ITM Plans to Sue over Denial to Use Rail Line

The Indiana Transportation Museum plans to file suit against Hamilton County and the cities of Noblesville and Fishers, seeking damages for losses sustained from being unable to use a former Nickel Plate Road branch line for excursion service last year.

The museum sent the notice to leaders of the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, which oversees the tracks, the mayors and deputy mayors of Noblesville and Fishers, all three Hamilton County commissioners and several other county officials. The notice of intent to file suit in federal court was also sent to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and Attorney General Curtis Hill.

“We have tried to find ways to work with these entities and our efforts have not been successful,” said John McNichols, the museum’s board chairman. “Our efforts have been met with indifference and opposition.”

The museum in past years has used the tracks for excursion trains and the popular Indiana State Fair Train.

But last year the Port Authority refused to allow ITM to use the tracks, citing concerns about the museum’s financial condition and its failure to adequately maintain the tracks for safe operation.

Earlier this year, Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness spoke about pulling up the rails and putting in a hike and bike trail. The mayor rejected a proposal by ITM to construct a trail alongside the tracks.

The track in question extends for 37 miles between Indianapolis and Noblesville, where the ITM is based.

In its notice to sue, ITM said it lost more than $350,000 in revenue because it couldn’t operate its Polar Bear Express trains and another $150,000 from being unable to run the Fair Train.

The notice said the museum was “current on all terms and conditions” of the operating agreement with the port authority at the time it was prevented from using the tracks.

Being prohibited from using the rail line, ITM said, violated its rights under the Fourteenth and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Further, ITM alleges, some public officials defamed the museum, interfered with an established business, breached an agreement, failed to engage in fair dealing, failed to comply with the Indiana Open Meetings and Records Act, and engaged in abuse of process.

In the meantime, four groups have responded to a port authority call for proposals to be the new operators of the rail line.

They include ITM, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Railway of Indianapolis, Hoosier Heritage Railroad of Fishers and Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad of Arcadia.

McNichols said he hoped the parties involved could reach an agreement before the Indiana State Fair begins on Aug. 4.

The port authority had earlier ruled out making a decision in time for an operator to offer the fair train this year.

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