Judge Orders ITM to Leave by July 12

An Indiana judge has told the Indiana Transportation Museum to pack up and hit the road. He’s given it two more weeks to get out of town.

Earlier this year the City of Noblesville had told ITM to vacate its long-time home in Forest Park, giving it until June 1 to leave.

But the museum sought a court order extending its time there, saying having to be out by early June was unreasonable.

Hamilton Circuit Court Judge Paul A. Felix initially sided with ITM and issued an order giving the museum more time, but said he would rule by late June on the museum’s request for a preliminary injunction to delay its eviction.

Last Friday the judge decided ITM’s lease has expired, it has no valid right to continue to occupy the park property and ITM is now considered a trespasser.

Felix said that effective July 13 city officials had the right to begin cleaning up the property and disposing of how they wish any items that ITM leaves behind.

The court ruling was one of the latest setbacks for the museum. Earlier, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board had sided with the cities of Fishers and Noblesville, and Hamilton County in their desire to remove 9.2 miles of track of a former Nickel Plate Road branch line to Indianapolis that ITM once used for excursions trains, including the popular Fair Train to the Indiana State Fair.

ITM has a memorandum of understanding to set up shop in Logansport in north central Indiana and will how have to scramble to move 78 rail cars and engines, several buildings including the historic Hobbs Station, and more than three miles of track and switches.

The judge also denied ITM’s request that the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, which oversees the former Nickel Plate branch line, grant the museum access to the rail line to move

Noblesville spokesman Robert Herrington said the city will work to return to their owners any rail cars left on the property.

In a statement the city praised the ruling, calling it in the public interest.

“The property is a mess but will be restored in a safe and efficient manner. The city will continue to hold ITM responsible for any environmental issues remaining at the site,” the statement said.

The dispute between ITM and Noblesville dates to at least May 2017 when the city claimed the museum was violating the terms of the lease by allowing chemicals to leak into the ground in the park.

The city asked the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to investigate.

Museum officials, not surprisingly, had a different take on the judge’s ruling, expressing disappoint for his failure to protect a private not-for-profit enterprise against unlawful seizure of assets.

“Today the public has witnessed a systematic government intervention into private enterprise and the destruction of an institution which has served the public for more than 50 years,” said museum chair John McNichols.

“Today the Indiana Transportation Museum is the victim. Tomorrow it could be another museum, not-for-profit or private business. The next day it could be your home taken in an eminent domain land grab to benefit developers.”

McNichols said it is uncertain what steps the ITM will take next.

A portion of the ex-Nickel Plate Road branch line is expected to continue to host excursion trains, but those will not be operated by ITM.

The Hoosier Heritage Port Authority has an agreement with the Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad to operate a tourist line between Noblesville and Atlanta, Indiana.

The tourist operator has not announced a date to begin service but has indicated online that it is hiring staff and has a locomotive being rehabilitated in a shop.

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