Posts Tagged ‘Nickel Plate Road’

An Original Van Sweringens’ ‘Bible’

April 21, 2017

Once upon a time two brothers named Van Sweringen controlled the Erie, Chesapeake & Ohio, Nickel Plate Road and Pere Marquette.

They wanted to standardize things on their railroads so they set up a committee to come up with specific standards on everything from mixing concrete to cloth rubber lined fire hoses. You name it, they standardized it.

My girlfriend was in a junk shop near her home in Suffern, New York, and found this book, which is the “bible” of the Van Sweringens’ standards.

There can’t be too many of these 80-year-old books around. There probably weren’t many too many to begin with.

As you can see from the bottom right hand corner of the cover, this copy was used by the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railroad, which during this time period was controlled by the Erie.

I think it is neat that each standard is signed off by officials of all the railroads involved. I think you have to agree it is a neat gift for a railroad historian.

Article and photographs by Jack Norris

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.

Warm Memories of NKP 767 in the Valley

January 28, 2017
Nickel Plate Road No. 765, operating as No. 767, approaches Pleasant Valley Road on Saturday, Sept. 24.

Nickel Plate Road No. 765, operating as No. 767, approaches Pleasant Valley Road on Saturday, Sept. 24.

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Reflecting on past steam trips in the Valley at Indigo Lake.

I waited for quite a while to get the NKP 767 crossing the Cuyahoga River north of Peninsula.

I waited for quite a while to get the NKP 767 crossing the Cuyahoga River north of Peninsula.

Now that winter is here and the warm days of summer and early autumn in 2016 are just another memory, how about some warm memories to take the chill out of the air?

Here are three images of Nickel Plate Road 767 — which is actually NKP 765 — when it was running on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad last September.

All were among my favorite images of the NKP 767 in action, but for various reasons they didn’t make the cut when it came time to post those photographs.

But I kept them with the idea of posting them during the winter. Perhaps NKP 765 willl return to the CVSR in 2017, but that remains to be seen. If it does come back as NKP 767?

Even if it doesn’t, we’ll always have our memories and photographs of when it was the 767.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

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.

FtWRHS Reaches Pact With Indiana City on Moving, Restoring NKP Steam Locomotive 624

January 16, 2017

The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society has reached an agreement with the City of Hammond, Indiana, for the moving of former Nickel Plate Road steam locomotive 624 to an undisclosed site where it will be restored.

Fort Wayne Railroad Historical SocietyHammond has owned and displayed the 624 since 1955. Deterioration caused by prolonged exposure to the elements prompted discussions between the FtWRHS and the City of Hammond about a new home for the 624, a Mikado-type built in 1922 by Lima Locomotive Works.

FtWRHS officials said that the 624 could be restored to operating condition depending on what the society finds when inspecting it.

Kelly Lynch, a FtWRHS vice president, said space limitations at the society’s shops at New Haven, Indiana, means that the 624 restoration work will be undertaken at a private site in Northeast Indiana.

A private donor is funding the move of the 624 to that site and the restoration work. The FtWRHS will offer technical support.

The 624 is expected eventually to be displayed at the proposed Headwaters Junction railroad park in downtown Fort Wayne.

In a related development, the FtWRHS is also working to preserve a former Nickel Plate Road SD9 diesel.

Overseeing that project is former Akron Railroad Club member Chris Lantz.

Thus far, the society has sought to stabilize the locomotive in preparation for cosmetic restoration and eventual mechanical operation.

Initial work has involved removing surface rust on the car body doors, cleaning, painting and installing door latches.

No. 358 was built in 1957 by the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors. The NKP SD9 fleet was seen as a replacement for the railroad’s Berkshire steam locomotives, including No. 765, which the FtWRHS owns and operates.

No. 358’s original assignment was hauling coal trains on the NKP’s Wheeling & Lake Erie District.

It operated for NKP successors Norfolk & Western and Norfolk Southern through the early 2000s, often based in Bellevue.

FtWRHS officials estimate the cost of mechanical work and replacement parts at $100,000.

FtWRHS to Acquire Another NKP Steamer

November 15, 2016

The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society plans to move Nickel Plate Road No. 624 from Hammond to Fort Wayne, Indiana.

nkpThe 2-8-2 Mikado-type steamer is owned by the city of Hammond and will have a new home in the Headwaters Junction complex that the FtWRHS is building.

No. 624 will need cosmetic restoration to return it to its appearance when it was operational.

It is not clear yet if the 624 will be restored to operating condition.

New NS Vermilion Connection Expected to Begin Operations in 2017

October 12, 2016

A $12.5 million project to build a second connection between the Cleveland District and Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern near Vermilion is expected to be completed next year.

NS logo 2The 4,000-foot connection will enable eastbound trains on the Chicago Line to transition to the Cleveland District and continue either east or west.

Once the connection begins operations, NS traffic through Lorain, Bay Village and Lakewood is expected to double.

In particular trains bound for the NS route to Buffalo, New York, are expected to take the connection, including a pair of intermodal trains, the 205/206 and 22K/23K.

Currently, these trains operate via Berea and Rockport Yard, reaching the former Nickel Plate Road mainline on the Cloggsville Connection.

NS is funding the connection with its own money.

Central of Ga. H. Unit on the Former NKP

October 4, 2016

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Norfolk Southern No. 8101, the Central of Georgia heritage unit, passed through Cleveland around noon on Monday.

It was leading an 888 coal train en route to Buffalo, New York, and came through Painesville at 1:45 p.m., where Akron Railroad Club member Jeff Troutman caught it with his cell phone.

The train took the former Nickel Plate Road mainline all the way east from Bellevue after coming up the Sandusky District from Columbus. The train originated in West Virginia.

Photograph by Jeff Troutman