Contract Reached to Sell Ex-NKP Branch Line in Indiana

The chances of a former Nickel Plate Road branch line near Indianapolis being saved for possible rail may have suffered a fatal blow last week when the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority reached an agreement with A&K Railroad Materials to sell 22 miles of track.

The Utah-based company is expected to begin pulling up the rails in 30 days. Following that, work will begin on creating a hiking and biking path to be known as the Nickel Plate Trail.

Under the contract, A&K will pay $289,000 for ownership of the track.

Five companies submitted bids to buy the track, which is in place between Noblesville and 38th Street in Indianapolis.

The line has been idle for the past two years after the Port Authority revoked the permission of the Indiana Transportation Museum to use the line for excursion service.

ITM had operated the Indiana Fairtrain between Fishers and the fairgrounds in Indianapolis. In past years the Fairtrain originated near Noblesville. The Fairtrain last operated three years ago.

News reports indicate that A&K plans to sell the track for scrap.

The Nickel Plate Trail will be 4.5 miles in length in Fishers and Noblesville, and 13 miles in length in Indianapolis. It will connect at the fairgrounds with the Monon Trail, which is also built on an abandoned railroad right of way.

Officials have said this will create a 40-mile loop linking Indianapolis, Carmel Westfield, Noblesville and Fishers.

Although the U.S. Surface Transportation Board has allowed the ex-NKP line to be railbanked, meaning it could be rebuilt as a rail line, officials say that seldom occurs.

Advocates for rail service on the ex-NKP line sought to promote a plan of having the trail and the rails co-exist, but Hamilton County officials rejected that on safety grounds. They also contended it would be too expensive.

An Ohio-based company, U.S. Rail Holdings, unsuccessfully sought to get the STB to force the cities to sell it the tracks so it operate freight trains.

Some of the companies that bid in response to a request for proposals to buy the tracks have since suggested that A&K may have overstated the amount of recyclable materials that can be salvaged and underestimated the amount of work involved in removing it.

Three of the five bidders didn’t offer to pay the Port Authority anything for the tracks and instead sought payment of $150,000 to remove them. The fourth bidder offered the Port Authority $7,300.

A report in the Indianapolis Star indicated that A&K will not be removing the rails at road crossings and repaving the torn-up streets afterward, which some estimated could cost more than $1 million.

“I don’t see how the metal alone can bring them that much in salvage fees,” said Joe Conjerti, co-owner of bidder Ohio-based Treno Service.

Another bidder cited the volatile price of scrap metal.

“It is risky,” said James Vibbert, vice president of Indiana-based All Track. “Steel prices are down, and the tonnage they [the cities] advertised was not tonnage that’s there.”

The track in question is owned by the cities of Fishers and Noblesville along with Hamilton County.

Four other companies decided after inspecting the tracks not to bid on the project because, they said, much of it the track was not salvageable because of deterioration or because it was not a coveted steel weight. They said they would be hard-pressed to make their money back.

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