not an interurban rather it was an inner-city train, transiting thru total cityscape, albeit it did cross state and municipal boundaries. When the original electric equipment was ordered for the El train in 1893, the owners specified they wanted the latest, modern and ‘exactly the same equipment as on the New York City roads’.

“Oh Yeah!!! We had commuter AND actual elevated trains – in spades.

“Another unique feature not to be forgotten or taken lightly, the original El also connected with pass thru trackage directly within one of the cities large Rail Stations at Seventh Street or ‘Central’ Station and at the next stop, the El station was atop the very center of the Steamer Ship Wharf.

“In other words it was a rapid, elevated connected to multi-modal travel, with train connections, via the Southern, C&O, B&O, Illinois Central, New York Central, to all cities North and East and some West and Local Steamboat excursion trips plus actual Steamship Line transit to Evansville, St. Louis, New Orleans, Southern Ill., Cincinnati, Wheeling & Pittsburg – multi-modal connections, long line rail & steamship via a single elevated commuter line.”

More great stuff. Thanks to timecrusher and David.

One correction on a previous post. One of the pictures I had posted of the Louisville freight subway system was actually the Chicago system. It should have been labeled as such, but I missed that. To avoid confusion, I deleted that photo. But Louisville did indeed have a freight subway system. Here’s a blowup of the pic.

Here’s another modern day Louisville tidbit. The Louisville Water Company is building a long, underground tunnel through bedrock to serve as a natural filtration tunnel. During construction, this has a rail line running through it. Enjoy it while it lasts!

Topics: Historic Preservation, Transportation
Cities: Louisville

3 Responses to “More Louisville Transit Goodness”

  1. Jefferey says:

    Im thinking there was passenger service out to Valley Station at least, on that old ICG line along Dixie.

    And were are those freight tunnels?

  2. Rick says:

    Interesting to say the least. I don’t suppose there’s anyone in Louisville who has a detailed history of the streetcar companies that once served the area?

  3. R. David Schooling says:

    Jeffery those freight tunnels are long since sealed up and totally inaccessable, and mostly forgotten entirely…. even more so than the Cincinatti subway tunnels.

    They ran under a half dozen streets, located under the huge campus (35 acre) of the Belknap Hardware complex. The tunnels primairly connected various warehouses.

    Some of the current workers in the main building still standing, which is now the Humanna building are totally unaware of the subways below them. Additionally other tunnel loops also ran off campus under other city streets to other entities with business connections to Belknap. The occupants of those other buildings, connected by tunnel are likewise are unaware of the subways existance an what purposes they served. In other words- the history of the freight subway.

    As to another comment, yes there was both steam and electric service out along Dixie Hwy to Valley Station, Pleasure Ridge, Orell, between steam & electric about a dozen or more stations out there were served.

    R.David Schooling

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