Twenty years since Fifth Street trains

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) – Today downtown commuters do not have to worry about delays at the railroad tracks, but 20 years ago it was a different story.

“People do not realize, who are new to the community, [the train] didn’t go across the street,” Railroad Relocation Project manager Liz Solberg said. “It went down 14 blocks of a city street.”

“It reminds us a lot of what it was like,” Tippecanoe County Historical Association executive director Kathy Atwell said. “We tell the young people, you know, that you were always late to everything.”

On July 22, 1994, the last train went down Fifth Street, a noticeable step in the larger railroad relocation project. Solberg said the idea of railroad relocation in Lafayette has been around for about 100 years, but really came to fruition under Lafayette Mayor Jim Riehle several decades before the move.

“The concept of not just building a bridge to solve it, but to essentially rebuild the urban core to solve the total problem was a very audacious urban visioning,” Solberg said.

Solberg joined others who were in city government at the time of the relocation project, as well as railroad representatives, to remember 20 years since the last train on Fifth Street Sunday at the Lafayette Civic Theater.

The location is significant since the theater is housed in the former Monon Train Depot. The Tippecanoe County Historical Association hosted the event.

“It was going to be a lot smaller,” Atwell said. “The more people we got involved and the more people got excited, then it turned into this wonderful event.”

Solberg said the project helped the city become more welcoming. Eliminating train conflicts helped improve the quality of life in Greater Lafayette. Solberg said it’s also a testament to a bipartisan project.

“The bedrock of it all was the community,” Solberg said. “Both the grassroots and the leaders really demonstrating time and time again how important it was to make this happen.”

It would be seven more years before the relocation was complete. That happened in April 2001.

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