Walker’s Delight

Madison Railroad receives grant to improve incline for hikers

Project to improve aesthetic quality of area

(May 2014) – According to Hoosier legend, the edifice of St. Michael the Archangel Church in Madison, Ind., was constructed out of stones that were cut away to make room for the Madison Railroad, which Irish immigrants built in the 1830s. Now the railroad’s historic incline is getting a new touch of the workman’s tools.


Photo by Patti Watson

The newly improved railway incline is
open to walkers.

The Indiana Department of Transportation awarded an $85,000 cost-reimbursement contract to the Madison Railroad for restoring the incline that begins at the foot of West Second Street. Sedam Contracting finished the project’s first phase, clearing brush and trees, at the end of March. As the project goes forward, fallen boulders will be removed, ditch lines replaced, concrete repaired and the track reassembled with 1,250 new rail ties. The incline project’s completion is expected in September 2014, officials said.
Madison Railroad CEO Cathy Hale manages the railroad’s day-to-day operations, seeks grant money for needed improvements and oversees special projects such as the work on the incline. She described the application for transport enhancement funding from INDOT as an action toward concerns for local historic preservation in addition to public safety. “The Heritage Trail crosses over at the railroad, and because of that we’ve had a lot of hikers on the incline. It’s definitely a popular area.”
At 5.89 percent grade, the incline is considered the steepest mainline grade in America. Walkers will be able to trek its 1.25-mile length after the restoration project is completed and the path improved. Due to the incline’s proximity to the old railroad, it is not uncommon for curious hikers to explore the incline in spite of its poor conditions. Although safety and historic preservation are the main concerns behind the incline project, Sedam Contracting’s work will restore the area’s aesthetic qualities as well. Corrected rails will be put in with the new ties, making the historic section of the railroad appear operable.
“We won’t be running a train down the incline,” Hale said, “but it will look like we could.”
The incline was originally developed in 1841 with the assistance of gunpowder to blast through the surrounding rock. Mules were needed to haul discarded stone up the steep incline. Hale said the railroad is important to Madison’s history, adding, “Our thought was, ‘Let’s do something to preserve it for the community or it’ll be gone forever.’ ” The incline’s path provides a view of Madison’s first water reservoir, adding to its historical value.
The transportation enhancement funds for the incline will initially derive from the Madison Railroad’s budget. Per the details of their contract, INDOT will reimburse 80 percent of the project’s expenses. This agreement came after a lengthy application process Hale began in June 2011. Federal paperwork and red tape followed.
“There’s a lot to go over,” Hale said. “When it’s a historic preservation project, you have to go through state and federal guidelines on environmental issues. We know it’s worth the time, and we appreciate INDOT’s cooperation in making it happen.” Hale added that Kathy Eaton-McKalip, INDOT’s Director of Local Public Agencies and Grants Administration, has gone above and beyond to help realize the incline project.

The Madison Railroad has other improvements in mind, including a pending grant that, if received, would fund the replacement of 4.7 miles of lightweight rail between the Jefferson Proving Ground and the property at Meese Orbitron Dunne. According to Hale, the standard 286,000-pound cars being manufactured today are too heavy for the existing rails, causing the Madison Railroad to turn down heavier transports. New rails of consistent weight would make the Madison line adequate for industrial development and related business, which, Hale said, is “good for the local economy.”

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