Dayton, Ohio Railroad History - Summary

Compiled by
R Kirk Reynolds
David P Oroszi

The first railroad to reach Dayton was the Mad River & Lake Erie (later NYC), which began operating between Dayton and Springfield on January 27, 1851. The first passenger depot at Dayton wasn't much of a facility, merely an existing small brick building that had been acquired by the MR&LR to serve as a place for passengers to get on and off trains and to purchase tickets. The building stood on the north side of Sixth and Jefferson Streets.

By 1854, five railroads had made their way to Dayton and laid the basis for the railroads that serve Dayton today. Although their names were different at the time of their construction, the five railroads would eventually become the: New York Central Railroad (Mad River & Lake Erie), Pennsylvania Railroad (Columbus & Xenia), and Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton) (Dayton & Michigan) (Dayton & Union).

Round Top Depot
Each Dayton railroad had its own station at first, or at least their own place to sell tickets. During the mid-1850s, a new Union Station was built just west of Sixth and Ludlow Streets on the south side of the tracks, and all the railroads began using the round-topped brick structure. The depot was operated by the CH&D. The building was originally built with three large doors at each end that were closed on Sundays. This station was Dayton's connection with the outside world during the last half of the 19th century but by 1900 it had become an inadequate facility to handle the growing volume of traffic.

Tower Depot
A second Union Station was constructed on the north side of the tracks, across from the old depot. This depot was made of brick and had a large seven-story clock tower on the east end towering over the main entrance. The station was built in 1899 by the Dayton Union Railway, jointly formed by the Cleveland, Cincinnati Chicago & St Louis (New York Central/Big Four), the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton (Baltimore & Ohio). The cost of the structure was approximately $780,000 and was officially dedicated on July 21, 1900.

The new depot was a very busy place during its first 30 years with as many as 66 passenger trains a day serving Dayton. s part of a grade crossing elimination project, the tracks through downtown Dayton were elevated above street level during 1930-31 and the station platforms were also raised (see details of this below).

Last Depot
Rail passenger service remained vital through World War II but after the war the American public traveled more and more by automobile and airplane. Fewer and fewer passenger trains ran through Dayton and by the early 1960s Union Station had much more capacity than was required. The City of Dayton wanted to extend Sixth Street to Wilkinson Street but the station sat right in the way. The structure was in need of repair so in the spring/summer of 1964 the depot was torn down and the station facilities were moved under the platforms. In September 1964 the "new" and last depot in Dayton was dedicated with a ceremony in the new 6th Street, including speeches by local dignitaries and music by a band on the lawn.

On May 1, 1971, Amtrak took over the former Pennsylvania Railroad's Columbus-Indianapolis-St. Louis passenger train and discontinued the other routes through Dayton. This Amtrak service lasted until October 1, 1979, when the last passenger train (National Limited) through Dayton was discontinued.

The End of Dayton'ís Passenger Station
During the months of June and July 1985, the umbrella sheds covering the Union Station platforms were dismantled by Conrail. The purpose at the time was said to make room for some track realignment through the depot platform area. However, in the process of the removal of the sheds the water drainage system was also destroyed. In the fall of 1985, heavy rains and the lack of drainage in the platform area, cause major flooding in the depot interior. As a result, the signaling system sustained major damage and had to be deactivated.

The Dayton Union dispatcher/operator was then relocated to a two-story, tower-looking building at Wayne Avenue Junction and the signals repaired. The building sat on the north side of the elevated tracks where East Third Street goes under the Dayton Union tracks. Although it always looked like a two-story interlocking tower, it was built to house part of the signaling system. The top level of the building was quickly modified to house the Dayton operator.

In December 1988, work started on removing all remains of the Union Station and was completed early in 1989. All the elevator shafts and platforms were removed and the area beneath the tracks was gutted. All that remained were the supports that hold up the elevated tracks.

During the summer of 1989, the interlocking at Miami City Junction was eliminated and both the Conrail and CSX tracks then went to single track south of Washington Street. Most of the tracks were removed through downtown except for one Conrail and one CSX main line, and each railroad then became single track through downtown on the elevation. They both went back to double track at Second Street Junction. Crossovers between both railroads were located at Second Street and were controlled by the Dayton operator in the building at Wayne Avenue Junction. The Dayton operator position was eliminated on July 18, 1990. By November 1990, the Dayton tower at Wayne Avenue Junction, the brick building at Miami City Junction, and all of the Dayton Union Railway signal bridges had been torn down.

