Posts Tagged ‘Indiana Transportation Museum’

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.”

Preserving Heritage Rail Lines May Involve Overcoming ‘More Beneficial Use’ Arguments

April 11, 2017

Scott Fadness is not a popular person these days among railroad advocates in Indiana.

The mayor of Fishers, Indiana, favors ripping out a former Nickel Plate Road branch line that runs through his city to Indianapolis that until 2015 hosted excursions operated by the Indiana Transportation Museum, including its popular Fairtrain to the Indiana State Fair.

In place of the now dormant rail line, which is owned by a public entity, would be a hiking and biking trail.

ITM and other rail supporters have proposed building the trail alongside the rail line.

But Fadness has rejected that due to safety concerns, saying he didn’t think it would be wise for trail users to be within several feet of a locomotive.

It is easy for railroad advocates to dismiss Fadness as ignorant or to proclaim his position as ludicrous as an ITM spokesman did.

Indeed, those accusations probably are true. But overcoming the beliefs of officials such as Mayor Fadness will not be easy.

He may not be a friend of rail preservation, but it could be a mistake to consider him an adversary. He is someone who needs to be won over.

If anything, railroad advocates need to listen carefully to public officials such as Mayor Fadness. You can’t overcome opposition if you don’t understand it.

Rails and trails can and do co-exist. The Rails to Trails Conservancy says there are 1,600 trails in 41 states that are located next to a railroad line.

Yet the Conservancy said there are 10 times more trails that have been built on a former railroad right of way.

As a result more people think trail without rails than they do trail with rails because the former is most likely to be what they have seen and experienced.

One of those trails without rails is a couple miles west of the ex-NKP line on the right of way of the former Monon Railroad line to Indianapolis.

Fadness wants to emulate that trail and has adopted the type of “more beneficial uses of the property” worldview that worries Jim Porterfield, the director of the Center for Railway Tourism at Davis & Elkins College in West Virginia.

Porterfield was quoted in the May 2017 issue of Trains magazine as warning that heritage railroads are at risk when a community views them as entertainment rather than historical venues.

Porterfield told Trains that the typical arguments for displacing heritage rail lines include, “year round versus seasonal use, a greater distribution of income to local businesses, more people present, and higher property values along a trail versus a rail line.”

By one estimate, the ex-NKP line in Indianapolis needs $9 million in repairs to bring rail service back. A trail can be built for much less than that.

Mayor Fadness sees the situation as a simple cost-benefit analysis that weights heavily in favor of a trail.

Every rails to trail dispute has its own circumstances. In the case of the ex-NKP rail line, there has been internal turmoil within the past year at ITM that has harmed its credibility.

The location of the line in an affluent area of suburban Indianapolis also works against it. Such areas are a fertile ground for NIMBY opponents who know how to work the political system.

Some at ITM have also spoken about extending the ex-NKP to downtown Indianapolis and offering passenger trains there.

There may be some merit to that vision, but it would cost millions if not billions, to replace track that was removed years ago.

People who do not “love” railroads will laugh off such proposals as unrealistic given the existing available resources.

Mayor Fadness may have his mind made up and time is not working in favor of those who want to keep the ex-NKP branch intact.

If you are going to persuade public officials such as Mayor Fadness, you need to show him that rails and trails can co-exist. And you need to convince him on his terms, not those of a railfan who tends to believe that every foot of rail should be preserved.

The question is whether the railroad advocates have the skills and willingness needed to make the case for rail and trail.

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.