Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad

Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad
Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad
Locale Ohio
Dates of operation 1930–1939
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)

The Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad (C&LE) was a short-lived electric interurban railway that operated in 1930-1939 Depression-era Ohio between Cincinnati, Springfield, Columbus, and Toledo. It had connections with three neighboring interurbans that provided freight and passenger connections to allow it to reach Cleveland (Lake Shore Electric), to Detroit (Eastern Michigan Railways), and to cities in Indiana (Indiana Railroad). For many years, the Cincinnati & Lake Erie's 217-mile Toledo-Cincinnati run was the longest direct trolley operation in the United States. The C&LE constantly struggled financially and suffered numerous fatal wrecks.[1] When the connecting Lake Shore Electric abandoned operations in 1939, the resulting loss of essential interline freight business forced the C&LE to abandon operations the next year.[1][7][8]



The C&LE was legally formed as a corporate entity in January 1930, from the merger of three interurban lines: the Cincinnati, Hamilton, and Dayton Railway (CH&D); the Indiana, Columbus and Eastern; and the Lima-Toledo Railroad. Each of these was a small regional interurban teetering on bankruptcy even in the middle of the prosperous 1920s prior to the onset of the Great Depression. Under the direction of former CH&D president and eventual C&LE president Dr. Thomas Conway, these combined interurban lines were transformed into an efficient regional carrier of passengers and freight.[1],[2, p 68, 398]

Although the three separate interurbans were struggling at the time of the Conway merger, their physical plant was in good condition and their combined routes had the potential for profitable passenger and freight operation based upon attracting more riders and shippers. This was the Conway business plan, and considerable bonded money was expended to implement it. Business was growing, but the dramatic economic challenges of the Depression ultimately caused this plan to fail. The company was unable to meet operating expenses and debt service and finally was forced to abandon operations in 1938 after eight years of operation.[1][2] Prior to the evolution of the C&LE, an entity called the Ohio Electric Railway had attempted to combine small and local interurbans into a large central Ohio interurban network. The OE went bankrupt in 1921, and the former regional lines, such as Lima-Toledo Traction, returned to their original corporate entities or abandoned operation. (Hilton, p 231)

First Passenger Interurban to Bellefontaine, Ohio July 1, 1908

Improving Passenger Service

To embark on dramatically improving passenger service and schedules, shortly after the C&LE corporate formation, President Conway supervised the design of and acquisition of a unique fleet of twenty lightweight, high speed, power efficient, aluminum bodied bright red passenger cars (known eventually as "Red Devils"[1]) from the Cincinnati Car Company. These interurban cars embodied the latest in Art-deco styling and were equipped with numerous amenities including leather bucket seats with high headrests. Half were built as lounges to provide parlor car first class comfort. In order to promote the cars, the C&LE staged a race between Red Devil #126 and an airplane. The car achieved a speed of 97 miles per hour and "won" the highly publicized race.[8,p189 photo] Unfortunately, and typical of most interurbans, considerable open country operation was on side-of-road track and considerable urban operation was on track embedded in town streets with tight radius turns, so the Red Devils had to contend with automobile traffic and would rarely achieve these speeds in day-to-day operation, but in open country, particularly existing on the Springfield-Toledo division, they operated up to ninety miles per hour if behind schedule. The Red Devils were 43'9" long, 11'4" high and weighed 22 metric tons[1]versus a typical 1920s large steel interurban 55' long and 14' high and 50 tons. Night time freight speed could also be high, reportedly up to sixty miles per hour. Unfortunately, the line was not signalled, and the high speeds combined with no signal protection on a single-track line led to serious head on collisions. Through Red Devil parlor car service was provided from Cincinnati to Detroit in conjunction with a Toledo to Detroit interurban, the Eastern Michigan Railway, but that did not last long as the EM stopped running in 1932.[1]

C&LE Red Devil #121, "The Columbus Rocket".


A small portion of the C&LE's high speed route between Middletown and Dayton was parallel to the old towpath of the Miami and Erie Canal. The C&LE served the aforementioned locations as well as Cincinnati, Hamilton, Springfield, Lima, Columbus and numerous smaller towns in Ohio. The 1930 Conway management team made hard decisions regarding lines to drop and lines to retain and improve. Considerable money was spent upgrading track.[2] Springfield became the C&LE's operating "hub" and was where the Dayton, Toledo, and Columbus routes converged. The Toledo division route was Cincinnati-Mt.Healthy-Hamilton-Dayton-Middletown-SPRINGFIELD-Urbana-W.Liberty-Bellefontaine-Huntsville-Waynesboro-Lima-Ottawa-Deshler-Maumee-Toledo. The Lima north portion tightly paralled the track of the Baltimore and Ohio's Cincinnati-Toledo line.[See external link: Railroad Commission 1918 Interurban Map.] The Columbus division route was straight east Springfield-Summerford-W.Jefferson-Columbus. Much of this route paralled US route 40. The line east of Columbus reaching Zanesville was never included in the C&LE.