On June 1, 1999 Conrail was eliminated and their tacks split between the CSX and Norfolk Southern Railroads. The Conrail track through downtown Dayton became the property of Norfolk Southern.

Dayton's early railroads each built their own track to the city and the three that eventually become through routes (the Cleveland, Cincinnati Chicago & St Louis (NYC/Big Four), the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton (later B&O) and the Pennsylvania) all paralleled one another through downtown. At first each line had its station at Dayton but in the mid-1850s a new Union Station was built and all the railroads moved in.

Rail traffic increased and by the turn of the century the railroads had outgrown Union Station. A new Union Station was built and opened in 1900. It was constructed and operated by the Dayton Union Railway, which was owned jointly by the CCC&StL, the CH&D and the PRR.

As the city grew both rail traffic through town and traffic in the city streets became more and more congested. Horse teams and wagons were replaced by automobiles, busses and trucks in Dayton's streets. City streetcars and larger interurban cars also shared the city's busiest thoroughfares with motor vehicles. By the end of World War I, as many as 66 passenger trains and 100 freight trains were moving through downtown every day. Street traffic came to a halt with the passage of every train.

To solve this early form of grid-lock, the City Plan Board of Dayton made a comprehensive study of the elevation of the tracks through downtown in 1924. In September 1925, formal conferences between city and railroad officials began and a general plan was developed by July 1926. In November 1927, a bond issue was passed by the citizens of Dayton to cover the city's share of the elevation project (35%).

Detailed plans were completed; contracts were finalized; and right-of-way was secured before actual work began on March 5, 1930. Although the nation was slipping into the Depression, work on the elevation project progressed steadily. The first train to run over any of the elevation did so on December 15, 1930. The first train to use the entire elevation was a PRR local from Xenia at 430PM on January 15, 1931. All operations at street level were abandoned on September 30, 1931.

Traffic on the streets of downtown Dayton was expedited by the elevation project and trains moved faster through the city on the new tracks. A new signal system and centralized traffic control (CTC) allowed Dayton Union Railway to retire several individual signal towers (each manned around the clock by operators). One train director and one CTC operator replaced all these positions.

The ground level system before the elevation required the following manned positions all 24 hours: 1 train director, 4 switch tenders, 1 operator, 5 operator levermen in 5 interlocking towers and 1 block station with operator. After the elevation only the following positions were required: 1 CTC Board with 1 train director and 1 operator.

The CTC Board installed in the depot was unique at the time as it was the first in the United States to be completely automated, thus eliminating the use of mechanical interlocking devices. As written in a 1930's issue of Railway Gazette, the interlocking towers and block stations that were eliminated were:

DURY 37 lever mechanical interlocking plant at 2nd Street Junction,
DURY 8 lever mechanical interlocking plant at Union Station,
DURY 26 lever mechanical interlocking plant at Miami City Junction,
PRR tower at the west end of double track at Wolf Creek
PRR 8 lever mechanical interlocking plant at Wayne Avenue Junction
PRR block station at Dutoit Street

When the tracks were elevated, the platforms of the station were raised and sets of stairs and elevators were installed. Dayton Union Railway served the city well through World War II, but the years after the war saw more and more Americans in cars and airplanes. The railroads carried fewer and fewer passengers through the 1960s. The main part of Union Station with clock tower was torn down in the early 1960s, but B&O, NYC and PRR passenger trains (and later, Penn Central then Amtrak) still stopped at the platforms.

The New York Central and Pennsylvania merged on February 1, 1968, to form Penn Central and the B&O became part of Chessie System on June 15, 1973. When Conrail took over Penn Central on April 1, 1976, it inherited PC's share of Dayton Union Railway and purchased the B&O's half. Chessie System (which became CSX in 1980) continued to use trackage rights over the former Dayton Union Railway until the summer of 1989, when the tracks were reconfigured into two separate, parallel mainlines, one for Conrail trains and the other for CSX trains. On June 1, 1999 Norfolk Southern took over the Conrail tracks through downtown.

Today, the tracks through Dayton still form an important link on CSX's Cincinnati-Toledo route and Norfolk Southern's Columbus-Cincinnati line. The trains of the Indiana & Ohio Railroad also use the Norfolk Southern tracks through Dayton for their trains running from Detroit to Cincinnati.

