Indiana Fair Train Won’t Run in 2016

ITM

Passengers board the Indiana Fair Train in Fishers in August 2011. The train has been particularly popular among families for the past 30 years.

Tourist trains of the Indiana Transportation Museum are still not operating and now the museum will not be operating its Fair Train this year.

The 11-mile, 45-minute daily rail shuttles between Noblesville and the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis had been one of the museum’s most popular and profitable ventures, bringing in $120,000 in revenue.

In some years, the Fair Train has originated in Fishers. The Fair Train operates nine times a day during the Fair and last year carried 10,000 passengers.

But ITM still doesn’t have an operating agreement with the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, which owns the former Nickel Plate Road tracks that ITM trains use for its trains.

“We are of course saddened that we will not be able to provide this unique experience for families this year,” said museum Chairman Jeffrey Kehler.

The port authority owns 37 miles of track between Tipton and Fishers that passes the ITM museum location in Noblesville.

The ITM’s operating practices have been reported to be under review by the Federal Railroad Administration and the Indiana attorney general’s office after a group of seven volunteers alleged financial and operational mismanagement.

The seven have since been dismissed by the ITM.

For its part, the port authority has described the suspension of service as a safety issue, saying that rusted and cracked rail fasteners, overgrown vegetation obstructing tracks, and insufficient vision and hearing records for locomotive engineers are behind the cancellation of the Fair Train.

“These issues are not issues that should be rushed through just for the sake of the Fair Train,” said Port Authority President Mike Obergfell in an email sent to local officials. “The liability is too high to waive our requirements in my opinion.”

The Indianapolis Star reported that the port authority halted the Fair Train because the ITM failed to meet requirements the authority had demanded.

These include providing medical certifications for ITM operating personnel, track inspection reports and track maintenance records.

This would have been the 30th year the train served the Indiana State Fair. For three years during the 1980s, the Fair Train ran on former Monon tracks that have since been removed and the right of way converted to a trail.

The Star said that after the seven volunteers were terminated after making their allegations, the ITM was left without an operations board to care for the museum’s equipment and tracks.

The FRA subsequently conducted a limited safety inspection that found that the ITM’s equipment was working.

Obergfell said in his email that ITM did not provide enough information in time to save the Fair Train this year.

He said he rode along the tracks on Wednesday with two independent railroad inspectors and discovered several potentially dangerous places, including on the Fall Creek Bridge, which had “serious rusting” of a critical support structure.

Obergfell said bushes and trees are blocking the sight lines along the tracks through neighborhoods of Indianapolis.

Kehler countered that the track is in good enough condition to run the trains but ITM couldn’t get its engineer and conductor medical records in time.

“We gave the HHPS what we thought were sufficient records, but they asked for more,” he said.

Kehler said ITM personnel have not been allowed to conduct track repairs since March.

He said ITM’s 12 locomotive engineers are disheartened at the cancellation of the Fair Train. “This is the highlight of their year,” Kehler said.

“We will continue to work with HHPA, its rail consultant, and others associated with HHPA,” he said. “Our record of safety is unparalleled in our over 30-year operating history, and we will continue that record as we go forward.”

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