Posts Tagged ‘Indiana Fair Train’

Group Formed to Protest NKP Branch Abandonment

August 8, 2017

A group has formed in Hamilton County, Indiana, to seek to overturn the decision by local officials to convert parts of a former Nickel Plate Road branch line into a hiking and biking trail.

The group, known as Save the Nickel Plate, is seeking to get supporters of keeping the rail line to write to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board in opposition to approval of the line’s abandonment.

Hamilton County along with the cities of Fishers and Noblesville filed a petition with the STB on Aug. 1 to gain regulatory approval to pull up nine miles of the line between Noblesville and Indianapolis.

Through 2015 the line was used by the Indiana Fair Train and other excursions sponsored by the Indiana Transportation Museum.

The Save the Nickel Plate group has raised concerns about what it termed the lack of public input regarding the trail plan, the lack of train service, impediments to rail service caused by the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority’s suspension of rail operation, and concern for the process of selecting a new railroad operator that only runs on the northern portion of the railroad.

The group has established a website at http://www.savethenickelplate.org/

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Indiana Fair Train Won’t Be Returning

August 2, 2017

The Indiana Fair Train is no more. The Hamilton County Commissioners along with city officials in Fishers and Noblesville have agree to pull up the rails that the Fair train once used between Noblesville and the fairgrounds in Indianapolis and convert the right of way into a hiking and biking trail.

However, the plans including preserving the rails north of Noblesville and allowing a tourist train operator to use them.

The 37-mile former Nickel Plate Road branch line is owned by the county and the two cities.

Under the recently announced plan, nine miles of the branch will be converted to a trail with 28 miles available for rail operations.

The Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad has been chosen to be the operator of the rail line that is being preserved.

The fair train and other excursions over the NKP branch had been operated until 2016 by the Indiana Transportation Museum, which is currently based in Noblesville but has announced plans to relocate to Logansport, Indiana.

Selection of an operator was recently made by the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, which manages the line.

The authority received five applications to operate the ex-NKP branch and gave the highest score to Iowa Pacific Holdings, which until early this year operated the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State in conjunction with Amtrak.

However, Iowa Pacific wanted to operate the line south of Noblesville and provide freight service. That was at odds with the desire of the cities to remove the rails there to create a trail.

“The proposal  . . . allows for the preservation of the train going north from Noblesville while providing a year-round recreational trail amenity for our residents,” said Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness. “The Nickel Plate Railroad played an important role in our history as a city and I believe the Nickel Plate Trail will honor that history while creating an amenity that so many of our residents have requested.”

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

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.

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.”