The first train to run into Dayton occurred on Jan. 27, 1851. It ran from Springfield to Dayton over the newly constructed tracks of the Mad River & Lake Erie Railroad Co. The MR&LE RR went through a number of name changes, but eventually became the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Ry. (Big 4). By 1854 six railroads had made their way to Dayton, and laid the basis for the railroads that run through Dayton today. Although some of the names were different at the time of their construction, the six railroads were the CCC&St.L (NYC), PRR, CH&D (B&O), Dayton & Union (Union City, Ind. now part of the B&O), and Cincinnati, Lebanon & Northern (FRR Lytle branch).
Sometime in the early 1850’s the first of the “big time” stations was built.
The 3rd Dayton station was built, this time on the north side of the tracks across from the older station, and consisted of a considerably larger structure with a large clock tower, a covered promenade along Ludlow St., five station tracks, and three station platforms (the longest was 750 ft.). A corporation called the Dayton Union Railway Co. was formed by the CCC&St.L (NYC), CH&D (B&O), and PRR to build and operate the new station.
The next step in the evolution of Dayton Union Station came in 1924 when the City Plan Board of Dayton made a comprehensive study of the elevation of tracks through downtown Dayton. For years grade crossing elimination had been on the minds of Dayton’s citizens, and the interest intensified with the development of the automobile. In those days Dayton saw about 66 passenger trains and 100 freight trains daily. In September 1925 formal conferences started between city officials and the railroad engineers, with a general plan developed in July 1926. In November 1927 a bond issue was passed by the citizens of Dayton to cover the city’s share of the cost of the elevation project (35%). Detailed plans were completed; contracts were finalized; and right-of-way was secured before the actual work began on March 5, 1930. The first train to run over any of the elevation occurred on Dec. 15, 1930, and the first train to use the entire elevation was a PRR local from Xenia at 4:30 PM on Jan. 15, 1931. All street level operations were abandoned on Sept. 30, 1931. Along with the track elevation came major changes to the station and the operation of trains through Dayton. As for the station, the structure built in 1900 remained basically unchanged, but the platforms were obviously raised, with a new waiting area, Post Office and REA facilities, and station offices being built underneath.
With the steadily increasing interest in the automobile, and decreasing concern with the passenger train (we all know that story), the City of Dayton became interested in bettering the traffic flows in the downtown area in the early 1960’s. In doing so, the city wanted to extend 6th Street to Wilkinson Street, but Union Station sat right in the way. Since the station was deteriorating somewhat and was really larger than it needed to be, considering the steady decline in passenger trains, there was no choice but to tear it down. The City purchased the station, tore it down, and built the new street. On May 1, 1971, Amtrak took over the former Pennsylvania Railroad Columbus-Indianapolis passenger train and discontinued the other routes through Dayton. This Amtrak service lasted until October 1, 1979, when the last passenger train through Dayton was discontinued.