Red Line construction crews excavate rail lines along College Avenue from early 1900s

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - We’re gearing up for the new Red Line transit, but you may be surprised to learn that the idea isn’t so new. In fact, construction crews are digging up pieces of Hoosier history, even as they look to the future of transit.

You know how they say history repeats itself? Well, that’s true here along College Avenue and the proof lies right under the pavement.

We’ll soon experience a transit system that has similarities to one that existed more than 100 years ago.

“History repeats itself,” said Jordan Ryan.

Jordan Ryan, the Coordinator for the Indianapolis Bicentennial Project at the Indiana History Center works with a collection of paperwork, photos and maps of our transit system dating back to 1864.

“I really like these photo copies of these maps,” said Ryan, “It starts in 1864 and it shows you how small our street car lines were at the time.”

Now, fast forward to today and replace the horses with electric buses. When you compare the old routes and the new Red Line, the footprints are almost identical.

“You can see Washington Street, we’ve got Virginia Avenue, these are the same places the red line is going today,” explained Ryan.

As we speak, history is being excavated at each red line construction site. Crews are digging up old street car lines and trolley tracks, that were part of Indy’s interurban rail lines.

“When you’re digging up the tracks today, those tend to be early 1900s to 1920s,” said Ryan.

Jerome Horne with IndyGo says the last line to operate along college avenue was in January 1953.

“They’re going down below the street level. There’s a few inches of asphalt, then they go down further, and they find some of the cobblestone streets,” said Horne, “Within those streets are rails and those rails are from the Indianapolis Transit System.”

The idea back then was to provide people with access to opportunity, the same message for the Red Line today.

“We want to allow people to get around our city without owning a vehicle,” said Horne, “We’re really kind of going back to having that great system to allow people to get around our city and have that access to opportunity.”

IndyGo plans to honor the city’s past as they make way for the future of transit. They hope to make pieces of the rail into collectible mementos or plaques for people to have around the city.

The final day of Red Line construction is scheduled for July 31. Right now, officials are planning for August to be reserved for training.  The Red Line will officially open on September 1.

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