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June 5, 2013

NEW ALBANY BICENTENNIAL: The Edwardsville Tunnel

(Continued)

NEW ALBANY —

In April 1881, construction began again on the main tunnel by contractors Hay, Meyer and Co. Men worked around the clock to complete the dangerous task. Mother Nature didn’t help matters any. Mud continued to enter the west end of the tunnel whenever a local stream flooded. 

And then there was the uncertainty of the structural integrity of the shaft itself. During the month of October 1881, two workers died after a portion of the roof caved in. Another man was injured a few weeks later from a similar occurrence.

“The work is continued night and day by about 30 workmen, the drilling and blasting being done without machinery,” said a passage in the 1882 History of the Ohio Falls and their Counties Volume II. “Very soon the scream of the locomotive and the thunder of the rushing train will be heard in the land.”

The book was right. On Oct. 9, 1882, the first passenger train roared through the completed tunnel. Along the way, steam shot through two vents that had been burrowed into the hills, providing an outlet for the toxic fumes given off by the locomotives while underground. Located in Georgetown near Interstate 64, both vents are still operational and smoke can be seen flowing from them today.

For a time, earlier trains needed assistance chugging up the steep 2.9 percent grade of the tunnel. Special cars were kept nearby to help the locomotives make it up the incline. Later, trains would need to split their cars into two trips. Nowadays, according to the Southern Railroad Company, no additional aid is needed. 

Shenanigans around the tunnels from the locals were also quite common, so much so a man lived by the passage and stood guard over its entrance. 

Of course, train jumpers could always find a way to board an open box car. As a senior in high school, Megenity rode through the tunnel on a friend’s dare. On the way back from Naval Reserve training in Louisville to his home in English, the boys stopped by the train tracks on Corydon Pike, the main thoroughfare before I-64 was built.

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