The Second World War brought record volumes of passenger and freight traffic to America's railroads. New passenger trains were put into service after the war to sustain the renewed patronage. Business was good for the railroads during the 1940s.

Business had also been good during the 1940s for the automotive and aircraft industries and the 1950s were even better. More and more Americans drove or flew while fewer and fewer rode trains.

By the end of the 1960s, Dayton's railroads were running only a handful of passenger trains three routes; the Baltimore & Ohio between Toledo and Cincinnati, the New York Central between Columbus and Cincinnati and the Pennsylvania between Columbus and Indianapolis.

In order to preserve an intercity rail passenger network, Congress created a government corporation to assume the faltering passenger service on America's railroads.

The National Rail Passenger Corporation is more commonly known as Amtrak. On May 1, 1971, it took over the passenger operations on most American railroads that still had them. However, Amtrak did not pick up all the remaining passenger service. Through Dayton Amtrak took over Penn Central's ex-PRR Columbus-Indianapolis route but did not continue operation of PC's ex-NYC Columbus-Cincinnati route nor that of B&O's Toledo-Cincinnati route.

Before the startup of Amtrak on April 30, 1971, the following passenger trains were still running through Dayton:

Penn Central (former Pennsylvania route)
westbound #31, New York City to St. Louis, "Spirit of St. Louis"
eastbound # 4, St. Louis to New York City, "Spirit of St. Louis"
westbound #13, Pittsburgh to St. Louis
eastbound #32, St. Louis to Pittsburgh

Penn Central (former New York Central route)
westbound #77, Columbus to Cincinnati, "Cincinnati Limited"
eastbound #78, Cincinnati to Columbus, "Cincinnati Limited"

Baltimore & Ohio
southbound, #53, Detroit to Cincinnati, "Cincinnatian"
northbound, #54, Cincinnati to Detroit, "Cincinnatian"

At the startup of Amtrak on May 1, 1971, the following passenger trains ran through Dayton:

Amtrak (former Pennsylvania route)
westbound #31, New York City to St. Louis, no name
eastbound #4, St. Louis to New York City, no name

Effective with the timetable change of November 14, 1971, the train through Dayton was given a new name and numbers as follows, and lasted until its end:

Amtrak (former Pennsylvania route)
westbound #31, New York City to St. Louis, "National Limited"
eastbound #30, St. Louis to New York City, "National Limited"

Amtrak struggled through its first decade trying to stretch its budget to cover costs while improving service. Operating over freight railroads that themselves were trying to meet budget, Amtrak was forced to rationalize its system.

The Amtrak service through Dayton over the former Pennsylvania's Columbus-Indianapolis line ended on October 1, 1979, with the last run of westbound #31 the "National Limited." Shortly thereafter, the rails west of Dayton were torn up.

Since the end of rail passenger service through Dayton, there have been many proposals to restore rail service. Each effort so far has ended with failure to gain the support of local and State legislators.

For 70 years, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad served Dayton on its Cincinnati-Toledo mainline. This important route between the Ohio River and Lake Erie began as the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad, chartered on March 2, 1846. The line built northward from Cincinnati through Hamilton and reached Dayton on September 20, 1851.

At about the same time another railroad, the Dayton & Michigan, was building northward from Dayton toward Lima and Toledo. When these two railroads were completed in the early 1850s, the heyday of the Miami-Erie Canal was over.

The CH&D acquired control of the D&M on May 6, 1863. Three branch lines joined CH&D's Cincinnati-Toledo mainline at Dayton. The first ran southeast to Wellston, Ohio. The second ran northwest to Union City on the Ohio/Indiana state line. The third headed north to Delphos, Ohio.

The Baltimore & Ohio was chartered on February 28, 1827, to build a railroad from Baltimore to the Ohio River. By the early 1880s, the B&O had grown into a rail system that reached from the Atlantic to Chicago and St. Louis. The B&O continued to expand during the first quarter of the 20th Century and took control of the CH&D on July 19, 1917.

While the B&O was primarily an east-west oriented railroad the Toledo Subdivision, as the B&O's mainline through Dayton was officially named, was a vital north-south route. In addition to the busy mainline, the B&O continued to operate the branches to Union City (Greenville after 1962) and Wellston but the line to Delphos was not taken over and was abandoned in 1921.

