Posts Tagged ‘Indiana Transportation Museum’

Indiana Rail Advocates Want Rails and Trail on Former Nickel Plate Branch Line in Indianapolis

March 24, 2017

Hamilton County (Indiana) officials are rejecting a proposal to retain a former Nickel Plate Road branch line that has been used in recent years by the Indiana Fairtrain.

Instead, they want to move forward with their plans to remove the rails and make the right of way a 9.2-mile paved hiking and biking trail.

The Indiana Transportation Museum, which operated the Fairtrain through 2015, had proposed building the trail next to the tracks.

However, Fisher Mayor Scott Fadness rejected that idea, saying that the right of way is not wide enough for rails and a trail to co-exist.

Fadness said the right of way is 50 feet and to have both rails and a trail would require 120 feet.

The mayor also cited safety concerns.

“I do not believe from what my engineers have told me that within our current right of way bounds it would be safe to put a trail next to a rail line,” Fadness said. “As a father of 2-year-old, the idea of putting a trail within several feet of a locomotive doesn’t sound like a logical solution from my perspective.”

Some rail proponents left a recent public meeting a Fishers City Hall that was devoted to the trail idea feeling disappointed.

“I thought it was presented as an open discussion between a rail and trail and the whole purpose of the meeting is strictly trail,” said Wilbur Sutton, who wants the tracks retained.

An online petition seeking to preserve the rail line has thus far generated more than 4,300 signatures.

ITM official John McNichols disagrees with the mayor’s safety concerns and believes the right of way is large enough to support a trail and the tracks.

“It’s ludicrous,” McNichols said. “We don’t know where they got that. No trail in the county needs that kind of right away unless it’s a park.”

However, on the day of the public hearing, Fadness said the tracks and trail idea will not be considered.

Fishers, Noblesville and the Hamilton County Commissioners said in February they planned to launch a $9.3 million project to convert the rail line to a trail that they said would be similar to a nearby trail built on the former right of way of the Monon Railroad.

Supporters of the proposed Nickel Plate Trail say that rehabilitating the railroad tracks for passenger service would cost up to $5 million.

Last year the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, which oversees the rail line, would not allow ITM to provide excursion service on the route, saying that it had safety concerns.

In 2015, the last year that the Fairtrain operated, it generated $700,000 in revenue and was ridden by more than 10,000 passengers.

ITM would like to see the rail line extended beyond 10th Street in Indianapolis, where it now ends, to Union Station.

That would enable service such as the Fairtrain to serve Bankers Life Fieldhouse – home of the Indiana Pacers NBA team – and Lucas Oil Stadium, the home of the Indianapolis Colts NFL team.

McNichols estimates it would cost $1.5 million for that extension. At one time the NKP line did extend to Union Station, but those tracks were removed many years ago.

ITM and the Port Authority have been in conflict since last year over the condition of the rail line.

The Port Authority commissioned an inspection of the tracks that found they needed at least $3.7 million, but potentially up to $5 million, in repairs. Repairing the tracks between Fishers and the fairgrounds would cost more than $2 million, it said.

But ITM counters that as recently as June 2016 the Federal Railroad Administration said the line was safe for passenger service, although it would be limited to slow speeds.

“We’re certainly hopeful that enough community support can actually sway the officials,” McNichols said about his group’s proposal to retain the rails next to the trail.

He noted that there are trails next to the rail line in some places in Hamilton County, including at the Riverwalk Depot in Noblesville.

Following this week’s meetings, Fishers, Noblesville, and Hamilton County officials will decide whether to pursue funding for the Nickel Plate Trail.

If the rails are removed, ITM said it might move its railroad rolling stock and locomotives to another location within Indiana for excursion service.

At one point, some Hamilton County officials had raised the prospect that ITM could continue to use the former NKP line for excursion service between Noblesville and Tipton.

ITM has operated excursions on that segment of the route in past years.

Fishers Mayor Fadness sees the issue as a cost-benefit matter. A trail would get more use than a set of railroad tracks.

“It’s going to be $9 million for a trail that you [could] use 365 days a year,” he said. “Far more than 40,000 people would be able to utilize that. From a cost-benefit perspective, it’s very clear to me what the right policy decision is.”

The Rails to Trails Conservancy said there are more than 1,660 rails-with-trails in 41 states, but 10 times as many trail-only corridors on former rail right of ways.

In the meantime, ITM posted a statement on its website saying that it has prepared a master plan that calls for increased excursions and events “to maximize economic and cultural benefit.”

“With downtown developments carrying the Nickel Plate theme, the railroad as a historical, tourism-oriented entity has the capacity to continually enrich the area’s market appeal and economic footprint. Studies have shown ITM is one of the top attractions in Hamilton County,” the statement said.

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.

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.

ITM Says it Has Been Cleared in FRA Probe

June 16, 2016

The Indiana Transportation Museum announced this week that a Federal Railroad Administration investigation has cleared it and the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority of violating federal rules.

IndianaIn a letter to constituents, ITM Chairman Jeffrey S. Kehler characterized as false the allegations made by a group of former volunteers.

ITM suspended operations over HHPA tracks on March 25 in the wake of the allegations.

The FRA inspected HHPA tracks and signals and ITM equipment and operating records.

“Those inspections are now complete and are consistent with the board-held belief that ITM has at all times and without fail met its obligation to comply with federal and industry standards for guarding public safety, applicable to ITM’s rail operations,” Kehler wrote.