Freight with Next Morning Delivery

President Conway knew that the real key to financial survival by the new C&LE was to dramatically improve freight business and revenues.[1] Freight facilities were rebuilt and relocated, and better rolling stock was acquired. Freight trains also faced the same limitations as the line's passenger cars with operation on downtown streets, often a source of complaints by town councils. See photo [2,p386],[8] for an example of an interurban's tight turn at town corners. Freight and express business steadily improved as measured by documented tonnage increases each year. The line's freight agents and sales force worked hard to sell the C&LE to shippers and were able to take business away from the steam railroads by guaranteeing overnight delivery by 8am the next morning, something that the competing steam railroads could not do. This is impressive considering that the distance from Cincinnati to Toledo was around 224 miles and from Toledo to Cleveland another 124. The travel time plus terminal transfer time Cincinnati to Cleveland was accomplished from 5pm the prior evening to 8am the next morning. Deliveries were so fast and predictable that a General Motors refrigerator plant in Moraine City (near Dayton) shifted to the C&LE as its primary shipper and provided the C&LE with in-plant loading tracks.[1] Both freight and passenger revenues jumped and the C&LE appeared to have a good future, but as the Depression deepened, revenues and profits began to fall.[2,pp140–150; 380–395: Interurban Freight.] [Also: Keenan, External Link 1.]

Essential Interurban Connections

At Toledo, the C&LE interchanged with the Lake Shore Electric to run "next morning 8am" freight to/from Cleveland. Also at Toledo the C&LE interchanged with the Eastern Michigan Railways interurban to move freight the forty seven miles to/from Detroit. These interchange connections were essential to the C&LE, but both of these companies were financially weak. Eastern Michigan Railway abandoned operations in 1932; the LSE in 1938.[1][2] The loss of the Eastern Michigan in 1932 was a blow. The loss of Lakeshore Electric in 1938 was fatal.

Similar to the Conway plan of combining weak interurban lines to make a strong one, in Indiana five marginal lines had been combined in 1929 to form the Indiana Railroad. The IR did much the same as the C&LE had done earlier: it bought new lightweight passenger cars based upon the Red Devil design, and it worked to increase freight business. Interchange was important to IR as it was to the C&LE. The primary link between the C&LE and the IR was the Dayton and Western interurban which ran Dayton-Crown Point-New Lebanon-W.Alexandria-Eaton-to Richmond, Indiana. The C&LE interchanged with the D&W at Dayton. The IR interchanged with the D&W at Richmond. The Dayton and Western also was very weak financially. To assure that it remained in business, at different times both the C&LE and Indiana Railroad leased and operated it. Eventually, neither had the funds to continue leasing, and the unsubsidized Dayton and Western abandoned operations in 1937. The Lima,OH-Ft.Wayne,IN C&LE-IR connection had been lost earlier when the IR had to abandon that line.[1] All Ohio interurbans lost their reason for being due to competition from truckers and the growing personal use of automobiles.

Fatal Wrecks

No part of the single track C&LE was protected by block signals, and both passenger and freight service and speed had dramatically increased. Frequent operation of equipment in two directions on a single track with sidings was by dispatcher provided paper orders carried on board by the crew. The very fast Red Devil passenger cars had a one man operator who sometimes became distracted by all that he had to do which included on board ticketing and change making. This resulted in wrecks where both C&LE employees and riders died in disastrous head on collisions. Such wrecks usually were due to an operator, often of a Red Devil, proceeding past a siding where he had orders to pause and await the passage of an opposing train. The settlement money expended, not to ignore the terrible loss of life, in claims and lawsuits and repairing, replacing, or scrapping wrecked rolling stock eventually exceeded what an installed block signal system would have cost in 1930 when the C&LE was formed from the three original interurbans. Obviously block signals should have existed.[1]

Municipalities Were Unhappy

As freight business grew, the larger municipalities that the C&LE went through became unhappy with the nuisance of trains running down major streets. Not only were interurban passenger cars mingling with automobiles and pedestrians, including stopping and starting at traffic signals, but freight trains of multiple cars pulled by heavy freight motors were also on those streets, sometimes at midday. Auto traffic was impeded, and the streets suffered physical damage as the ties underlying the rails aged and rotted. The town that complained the most was Springfield. The city and the interurban were in court frequently over issues of street repaving and demands for track relocation. Springfield finally demanded that the C&LE leave city streets entirely. The financially strapped C&LE had no money to comply. In addition, everyone was aware that the C&LE had local people employed at a time of dramatic regional and national unemployment.[1]