The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway was a coal-hauling railroad that ran from Newport News, Virginia to Toledo and Chicago. The C&O gradually gained control of the B&O by 1964, but the two railroads continued to run as two essentially separate systems.

In 1973, C&O, B&O and a third railroad that was under their control, Western Maryland, were consolidated under a new corporate umbrella. The new railroad was called Chessie System.

On June 15, 1973, Chesapeake & Ohio Railway consolidated its control of Baltimore & Ohio and another railroad that C&O and B&O both owned, the Western Maryland Railway. The new company was called Chessie System, named for a mascot kitten C&O began using in its advertising during the 1930s.

Chessie System operated the three railroads separately at first but gradually realigned its corporate structure to coordinate traffic movement, train scheduling and management of physical plant.

The B&O mainline through Dayton continued to be an important part of Chessie System, although the branch to Xenia and Wellston was downgraded during the 1970s and eventually abandoned in 1983. The branch (D&U) to Greenville continued to run until 1992, when it was abandoned.

During the mid-1970s a group of railroads in the southeastern United States affiliated with Seaboard Coast Line were configured into Family Lines System. Family Lines consisted of Clinchfield Railroad, the Atlanta & West Point, the Western Railway of Alabama, the Georgia Railroad, the Louisville & Nashville and the Seaboard Coast Line.

Family Lines connected with Chessie System at several key points and by the late 1970s, the two systems were negotiating a merger. The new rail network would cover most of the eastern US, especially the southeast, and would be called CSX Corporation.

Chessie System and Family Lines merged on November 1, 1980, creating the CSX Corporation. The combined systems totaled over 26,000 miles of track and covered most of the eastern United States, excluding Pennsylvania, New York and New England.

During the early-1980s, Chessie System's railroads (C&O, B&O and Western Maryland) and Family Lines (Atlanta & West Point, Western Railway of Alabama, Clinchfield, Georgia Railroad, L&N and SCL) continued to operate under their own names. CSX managed the two rail systems as well as a barge line, a pipeline network and other non-rail businesses.

Louisville & Nashville (and the smaller Family Lines roads) merged with Seaboard Coast Line on December 29, 1982, and the railroad was renamed Seaboard System. CSX gradually began to centralize management in the mid-1980s and Chessie System's railroads disappeared into CSX on January 1, 1987.

CSX's Toledo-Cincinnati mainline through Dayton today is a key north-south route between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River. Traffic carried includes new automobiles, vans and trucks; auto parts; coal; chemicals; iron ore; lumber and newsprint.

The New York Central System served Dayton on its Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati route. The line was actually part of a New York Central subsidiary, the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, popularly known as the Big Four.

The Mad River & Lake Erie was one of the earliest railroads to be built in Ohio and was the first railroad to reach Dayton, in 1851. Another railroad, the Cleveland, Columbus & Cincinnati finished a railroad between Cleveland and Columbus in 1851. The CC&C became the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati & Indianapolis in 1868.

The Mad River & Lake Erie had gone through several name changes by this time and had become the Cincinnati, Sandusky & Cleveland Railroad. The CCC&I connected with the CS&C at Springfield and was providing financial support to latter railroad to complete its line from Cincinnati to Dayton, which was finished in 1872. From this time forward, the CS&C came under the control of the CCC&I.

The CCC&I and two other lines in Indiana and Illinois were merged in 1889 to create the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis (also known as the Big Four). The name accurately listed the major cities served by the railroad, with the notable exception of Indianapolis which was the center of the system.

The Big Four was controlled by the Vanderbilt family, which also owned the New York Central Railroad. The New York Central's mainline ran north from New York City along the Hudson River to Albany and turned west to Buffalo. The NYC then ran along the south shore of Lake Erie through Cleveland and Toledo and crossed northern Indiana to reach Chicago. The Big Four connected with the New York Central primarily at Cleveland.

Although the Big Four was a subsidiary of the NYC, its operations were completely integrated into the NYC system by the turn of the century. The New York Central became one of the four major railroads that served Dayton until it merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad on February 1, 1968, forming the Penn Central Company.

The Pennsylvania Railroad was one the Northeast's dominant railroads for the first two-thirds of the 20th Century. It was a major mover of passenger and freight traffic through Dayton.