Kehler said ITM hired an independent licensed railroad bridge engineer to inspect bridges and culverts along the tracks that it uses.

The firm found that those bridges and culverts are safe for ITM’s normal operations.

“We believe that based on the positive review of our operations conducted by the FRA, the results of the inspection of the bridges, and the submission of the certifications of our operating personnel, the HHPA is well positioned to conclude that, consistent with the public’s interest, ITM should be allowed without further ado to resume rail operations,” Kehler wrote.

The letter said ITM’s 2015 operating season was the most successful in the group’s 56-year history. Much of that success was due to revenue earned from expanded operations of the Polar Bear Express trains.

When the Nickel Plate Road 587 Made its Debut

January 5, 2015
Nickel Plate Road No. 587 pulls its first public excursion train after being restored. The train originated in Indianapolis and traveled via Conrail to Logansport, Ind., and back.

Nickel Plate Road No. 587 pulls its first public excursion train after being restored. The train originated in Indianapolis and traveled via Conrail to Logansport, Ind., and back.

Where were you on the morning of Sept. 17, 1988? If you were a fan of mainline steam locomotives you probably were wishing you could figure out how to be in three places on the same day.

In Ohio, Norfolk & Western No. 611 was pulling a roundtrip between Columbus and Portsmouth. The Nickel Plate Road No. 765 was pulling a one-way ferry move from Bellevue to Brewster.

And over in Indiana the latest mainline steam locomotive to join the list of steamers was making its maiden run after being restored to operating condition.

I was a graduate student at the time at Indiana University. I had found out about the Nickel Plate Road 587 making its first public excursion from Indianapolis to Logansport, Ind., and return and had purchased a ticket to ride.

Sure, I was thrilled to be part of a “first,” but I was also happy to be able to get some new miles over routes that Amtrak’s Floridian had once used and over which I’d never ridden.

The 587 is a 2-8-2 USRA light steam locomotive built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in September 1918 for the Lake Erie & Western. It carried roster number 5541 and was renumbered 587 in 1924 after the Nickel Plate acquired the LE&W.

Retired in March 1955, the 587 was placed on static display in Broad Ripple Park in Indianapolis where it sat until 1983 when it was displaced by a library expansion program.

With the locomotive needing a new home, a group known as “Friends of 587” determined that the steamer could be restored and moved it by truck to Amtrak’s Beech Grove shops for the restoration work.

By fall 1988, the 587 was ready to stretch its legs on a mainline journey after a satisfactory test run on the Indiana Rail Road south of Indianapolis.

Conrail agreed to allow the train to pull a public excursion over a former Pennsylvania Railroad routing between Indy and Logansport.

I use the term “mainline” loosely because the tracks over which the 587 and its train would travel were a secondary line, although not in poor condition.

The Indiana Transportation Museum, which would later acquire ownership of the 587, provided a train of mostly former Santa Fe coaches.

The train boarded at Hanna Avenue in Indianapolis on the Louisville line and made its way north to the Indianapolis Union Railway tracks at IU interlocking, rounding the curve toward Indianapolis Union Station just as the Pennsy’s South Wind and Kentuckian once did.

However, the train ran on the bypass tracks south of the train shed as did Conrail freight trains and as CSX trains do today.

We then followed the route of Amtrak’s Hoosier State and Cardinal westward on the former PRR St. Louis Line to the site of the former Davis Tower where Chicago-bound Pennsy passenger trains made a right turn. The former St. Louis line west of here is abandoned.

Amtrak trains make a left turn off the ex-Pennsylvania at CP Clermont to get onto a former New York Central route, the Peoria & Eastern, but we kept going straight.

Our route took us through Lebanon and Frankfort. At Van Tower in Logansport we went around the wye and backed into town on the former Pan Handle tracks, crossing the Eel River before coming to a stop just east of South Third Street.

I disembarked and took a few photographs and watched the crew service the train. Here are a few of those photos, all of which have been scanned from color negatives.

The journey to and from Logansport was made without incident. The train was no speedster but wasn’t crawling along either.

I don’t recall how close we were to the published schedule, but we probably were not too far off.

I rode behind the 587 twice more before moving away from Indiana in 1991. One trip was a one-way journey in April 1989 from Indianapolis to Bloomington over the INRD and the other was a June 1991 journey over the former LE&W between Frankfort and Muncie.

I would then have one more encounter with the 587, riding an excursion from Indianapolis to Worthington, Ind., and return over another former Pennsy secondary line.

I have not seen the 587 since then and online reports indicate that it is landlocked at the ITM where it continues to undergo another rebuilding.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

The service stop at Logansport enabled passengers to get out and get a good look at the locomotive.

The service stop at Logansport enabled passengers to get out and get a good look at the locomotive.

There is always work to do with a steam locomotive. The crew attends to the NKP 587 in Logansport.

There is always work to do with a steam locomotive. The crew attends to the NKP 587 in Logansport.

Note the boy at left watching the crew service the NKP 587. Is he a steam fan today because he was here on this day?

Note the boy at left watching the crew service the NKP 587. Is he a steam fan today because he was here on this day?

The excursion train sits idle in Logansport during the service stop.

The excursion train sits idle in Logansport during the service stop.

I didn't take notes to accompany my photos, but judging by the tired looks on the faces of some of these passengers I'm guessing that this photo was taken during the return trip.

I didn’t take notes to accompany my photos, but judging by the tired looks on the faces of some of these passengers I’m guessing that this photo was taken during the return trip.