New York Central/Big Four, Whitewater Division - Indiana & Ohio, Brookville Subdivision
Former New York Central, Whitewater Division to Hagerstown, IN
Standard gauge line opened in 1862
Downtown terminal: Central Union Depot (3rd Street & Central Avenue)
In limited local use
The history of this railroad is as intertwined with that of the former Indianapolis & Cincinnati Railroad
as that railroad is with the history of the Cincinnati & Whitewater
Canal. Ground was broken for the parent Whitewater
Canal on September 13, 1836 between Lawrenceburg and
Hagerstown via Harrison, Brookville, Connersville, and Cambridge
City. The first
section between Lawrenceburg and Brookville opened on June 8,
1839. There was a push by Cincinnati businessmen to extend a
new canal along the north bank of the Ohio River to connect the
southeast Indiana hinterlands with the booming city. The full extent of the
canal between downtown Cincinnati and Harrison was completed in
1842, connecting it with the Whitewater Canal which reached
Connersville in 1845 and Hagerstown in 1847. The steep
climb west of Harrison to the interior of Indiana meant that 56
locks were required for the Whitewater Canal's 76 mile route,
severely handicapping its viability. In November 1847,
only a few months after it had reached Hagerstown, a devastating
flood washed out much of the canal, and it was abandoned south
of Harrison. The branch to Cincinnati became the new final
leg, and it took 10 months to repair and reopen the rest,
putting the operating company heavily into debt. The lack of traffic and
damage from the
Whitewater River caused bankruptcy and abandonment by
1856. The balance of the parent canal would be out of
business only a few years later, and residents of Indiana petitioned the state to sell the right of way for a railroad.
On October 4, 1853, the Indianapolis & Cincinnati Railroad Company (I&C) began operations from Indianapolis to Lawrenceburg with a riverboat connection to Cincinnati. The Ohio & Mississippi Railroad was opened a year later through Lawrenceburg, though lengthy trackage rights and an incompatible track gauge disqualified that as an option for the I&C to reach Cincinnati. However, low river levels in the summer of 1854 strangled riverboat operations, and the I&C begrudgingly engaged the O&M to lay a third rail to Cincinnati for I&C cars to operate. The expense of this arrangement made it only a short-term operation. On April 18, 1861, the Cincinnati & Indiana Railroad Company was incorporated as a subsidiary to build a railroad from Cincinnati to the Ohio and Indiana border connecting with the I&C. In this remarkably far-sighted move, the company purchased the defunct canal property for its route to downtown, and it opened just two years later. While the mainline to Lawrenceburg diverged from the Cincinnati & Whitewater Canal bed after crossing the Great Miami River, it picked up the route of the predecessor Whitewater Canal in Elizabethtown for its journey to Lawrenceburg. The branch line to Harrison was also constructed at this time, following the Cincinnati & Whitewater Canal bed north from Valley Junction near Hooven.
In 1863 the I&C acquired the right to build on the old towpath of the Whitewater Canal in Indiana, although many portions of the canal remained open as a source of water power for mills such as the one still operating in Metamora. After the I&C purchased the canal right-of-way, its subsidiary, the White Water Valley Railroad (WVRR), reached Connersville in the spring of 1867 and Hagerstown in 1868. The WVRR connected with the I&C main line at Valley Junction, 17 miles west of Cincinnati, and ran trains into Cincinnati over that line. Initially operated by the I&C, the WVRR operated independently for several years. In 1890 it leased itself to the Big Four due to financial troubles. The I&C itself would be acquired by the Big Four in 1906 and later the New York Central. They operated commuter trains from Connersville and Harrison into Cincinnati, and they briefly operated through trains and parlor cars from Cincinnati to Fort Wayne, changing at Connersville to the tracks of the Lake Erie & Western Railroad.
The little used section between Connersville and Hagerstown was abandoned by the NYC 1931, with the track removed in 1936, and all passenger service ended in 1933. Local freight continued with steam locomotives until 1957, and diesel freights operated until discontinued by the NYC's successor, Penn Central in 1972. The present Whitewater Valley Railroad was formed as a not-for-profit corporation in 1972 and began weekend passenger operations in 1974 on 25 miles of leased Penn Central track between Connersville and Brookville. After a substantial washout closed the track between Metamora and Brookville in 1974, Penn Central removed that track in 1976. Freight operation from Brookville to Valley Junction were taken over in 1979 by the newly formed Indiana & Ohio Railway. Track between Connersville and Beeson's Station was sold to Indiana Hi-Rail Corporation in 1981, and the line between Metamora and Connersville was sold to the non-profit Whitewater Valley Railroad in 1983. Operation of the heritage railroad is conducted by volunteers, and track has been rehabilitated to provide passenger excursion trains pulled by historic diesel locomotives. One route, the Valley Flyer, operates from Connersville to Metamora, while another operates as the Metamora Local, carrying passengers south on a two mile excursion along the restored Whitewater Canal, past the canal boat dock, a working aqueduct, and a restored lock.
Back in the Cincinnati area, operations are based out of I&O's yard at Valley Junction. I&O is now owned and operated by Genesee & Wyoming, who acquired the railroad in their 2012 purchase of RailAmerica. Just up Kilby Road near I-275, 84 Lumber has a siding. On the other side of I-275, a new spur and loop track was built in late 2019 for the Valley Asphalt Corporation facility. Immediately north of there Kilby Road crosses from the west side of the tracks to the east side before crossing Dry Fork Creek. The railroad and road bridge over the creek use old aqueduct supports from the Cincinnati & Whitewater Canal, as did the CL&A interurban which ran between the railroad and the road from 1900 to 1930. The road is on the aqueduct piers, while the railroad is on the towpath. The Cincinnati, Inc machine tools plant still has three spur tracks into their facility, but they are long disused and the crossing on Kilby has been pulled up. Active track ends after Siemer Milling Company in West Harrison, the last customer on the line. The track is still mostly in place past West Harrison, but it has been paved over in some locations between Cedar Grove and Brookville. The tracks end at the Owens Corning Brookville Roofing Plant. The Whitewater Canal Trail, bits of the railroad, and also portions of the canal itself appear a few miles west of Brookville to Metamora, at which point the Whitewater Valley Railroad operations begin.
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