As it reached westward from the eastern cities of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, the PRR eventually covered most of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, connecting with the railroads of the western United States at Chicago and St. Louis.

The Pennsylvania Railroad through Dayton was part of the New York-St. Louis mainline and was the preferred route between those two cities for their passenger trains. (The freight trains were routed from Columbus, Ohio, to Richmond, Indiana, via Bradford, Ohio.) The history of this line through Dayton began when the Dayton & Western Railroad finished building its line from Xenia to Dayton in 1851. At Xenia, the D&W met one of Ohio's first railroads, the Little Miami Railroad. The Little Miami had opened its railroad between Cincinnati, Xenia and Springfield in the mid-1840s. In the early 1850s, the Columbus & Xenia Railroad had built a line through Dayton, from Xenia to New Paris, Ohio, where it joined with the Columbus, Chicago & Indiana Central Railway.

The C&X and the D&W eventually came under the control of the Little Miami. The Little Miami, in turn, was leased by the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati & St. Louis, a Pennsylvania Railroad subsidiary. The PC&StL was commonly known by its nickname, the Panhandle, after the panhandle of West Virginia which the line crossed. The Panhandle was consolidated into the Pennsylvania System in 1921.

In addition to the Pittsburgh-St. Louis mainline through Dayton, the Pennsylvania also operated a branch line south of downtown towards Cincinnati. In early 1882, the Cincinnati Northern Railway opened a narrow-gauge railroad (built with the rails 3 feet apart) between Cincinnati and Dayton. In the summer of 1885, the line became the Cincinnati, Lebanon & Northern Railway and was converted to standard gauge in 1894.

The Pennsylvania Railroad bought the CL&N on May 7, 1896. Passenger and freight operations continued over the line between Cincinnati and Dayton until the early-1930s. Through passenger and freight service was discontinued during the Depression and the track south of Centerville was abandoned in 1952.

World War II brought unprecedented traffic levels to America's railroads and the PRR mainline through Dayton was an important route between the East Coast and St. Louis. The Pennsylvania moved millions of people and millions of tons of freight through Dayton during the war years.

After the war, freight and passenger traffic began to dwindle as new trucks and cars were using new highways and expressways all across the country. Much of the PRR's traffic through Dayton was lost to Interstate 70.

The Pennsylvania Railroad and its long-time rival, the New York Central, began merger talks in 1957. The merger took place on February 1, 1968, and the PRR and NYC became the Penn Central Company.

The New York Central Railroad, the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad merged on February 1, 1968, to form the Penn Central Company. Penn Central's lines through Dayton were New York Central's Columbus-Cincinnati line and Pennsylvania's Columbus-Indianapolis route, as well as PRR's Cincinnati, Lebanon & Northern branch.

Penn Central was a sprawling railroad that covered most of the Northeast from Boston, New York and Philadelphia on the Atlantic coast to Chicago and St. Louis in the Midwest. Its many branches seemed to run everywhere: from the tip of the Delmarva Peninsula to the Straits of Mackinac, from Montreal on the St. Lawrence River to the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers at Cairo, Illinois.

From its beginning, PC operated both freight and passenger trains through Dayton. PC continued to run the former NYC and PRR passenger schedules on the Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati and the Pittsburgh-Columbus-St. Louis routes respectively. When Amtrak took over PC's passenger service in 1971 the Cleveland-Cincinnati route was dropped Amtrak continued to serve Dayton on the Columbus-Indianapolis line.

Even after it was relieved of its money-losing passenger operations, Penn Central still lost money. Many branch lines could not generate enough revenue to cover their cost and the regulatory process to sell or abandon them was slow and complex. Penn Central filed bankruptcy June 21, 1970. Within a couple of years six other northeastern railroads that relied on PC for much of their traffic were bankrupt, too. The freight trains of the deteriorating Penn Central continued to roll through Dayton while the United States government tried to find a solution the nation's largest bankruptcy.

The Atlantic & Great Western Railroad was a broad-gauge railroad (5 feet between the rails instead of what became standard gauge, 4 feet 8 1/2 inches) built in the late 1860s. It ran east from Dayton to Salamanca, New York, where it connected with the Erie Railroad, another broad-gauge railroad.

