Posts Tagged ‘Hoosier Heritage Port Authority’

ITM Pursues Legal Action against HHPA

September 22, 2017

In a an email message sent to members and supporters, the Indiana Transportation Museum said it continues to pursue legal against the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority and other entities in regards to their not allowing ITM to use a rail line northeast of Indianapolis.

ITM contends that its rights to due process were denied by the HHPA when it declared the former Nickel Plate Road branch line as unsafe and it would not allow the ITM to operate its Fair Train and Polar Bear Express excursions.

The museum said it also has filed an amended request for a temporary restraining order in federal court asking the court prohibit HHPA and government entities from removing the rails of the line, awarding a contract to another operator, evicting ITM from Forest Park in Noblesville, and allowing ITM to operate the line under the original policy of use based upon satisfactory Federal Railroad Administration audits without violation.

If that motion is successful, it trigger 15 days of testimony and investigation resulting in either a preliminary or permanent restraining order.

ITM also announced that it is seeking an agreement to operate its Polar Bear Express trains between Logansport and Kokomo, Indiana, this winter.

The museum had announced earlier that it will have a presence in Logansport this fall and winter.

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ITM Plans to Move to Logansport

July 16, 2017

The Indiana Transportation Museum is moving to another city. The museum said last week that it has reached an agreement with the mayor of Logansport to set up shop there.

ITM is currently located in Noblesville in the far reaches of suburban Indianapolis.

No date was set for the move, which appears to be have been prompted in part by the museum’s on-going battle to be able to use a former Nickel Plate Road branch line that some want to convert into a hiking and biking trail.

Logansport was a hub city for the Pennsylvania Railroad with several lines radiating from it.

“Our mission preserves the great legacy of railroading tracks perfectly with Logansport’s history as an early Hoosier rail center,” ITM Board Chair John McNichols said in a statement. “Together we can not only preserve our shared history, but find ways to expand the vision of historic railroads in Indiana. The Logansport museum will be an expansion of our state-wide vision.”

For several years ITM has hosted excursion train service on the former NKP line, which at one time ran from Indianapolis to Michigan City.

The remnants of the line between Indianapolis and Tipton, Indiana, are owned by the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, which has refused to allow ITM to use the line, citing safety concerns and the lack of adequate maintenance.

ITM Plans to Sue over Denial to Use Rail Line

June 29, 2017

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.

Operator Sought for Indiana Rail Line

May 3, 2017

The Indiana Fairtrain may not be dead just yet, but it won’t be operating in 2017.

The Hoosier Heritage Port Authority last month approved a request for proposals for an operator of the former Nickel Plate Road branch that was used by the Fairtrain, which last ran in 2015.

The port authority owns the tracks and has appointed a five-member review committee to review the proposals, which must be submitted by June 13.

The review process will begin on July 1 and executives of the top proposals will be interviewed by the committee.

The Port Authority hopes to name an operator for the line by its July meeting but may have to call a special meeting in August to do that.

The Fairtrain has in past years been operated by the Indiana Transportation Museum, but the Port Authority refused in 2016 to renew its operating rights over the tracks in part because the line needs extensive repairs.

“I think we’ve left it pretty open for the proposers to describe what they would do to our line, how they would maintain it,” Port Authority President Mike Obergfrell said. “The other option in there is they would make lease payments in lieu of maintenance.”

Indiana Rail Line May Become Trail

March 1, 2017

Two Indiana communities want to convert part of a rail line once used by the Indiana Fairtrain into a hiking and biking trail.

The cities of Fishers and Noblesville have proposed pulling up 9.2 miles of rails of the former Nickel Plate Road branch line and creating a 14-foot wide trail.

IndianaThrough 2015, the tracks hosted the Fairtrain and other excursions of the Indiana Transportation Museum.

The Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, which owns the rail line, refused to allow ITM to use the tracks last year after an inspection found that it needed $5 million in repairs.

That came on the heels of allegations leveled by a group of former museum volunteers about financial improprieties at the museum and safety issues.

Although the Federal Railroad Administration and the office of the Indiana attorney general have conducted investigations, no charges have been filed.

The Port Authority recently said it is considering issuing a call for proposals to continue providing rail service on the line.

Representatives of Fishers, Noblesville and Hamilton County manage the Port Authority.

The rails would remain in place north of Noblesville and the portion of the trail south of there would be rail banked. The line extends from Indianapolis to Tipton, Indiana, but has no active connections to another railroad and no trains now operate on the route.

The next steps in converting the rail line to a trail will include soliciting public comment, including holding a hearing.

The cities would then go through the rail to trail administrative process, which could take between six to 12 months.

Local officials say the conversion would cost about $9.3 million.

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.”