POSEYVILLE — One of the Tri-State's oldest railroads is being dismantled. The Indiana Southwestern Railway, which operated the track between Evansville and Cynthiana began salvaging the rail line about two months ago.
The 17-mile abandonment will leave the Indiana Southwestern Railway with only a few miles of track in Vanderburgh County.
The town of Poseyville, which had been served by the railroad since 1881, tried for nearly a year to save the railroad.
"The town had been trying to prevent the line from being abandoned and salvaged," said Bruce Baker, Poseyville Town Council president. "Now, we are trying to preserve the property of the rail line. We think it is important that we have some control over that property because we have utilities crossing and parallel to the right of way."
Dan LaKemper, general counsel for the Indiana Southwestern Railway, said the abandonment was necessary because there were no longer any customers being served by the line. LaKemper said the rail line had been mostly inactive since Indiana Southwestern Railway — which is owned by Pioneer Railcorp — stopped shipping grain out of Poseyville and Cynthiana.
For a short time, the line was used to store and repair rail equipment. But the line has seen no activity for the last two years. Indiana Southwestern Railway was willing to sell the line to Poseyville, LaKemper said, but never got any real offer to do so.
"We were willing to sell it, but they apparently had no means to buy the railroad," said LaKemper. "They didn't want it abandoned, and I understand that. But if they aren't willing to buy it, then we have no alternative. We had left it in place for a number of years hoping business would come back, but unfortunately that didn't happen."
Poseyville appealed to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to stop the abandonment in December 2010. Indiana Southwestern Railway pressed forward with the abandonment, LaKemper said, because a delay would have forced the railroad to start over with the entire procedure.
"Frankly, we never heard any proposal out of (Poseyville) at all, other than that they did not want it abandoned," said LaKemper. "But that's just like telling any other business that you'd like them to continue to operate at a loss. It doesn't work that way."
The right of way for the line does still exist, and will continue to do so for several months until the abandonment process is complete. LaKemper said a rails-to-trails group has expressed interest in acquiring the ground, most of which is owned by Indiana Southwestern Railway.
Meanwhile, Poseyville officials would like to see the path remain open for possible future use.
"We wanted to see it left open for potential economic development in the future," said Baker. "We have a lot of underground coal in Southwestern Indiana, and I think rail is very important to being able to mine that coal. So if that ever happens, I suppose someday they could be putting the rail back in. And that's another reason for us to keep the right of way intact."
LaKemper said while relaying track over old right of way can be done, it is far more expensive than upgrading an existing line. That was one reason, he said, that the railroad had been hesitant to abandon the tracks in Posey County.
"Once it is gone, it is very difficult to relay track," said LaKemper. "It is time consuming and the regulatory burdens are substantial."
The railroad from Evansville to Poseyville was formerly known as the Peoria, Decatur and Evansville Railway. In 1900, it was purchased by the Illinois Central, and was controlled by that railroad for 76 years. It was operated in following years by Indiana Hi-Rail and the Evansville Terminal Company. Indiana Southwestern Railway took control of the remaining Indiana rails in 2000.
At one time, the rail line extended from Evansville to Browns, Ill. There were also spurs to Cynthiana and New Harmony. The tracks to New Harmony were pulled out in 1976, and the main line west of Poseyville was pulled up in 1999. The bridge over the Wabash River remains partially intact, although two spans collapsed in 2005.
The line from Poseyville to Cynthiana was a former branch line of the Chicago and Eastern Illinois, but abandonment on the northern end of the branch left its only rail connection at Poseyville.
"We don't like to abandon railroads," said LaKemper. "Our company has tried to avoid abandonments. But once in a while, it's a situation where there is no business and no reasonable expectation that business is going to come anytime soon. There are costs to maintaining a railroad line even if there is no business."