The A&GW rode its own tracks from Marion, Ohio, into Dayton and then used the tracks of the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton the rest of the way to Cincinnati. To accommodate the wider-gauge A&GW trains, a third rail was laid along the CH&D track between Dayton and Cincinnati.

The A&GW reorganized into the New York, Pennsylvania & Ohio and was leased by the Erie. The tracks were standard-gauged in 1880 and at that time the Erie began to hand its Cincinnati traffic over to the CH&D at Dayton. This practice continued after the Baltimore & Ohio took over the CH&D, and lasted until the creation of Conrail in 1976.

The Erie merged with the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western to become the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad on October 17, 1960. Operations on the Dayton Branch (which joined the Erie's Hoboken-Chicago mainline at Marion, Ohio) continued to connect with the B&O at Dayton.

As the Penn Central went bankrupt in the early 1970s, several other northeastern railroads that interchanged with PC also failed, including Erie-Lackawanna. Congress created Conrail to take over and rebuild these railroads.

After Conrail's start-up on April 1, 1976, the EL Dayton Branch was abandoned from Marion to north of Springfield. Conrail continued to use the former EL track between Springfield and Dayton in conjunction with the parallel former New York Central track between those points.

President Richard Nixon signed into law the Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1973 on January 2, 1974. This act created the United States Railway Association to assume control of seven bankrupt northeastern railroads: Central Railroad of New Jersey, Erie-Lackawanna, Lehigh & Hudson River, Lehigh Valley, Penn Central, Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines and the Reading. Two of these lines, Erie-Lackawanna and Penn Central, served Dayton. A government corporation was formed to operate the new railroad: Consolidated Rail Corporation or Conrail.

Conrail's first day was April 1, 1976. Conrail continued the operation of the two Penn Central lines through Dayton, the ex-NYC Columbus-Cincinnati line and the ex-PRR Columbus-Indianapolis line, but abandoned most of Erie-Lackawanna's Dayton Branch soon after the merger.

The Staggers Rail Act of 1980 streamlined the federal government's regulation of America's railroads. The process for gaining approval to sell or abandon unwanted was simplified.

Conrail abandoned most of the former PRR from Dayton to Indianapolis in 1983 (The section from Dayton to just east of Trotwood remains into the 2000s). The rest of the PRR from Columbus to Xenia and Dayton was abandoned in the late 1980s. Most of the old CL&N branch at Dayton had been abandoned in the late 1970s (The section from Dayton to Smithville Rd and south into Kettering remains into the 2000s). This left the old NYC Columbus-Cincinnati line as Conrail's only major route through Dayton.

As Conrail is mainly an east-west oriented railroad, its Cincinnati Line (as it is designated by the railroad) through Dayton, did not carry quite the volume of traffic that other CR lines did. However, the Cincinnati Line was a vital segment of Conrail's system. In addition to traffic going to customers in the Queen City itself, Conrail also interchanged with Norfolk Southern and CSX at Cincinnati. The trains of NS have trackage rights over CR's Cincinnati Line between Cincinnati and Columbus while Grand Trunk Western trains also used trackage rights from Cold Springs (west of Springfield) to Cincinnati.

On June 1, 1999, Conrail was split up between the Norfolk Southern and CSX, and the Conrail lines in Dayton became part of Norfolk Southern.

The Detroit, Toledo & Ironton ran between Detroit and Ironton, Ohio on the Ohio River. Its mainline ran across mostly rural western and southern Ohio. The DT&I didn't serve Dayton. Instead, its tracks passed through the cities of Lima, Springfield, Greenfield and Jackson.

On April 15, 1955, the DT&I and the Pennsylvania Railroad entered a trackage rights agreement allowing DT&I freight trains to to use PRR tracks from South Charleston, where the two lines crossed, to Cincinnati. This gave DT&I a direct route to its primary connections at Cincinnati, the Southern Railway and The Louisville & Nashville Railroad.

During the 1960s, the DT&I was handling a great deal of automotive traffic between Detroit and Cincinnati. DT&I trains began to use a different route to reach Cincinnati on July 15, 1969. By that time PRR had merged with New York Central to become Penn Central. DT&I trains continued to use the former PRR from South Charleston but upon reaching Xenia turned east on the ex-PRR to Dayton instead of south on the line to Cincinnati that the DT&I had acquired trackage rights over in 1955. At Dayton, the DT&I trains turned south onto the former NYC line to the Queen City. As it turned out, these new trackage rights put the DT&I in a better position to survive the collapse of the Penn Central in the early 1970s.

