Pennsylvania Railroad/Little Miami Railroad - Indiana & Ohio, Oasis Subdivision


Former Little Miami/Pan Handle/Pennsylvania Railroad to Springfield

Standard gauge line opened in stages from 1841 to 1846

Downtown terminal: Pan Handle Station (Pearl & Butler Streets)

Mostly abandoned except limited local use from Fairfax to downtown

Prior to the introduction of railroads, the only way to transport significant amounts of freight was via waterways.  In Cincinnati, riverboats ruled the Ohio River, and canals linked the city and its hinterlands with points north.  Canals were laid out to follow the terrain much like natural rivers.  This avoided excessive grades and locks, and it made transporting heavy bulk freight quicker and more cost effective.  For that same reason, early railroads followed rivers closely to take advantage of their steady and shallow grades.  Thus, the naming of Cincinnati's first railroad after the river it follows is no coincidence.  

Chartered on March 11, 1836, the Little Miami Railroad predated the next line constructed in Cincinnati (the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton) by nearly a decade.  The second railroad chartered in Ohio, its purpose was to connect with the Mad River & Lake Erie in Springfield, providing a through route from the Ohio River to Lake Erie at Sandusky. At the time, it was thought that the inland waterways of the Great Lakes would be the primary shipping trunk lines, while railroads would act as feeders and distributors to inland destinations. This led to a north-south orientation of these early railroads, connecting to ports on Lake Erie.  Construction began in the then unincorporated neighborhood of Pendleton, east of the Cincinnati city limits neat St. Andrews Street, in 1837.  The primitive rails, made up of strips of iron nailed to oak stringers, reached Milford in December 1841, and regular operations began in that year.  Construction reached Loveland in 1843, and the line to Xenia was opened to regular operations in August 1845.  The remaining section to Springfield was completed in August 1846, and the connecting Mad River & Lake Erie opened in 1848. 


The railroad received a generous loan from the City of Cincinnati to help with construction, but a lack of funds caused many slowdowns and work stoppages during the nine years the line was being built.  A proposed alternate route had the railroad diverging from the Little Miami River near Kings Mills and following Turtle Creek to Lebanon, after which point it would head northeast and reconnect with the river valley south of Waynesville.  However, the rise of 33 feet per mile (a mere 0.63%) east of Lebanon was deemed too steep for the locomotives at the time. The average grade following the river is a nearly flat 10 feet per mile or 0.19%.  Had Lebanon shown more support for the railroad early on, or if construction was delayed a few more years, locomotive technology would have improved such that the grade wouldn't be an impediment to operations.  If the line had been built this way, it would be 5 miles shorter, cutting Morrow and Oregonia off the main route. Lebanon would come to regret their indifference to the Little Miami, trying for 30 years thereafter to get a railroad through town (see the PRR/CL&N section for more information).

The location of the Little Miami's original terminal facilities was Pendleton. As mentioned before this was at the time an unincorporated neighborhood a few miles east of downtown.  The first buildings were constructed between 1843 and 1846, but they would be quickly rendered obsolete due to the Little Miami's exclusive access to the region's traffic.  More shops and freight depots were constructed in Pendleton in 1848, and at the same time the line was extended west to a new terminal station on the north side of East Front Street at Kilgour, now the eastern end of the Sawyer Point parking lot. A very short unsigned stretch of Kilgour Street remains between Columbia Parkway and Pete Rose Way at the entrance to Adams Place's parking lot. Even this station quickly became inadequate, and a new passenger station was opened in 1854 on the south side of Front Street, just west of the old waterworks whose ruins form a small ampitheater along the riverbank by the tennis courts.  After the last station was built at Pearl (now Pete Rose Way) and Butler Streets in 1881, the 1854 station was used as a freight depot until it burned down in 1889.  

Through the rest of the 19th and much of the 20th century, the Little Miami enjoyed robust traffic, being the only mainline railroad serving much of the east and northeast side of the Cincinnati metro area. That said, it was never fully double-tracked (few if any railroads serving Cincinnati were fully double-tracked out in the country), although there were numerous lengthy passing sidings.  The few other railroads that opened nearby generally crossed at right angles, unlike the railroads up the Mill Creek Valley or west along the Ohio River which had at least one if not two competitors running a parallel route.  Mergers with the Columbus & Xenia through the 1860's built up a small but powerful railroad empire. The connection to Columbus and to Dayton became much more advantageous than the northern route to Springfield and Sandusky, as the lake shipping routes never panned out. It was simpler to just ship everything by rail after routes were cut through the Appalachain Mountains, so the connections to railroads linking the east coast ports with the major rail hubs of Chicago and St. Louis to points west became more important.  On February 23, 1870, the Little Miami Railroad leased all of its assets to the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis Railroad.  On August 28, 1890, the PC&St.L merged with several other railroads to emerge as the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway, also known as the Pan Handle Railroad.  These companies were part of the ever-growing Pennsylvania Railroad empire, and although owned by the Pennsy, the Little Miami retained its corporate charter until the bulk of the line was abandoned in the 1970s.  Traffic increases in the early 20th century prompted the grade-separation of most road crossings between downtown and Columbia-Tusculum.  The overpass just east of Kemper Lane was built in 1914, and the bridges over Delta and Stanley Avenues were built between 1916 and 1917.  When Union Terminal was constructed, passenger trains were routed north on the Richmond Division from a newly constructed connection in Linwood (Redbank to Valley) to a new B&O connection in Norwood (Oakley to Penn to E. Norwood).