Decline and Abandonment

Competition with a growing population of automobiles riding on state paved highways and Depression caused growing unemployment led to a decline in C&LE passenger business. Freight business remained adequate, but the Lake Shore Electric connection at Toledo was an essential link to shippers in Cleveland. In 1938, LSE's freight agents and handlers struck for higher pay. The LSE had no funds to survive a strike and it immediately shut down and began to dismantle. For the C&LE this meant a dramatic collapse in its freight business. It hung on briefly by trying to work with trucking lines to replace the LSE, but it could no longer operate the guaranteed next morning at 8am schedule. The C&LE abandoned a few months later in 1939.[1,2,6,7] Although there is little in the present literature regarding the LSE agent's strike, obviously their union did not expect it to lead to LSE's total abandonment with permanent unemployment for both the agents and everyone else employed by the LSE, a very dire situation in the middle of the Depression with 25% national unemployment. This strike brought down the LSE in 1938, the C&LE in 1939, and eventually the Indiana Railroad in 1941.[6][7, pp178–189]

Disposition of the Red Devils

The very successful lightweight 1929 Cincinnati Car Company "Red Devil" cars were sold. Six went to the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway (CRANDIC) and thirteen to the Lehigh Valley Transit (LVT) interurban lines. They successfully operated as CRANDIC trippers between the capitol at Iowa City to Cedar Rapids and as Liberty Bell Limiteds between Allentown and Philadelphia into the 1950s. They had an operational life of twenty five years.[3][4][5] (See Bibliography and Wikipedia Links related to these two interurban railroads.) The design mated aluminum sheeting onto a steel frame. This resulted in "dissimilar metals electrolysis" erosion that had to be dealt with during their life. In some cases the aluminum sheets were replaced with steel.[1]

See also


  1. ^ Jack Keenan: The Fight for Survival. The Cincinnati & Lake Erie and the Great Depression


  • 1. Keenan. Design and construction of the Red Devils for improved passenger service. Reworking freight service. Next day delivery guarantee. Importance of Dayton and Western, LSE strike by freight agents and workers leading to LSE abandonment with drastic loss of freight business to C&LE leading to its eventual abandonment. High speed freight and passenger operation combined with no block signals leading to fatal wrecks. Dissimilar metals problems with the Red Devils.
  • 2. Middleton (1). C&LE history, pp140–150. Photographs of p68,398. Interurban freight business, pp380–395. Importance of Dayton and Western connection, p150. C&LE abandonment, p147.
  • 3. CERA Bulletin #114. Purchase and operation of Red Devils by CRANDIC, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Ry.
  • 4. Volkmer. Purchase and operation of Red Devils by LVT, Lehigh Valley Transit.
  • 5. McKelvey. Operation of Red Devils as Liberty Bell Limiteds by LVT. Scrapping and museum acquisition.
  • 6. Bradley. Effect of C&LE abandonment on the Indiana Railroad.
  • 7. Hilton. Economic decline of all interurbans including C&LE and adjacent Indiana Railroad.
  • 8. Rowsome. Chapter The Ride Downhill p189: Red Devil-airplane race, decline of all interurbans due to the Depression, map of exstensive network of midwest interurban lines in 1912.


  • Keenan, Jack, Cincinnati & Lake Erie Railroad: Ohio's Great Interurban System, 226 pp, Golden West Books, Corona Del Mar, CA. 1974. (ISBN 978-0870950-551.) (The definitive publication regarding the C&LE.)
  • Middleton, William D.(1), The Interurban Era, 432 pp, Kalmbach Publishing, Milwaukee, WI., 1961, reissued 2003. (ISBN 080-9240-035. Library of Congress 61-10728.) (Excellent photographs and discussion.)
  • Middleton, William D.(2), The Interurbans Vol III: Interurban Freight, 182 pp, Golden West Books, San Marino, CA., 1985. (ISBN 9780-870950-858)
  • Rowsome, Frank Jr. Trolley Car Treasury, Bonanza Books, NY,NY. 1956. (Library Congress 56-11054.) Informative chapter with photographs on Interurbans.
  • Bradley, George K.,Indiana Railroad, The Magic Interurban, 224pp. Central Electric Railfan's Association Bulletin #128, Chicago, IL., 1991. (ISBN 091-5348-284) (Very thorough publication regarding neighboring interurban system Indiana Railroad.)
  • CERA Bulletin #114, Iowa Trolleys, Central Electric Railfans' Association, Chicago, IL., 1966. (CRANDIC purchase of Red Devils.)
  • CERA Bulletin #129 Not Only Passengers, Central Electric Railfans' Assoc., Chicago, IL, 1992. (Regarding Interurban freight.)
  • Volkmer and King, Pennsylvania Trolleys in Color, Volume III, Morning Sun Books, Scotch Plains, NJ. 2003.
  • Hilton, George W. and Due, John F., The Electric Interurban Railways in America Stanford University Press, 1960, reissue 2000. (ISBN 0-8047-4014-3.)
  • Harwood, Herbert, Lake Shore Electric.

External links

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