We’ve all heard the old saying about ‘too many chiefs and not enough Indians.’ But, in the case of the troubled Nickel Plate Railroad it looks like too many Indians and not enough chiefs, or maybe no chief at all.
No trains can currently run on the Nickel Plate rails through Hamilton County. Safety is the concern, and who will want to pay the cost of making it safe seems to be the problem.
Let’s count the Indians. First there is the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority which owns the tracks and has declared the railroad unsafe. Then, there is the Indiana Transportation Museum which has operated trains on the railroad for more than 20 years, but has little money. Then, we count the City of Noblesville, the City of Fishers and the county government which together formed the port authority in the 1990s to save the rail line from abandonment. They obviously have some money.
Add to these the Hamilton County Tourism Bureau which counts the Nickel Plate as a tourism asset, and wants to see trains running, Cicero folks who want a dinner train to run, the Arcadia Arts group that wants visitors in Arcadia, the new Atlanta train market which wants to see real trains, and the Tipton County Economic Development group that wants to encourage business.
So, who is the overall leader, spokesman or chief in this story? It’s hard to tell. County commissioners had the subject on their agenda Monday. “We’re exploring all the options,” said Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt. The others involved are presumably exploring the options too. That’s encouraging, but someone needs to pull the options together and come up with a plan to proceed.
But, there are problems besides money. The railroad runs only to about 18th Street in Indianapolis on the south because the interstate cut the line there. The Nickel Plate runs as far north as Tipton, but does not connect to the east-west rail line at that point. So, this limits trains to about 38 miles, not enough to really go anywhere except for the local excursion rides like the Fairtrain, Polar Bear Express or dinner train. But, that’s enough to sustain the popular local excursions and historic interest in railroading.
It seems too bad after saving the railroad at a time when trains were vanishing from the American landscape, that the Nickel Plate would now disappear. And, it could. There has been talk of pulling up the rails and converting the rail bed into a walking and bike trail. Of course that would cost money, too. But, this is apparently one of the options on the table.
It’s been nearly a year since trains have been able to run. So, for the sake of local business and the enjoyment of our people young and old, let’s hope there is positive action soon to get the Nickel Plate back on track.