As Conrail arose from the wreckage of the Penn Central and other eastern lines, the new company trimmed away most of the former PRR lines west of Columbus and DT&I trains began using a new connecting track at Maitland on the north side of Springfield in 1976. DT&I now had trackage rights over Conrail's former Erie-Lackawanna from Maitland (northwest side of Springfield) to Dayton. New York Central's Columbus-Cincinnati line paralleled the Erie between Cold Springs (west of Springfield) and Dayton and the two railroads operated jointly over each others track.

On June 24, 1980, Grand Trunk Western, a subsidiary of Canadian National Railways, purchased the DT&I along with its trackage rights over Conrail between Maitland and Cincinnati.

After the Grand Trunk Western bought the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton on June 24, 1980, it retained DT&I's trackage rights over Conrail between Maitland, on the northwest side of Springfield, and Cincinnati. At this time DT&I's connections at the Queen City were going through name changes themselves: Louisville & Nashville would become part of CSX Corporation on November 1, 1980, and Southern would become part of Norfolk Southern Corporation on June 1, 1982.

The DT&I was completely merged into GTW on the last day of 1983. Although the automotive traffic (both parts and new vehicles) between Cincinnati and Detroit remained strong, GTW gradually cut back the former DT&I trackage south of Springfield through the 1980s. By the early 1990s, GTW had sold or abandoned everything south of Springfield but its trains continued to run through Dayton.

Canadian National Railways consolidated its American railroads into a new corporate alignment on January 1, 1992, and Grand Trunk Western became Canadian National North America.

Seeking to concentrate on corridors with higher traffic densities, CNNA announced on April 15, 1996, that the former DT&I south of Diann, Michigan, was for sale. On February 15, 1997, the former DT&I trackage was sold to the Indiana & Ohio Railroad, which was part of RailTex, a short line conglomerate.

The Indiana & Ohio was formed in 1978 to take over operation of the Conrail (ex-NYC) branch from Valley Junction, Ohio, to Brookville, Indiana. Since their startup they have continually acquired lines in the region as the major railroads sold off lines to various shortlines. In 1996 the Indian & Ohio lines were sold to RailTex, Inc. of San Antonio, Texas, a short line conglomerate.

On February 15, 1997, under RailTex control, I&O took over the former DT&I from Springfield to the Detroit, Michigan area from Grand Trunk Western successor, Canadian National. As with the DT&I and GTW, the I&O would have trackage rights over Conrail, and later Norfolk Southern, from Cold Springs to Cincinnati through Dayton.

On October 15, 1999, RailAmerica, Inc. announced it was acquiring I&O parent company RailTex, and today the I&O operates as a subsidiary of RailAmerica.

Norfolk Southern Corporation was formed on June 1, 1982, when the Norfolk & Western Railway merged with the Southern Railway. Norfolk Southern operates three lines into Cincinnati; the former N&W line from Portsmouth, Ohio, the former Southern mainline from Chattanooga and the former N&W line from Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The Southern had long been an important connection at Cincinnati for the Baltimore & Ohio, the New York Central, the Pennsylvania and the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton. In 1980, B&O became part of CSX, which then became the Southern's (and Norfolk Southern's) chief competitor. NYC and PRR merged into Penn Central in 1968 and then became Conrail in 1976. Conrail remained a key interchange partner for NS at Cincinnati. The DT&I was bought by Grand Trunk Western in 1980 and continued to use trackage rights over Conrail to connect with NS and CSX at Cincinnati.

For many years, it was common to see the locomotives the Southern (and later NS) on Penn Central and Conrail trains running through Dayton. After the GTW took over the DT&I, NS power also became common on GTW trains going through Dayton.

In November 1993, NS began operating a pair of trailer trains over Conrail between Columbus and Cincinnati. This haulage agreement allowed the movement of automotive traffic (parts and new vehicles) and intermodal traffic (trailers and containers). Then on January 1, 1996, Conrail granted NS trackage rights to operate their own trains between Cincinnati and Columbus over the former New York Central through Dayton.

Effective June 1, 1999, Norfolk Southern and CSX took over Conrail and split up the Conrail system. The line Conrail line from Cincinnati to Columbus through Dayton became part of Norfolk Southern.

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