Freight and passenger traffic on most railroads started to decline after the close of World War II, and the PRR/Little Miami was no exception. With virtually no industrial development between Mariemont and Xenia, save for the Peters Cartridge Factory in Kings Mills that was shut down after World War II, and with competitor railroads serving the same towns and cities, the Little Miami finally faltered. Passenger service to Springfield was suspended on July 21, 1953, and the whole line between Xenia and Yellow Springs was abandoned in 1967, eliminating difficult street running on Detroit Street in Xenia.  A year later, the Pennsylvania and New York Central railroads merged to form Penn Central, in an attempt to stave off the collapse of both roads.  Unfortunately, the move didn't work and Penn Central went bankrupt in 1970, unable to reconcile the changing traffic patterns with disparate corporate cultures, trade unions, and government regulatory restriction, all of which were set up to operate in a much different transportation climate before government-subsidized highways and trucking became the norm.  Dissolving any remaining intercity passenger operations at this time, prompting the government's creation of Amtrak, Penn Central continued to operate freight services under bankruptcy protection.  The railroad limped along while various private-sector reorganization attempts failed, and the US Government nationalized the failed company, among several others, under the new Consolidated Rail Corporation name on April 1, 1976 (Conrail Day).  The Little Miami could not be saved by the new Conrail company though, as through service between Cincinnati and Xenia was suspended in 1974.  In 1976, the tracks from Redbank east to Clare were sold to Norfolk & Western, and the leg of the junction between Redbank and Rendcomb was abandoned.  The remainder of the main line east of Mariemont to Spring Valley was abandoned in 1976, as was the track between Yellow Springs and Beatty (just south of Springfield).  At this point, all that remained east of Mariemont was a few miles of track south of Springfield to Beatty, and another stretch from Xenia to Spring Valley.  Those were finally closed by 1984, and any remaining track was removed for construction of the Little Miami Scenic Trail on the abandoned roadbed.  Beyond Mariemont there are numerous bridges, overpasses, and culverts that were reused for the bike path. In places where there was double track or passing sidings, one of the bridges generally remains unused off to the side.

While most of the Little Miami was lost by the arrival of Conrail Day, the mainline track south of Rendcomb Junction and the former Richmond Division north of there remained in service to provide a route from Mill (Evendale) to downtown.  Trains took this route from the north to cross the L&N Bridge (Oasis) until it was closed to rail traffic in 1984.  Trains could still traverse the downtown riverfront via the Waterfront Belt Line until it too was closed in 1986.  In 1995, Indiana & Ohio Railway (IORY) acquired this stretch of track from Conrail to form the Cincinnati Terminal Railway (CTER), whose end of the line was, and still is, at the Montgomery Inn Boathouse. CTER was dissolved after 1996 or 1997 when I&O was sold to the holding company RailTex, and subsidiary companies were merged to simplify accounting and taxes. At this same time I&O acquired the former Detroit, Toledo & Ironton between Springfield, Ohio and Diann, Michigan, grealy expanding the company. In 1999 RailTex was acquired by RailAmerica which itself was acquired in 2012 by Genesee & Wyoming, while I&O remains the operating company.  Traffic is very light south of Valley Junction, with the occasional tanker brought to the Kinder Morgan terminal facility in Columbia-Tusculum and gondolas for pig iron transloading at the Cincinnati Barge & Rail Terminal near Kemper Lane.  The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus train came into Cincinnati this way, unloading at the Montgomery Inn Boathouse parking lot and International Friendship Park, until 2017 when the circus closed down.  North of Valley Junction, there is a bit more traffic as it's the primary access to the former Norfolk & Western's line to Portsmouth and to the intermodal Clare Yard, and Norfolk Southern even dispatched the line north of Valley until sometime in 2009, when I&O took over those responsibilities.

The Little Miami's main classification yard was at Undercliff in Linwood. The Parsons, Washington, and Fulton yards near downtown were primarily for servicing downtown freight customers and the main passenger depot. The Pendleton yard was too small to be of much use for major movements and it was mostly relegated to locomotive service. Despite the historical value and impact the Little Miami had on shaping the railroad history of Cincinnati, very little infrastructure remains today, even along the route that has not been abandoned. Undercliff remains with a few extra sidings, although it is little used. After the Penn Central merger, classification duties were shifted to the former NYC yard in Sharonville, and I&O's primary yard is McCullough in Norwood. Roughly half the land at Undercliff was sold off for low density office and industrial uses. Other than the tracks there's no notable buildings or other structures to see.  The original Pendleton yards are completely gone. Even prior to construction of the Walworth Junction housing development on the property, there were no buildings or other structures in the yard area itself, though some very old retaining walls along Eastern Avenue/Riverside Drive remain.  There's no trace of the terminal buildings in Sawyer Point either, and the only real reference to the railroad history of the site are some masonry piers for the approach to the L&N Bridge.  A few extra tracks do remain along the Boathouse parking lot and Friendship Park for turning around locomotives and servicing the Cincinnati Barge & Rail Terminal operation. Nevertheless, the continued viability of the line south of Valley is uncertain at best, as redevelopment of East End neighborhoods is pitting new residents against existing railroad operations, let alone any expansion.  Plans for commuter rail service to the east do reuse the old right-of-way, but it's anyone's guess if these plans will ever come to fruition.  In 2021 plans were announced to build a bike path on the location of the disused second track while maintaining one track for trains.


Photographs from downtown Cincinnati through Xenia


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