Posts Tagged ‘Hoosier Heritage Port Authority’

Indiana Rail Line May Become Trail

February 15, 2017

The rail line used to host the Indiana State Fair train may be pulled up and converted into a trail.

IndianaHamilton County officials are considering abandoning the former Nickel Plate Road branch line and making the right of way a hike and bike path.

The Fair Train, operated by the Indiana Transportation Museum, last operated in 2015 when it carried more than 10,000 passengers.

However, the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, which owns the rail line, would not allow ITM to operate the Fair Train or any other trains on the line in 2016.

The HHPA says that the line needs $5 million in safety investments before it can be used for rail service again.

The line extends from the fairgrounds along 38th Street in Indianapolis northward through Fishers and Noblesville.

The museum is based in Noblesville but in recent years the Fair Train has originated in Fishers.

If built, the trail would be similar to the Monon Trail, which uses a former Monon Railroad right of way that in the 1980s hosted the Fair Train.

New Operator Sought for Indiana Rail Line

January 25, 2017

A new operator is being sought to provide rail service on an Indiana line that once hosted the popular state fair trains.

IndianaThe Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, which owns the 37-mile former Nickel Plate route between Indianapolis and Tipton, said it was seeking a new operator after the previous operator, the Indiana Transportation Museum, failed to meet track maintenance agreements.

ITM has been embroiled in an internal dispute involving its management and some volunteers who have alleged that there have been financial improprieties and lack of adequate safety procedures

The museum previously operated the fair train and “polar bear” express excursions. Neither operated in 2016 and officials say the fair train might not operate in 2017 either.

Michael Obergfell, president of the port authority, said ITM could seek to operate the line again, but the authority was unlikely to allow that until several organizational issues are resolved.

Although probes by the Indiana attorney general’s office and Federal Railroad Administration have not made any findings of misconduct or wrong-doing, a consultant hired by the Port Authority concluded that ITM failed to comply with a track maintenance agreement between the museum and the authority.

Obergfell said several groups are interested in running trains on the line.

Ousted Volunteers Behind ITM Recall Drive

August 30, 2016

Trains magazine reported Monday that a group of former volunteers at the Indiana Transportation Museum is behind a online petition drive seeking to remove the current directors of the museum.

The seven former volunteers have said they were dismissed last March after they complained to the Federal Railroad Administration and the Indiana attorney general’s office about alleged operating and financial improprieties at ITM.

Indiana Transportation MuseumJason Hardister, a spokesman for the volunteers, told Trains that he group began the recall drive.

He noted the ITM bylaws provide for the ouster of members of the board by a vote by members in good standing.

“We’re trying to save the place,” Hardister told Trains. “That’s what we’ve been trying to do all along, and we’ve been open and transparent about it. We don’t want to run the museum into the ground.”

The ITM has been unable to operate any excursions this year because the owner of the track that it uses, the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, has not allowed it.

The Port Authority said an inspection found the track was not in good operating condition. The authority has also sought records pertaining to the ITM’s operating crews.

Trains said it was unable to reach ITM Chairman Jeffrey Kehler for comment about the recall effort.

Petition Seeks ITM Board’s Ouster

August 27, 2016

An anonymous online petition is seeking to remove the board of directors of the Indiana Transportation Museum.

Indiana Transportation MuseumThe embattled organization has been unable to run excursion trains this year and reportedly has been or is under investigation by the Indiana attorney general’s office and the Federal Railroad Administration.

The owner of the tracks used by the museum, the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, has refused to allow it to use the 37 miles of former Nickel Plate Road rails, citing alleged safety and maintenance violations.

Already, the museum has been forced to cancel its trips during the Indiana State Fair and the likelihood of excursions being held this summer appear slim.

Trains magazine reported on Friday that the museum and the port authority had appeared to come to an understanding about what needs to be done to resume excursions, but it remains to be seen how that is going to work out.

Indiana Fair Train Won’t Run in 2016

August 4, 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.”

ITM Excursion Trains Still Not Operating

July 1, 2016

The Indiana Transportation Museum has yet to launch its summer excursion train schedule, continuing to be mired in the aftermath of a dispute between the museum’s current administration and group of seven volunteers who have filed various complaints about alleged improprieties in operations and finances.

The museum, based in Noblesville, runs excursions on a 37-mile former Nickel Plate Road route that is owned by the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority.

Indiana Transportation MuseumAside from weekend trips, the ITM also operates shuttle trains to the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis in August.

An online report by Trains magazine said the museum is still awaiting permission from the port authority to use its tracks.

ITM chairman Jeffrey Kehler told Trains that the museum has completed all paperwork required by the authority and hopes to get approval to resume excursions no later than July 11, which is when the port authority’s board will next meet.

Port authority executive director Rhonda Klopfenstein said her agency is still reviewing information provided by the museum as to the condition of the railroad and ITM’s operating plans.

In the meantime, the Indiana attorney general’s office is looking into the complaints filed by the volunteers and the Federal Railroad Administration said it is reviewing the museum’s operations. However, an FRA spokesperson said the FRA’s inquiry is not an investigation.

Kehler in a statement issued in June termed the allegations made by the volunteers as false.

The volunteers in turn have characterized Kehler’s statement as false and misleading. They have also claimed that their dismissal was illegal and contrary to the museum’s own rules.

ITM suspended excursion operations in March and it is not clear how soon it could get back into operation once it receives the go ahead from the port authority.

Kehler told Trains that museum workers were unable to undertake the annual spring weed spraying, brush removal and spot track repairs.

Not being able to operate excursions has cost the museum ticket revenue, which it needs to survive. Kehler acknowledged that the dispute has damaged the museum’s reputation.

The museum is also facing the prospect that the FRA might reclassify it from a tourist-train operator to a short-haul passenger railroad. That change would impose on the museum more comprehensive rules and regulations.

Indy TV Station says ITM Still Being Probed

June 17, 2016

An Indianapolis television station reported that state and federal investigators continue to probe the business dealings of the Indiana Transportation Museum.

WRTV-TV said that the investigation is focused on alleged mismanagement of money and the museum’s failure to maintain adequate records.

IndianaEarlier this week, an ITM official sent a letter to constituents saying that a Federal Railroad Administration inquiry had cleared the museum and the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority.

The letter suggested the ITM would soon resume operating excursions, which it had suspended last March after the allegations surfaced.

WRTV said that a group of seven ITM volunteers blew the whistle on the ITM board’s practices earlier this year and then were fired by the museum, an action acknowledged by ITM chairman Indiana Transportation Museum Chairman Jeffrey S. Kehler in his letter.

“We were notified in mid-March, both by an email, then by certified letter that the actions we took constituted as a hostile takeover which could not be tolerated, and it was against, in their opinion, the rules of the museum, so they had no choice but to terminate us permanently and immediately,” said Tom Nichols, a 16-year volunteer, in an interview with WRTV.

The seven volunteers outlined their allegations in a letter sent to the Indiana attorney general and to the HHPA, which owns the tracks that ITM uses.

One of the allegations was that there were discrepancies between the museum’s financial reports and what the dispatcher’s reports showed in terms of ridership. WRTV said the AG’s office has begun an investigation.

In his letter Kehler described the allegations as untrue. An HHPA official told WRTV that it would reopen its tracks to ITM trains as soon as the museum cooperates with investigators.

Trains magazine reported on Thursday that FRA officials have yet to comment on the investigation.

The magazine said that four independent investigations are examining museum’s actions.