Thomas Simmons, of Sedam Contracting, smoothes out rocks over unused railroad tracks near the convergence of the Heritage Trail and the historic railroad incline. The work is being done to make the incline suitable for walking. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Thomas Simmons, of Sedam Contracting, smoothes out rocks over unused railroad tracks near the convergence of the Heritage Trail and the historic railroad incline. The work is being done to make the incline suitable for walking. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Workers have begun renovating Madison's historic railroad incline to make the area more accessible to hikers.

The city of Madison received a $403,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration transportation enhancement funds in June 2011. Sedam Contracting was awarded the bid.

The incline was part of Indiana's first rail line - the Madison, Indianapolis & Lafayette Railroad, which was commissioned in 1836. The area known as the incline begins north of the intersection of West Main and McIntire streets. It is 7,012 feet long and rises 412 feet per mile with an average grade of 5.89 percent, the steepest mainline grade of any local railroad in the country.

Over the years after becoming inactive, tons of rocks and boulders have landed on the surface of the railroad, and a land shift caused part of the rails to drop four feet. The area has become overgrown with brush and small trees.

Cathy Hale, chief executive officer of the Madison Railroad, said workers are clearing brush and vegetation from the area.

The crews also are covering portions of the track with stones in order to bring in excavators without damaging the rails. The excavators will allow workers to fix the rails and put in new railroad ties and stone.

Additionally, a 700-foot portion of the track will be disassembled so crews can put in new dirt fill. Once the fill is in the place, workers will then reassemble the rail with new stones and ties. The section will be between the large and small cut of the tracks.

While the renovations are needed for historic preservation, Hale said it also will become another asset for pedestrian traffic coming from the nearby Heritage Trail. The old railroad tracks and Heritage Trail begin on Vaughn Drive and run parallel downtown before parting ways at the start of the incline.

"We already know that we get a lot of walkers on the rail because of the Heritage Trail," Hale said.

The work is expected to be finished in September.

"We would encourage people to stay away from the area until once it's completed," Hale said.