The County Line
Keeping up to date on the Nickel Plate Railroad’s status and efforts to get it back on the rails, as well as the accompanying controversy, is a not easy.
Here’s what we know: The newly created Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad is forging ahead with plans to secure railroad engines and train cars to operate excursion rides from Noblesville north, possibly as far as Atlanta. The hope is to have a train on the tracks by Memorial Day 2018, according to Brenda Myers, county tourism director.
The Heritage organization was essentially created by the Hamilton County Visitor and Convention Commission, generally known as the tourism bureau. This entity has access to substantial funds through the county innkeepers tax. Heritage has engaged longtime local railroader Tom Hoback who has formed a new company, Atlanta Pacific, to operate and maintain the railroad.
Hoback said this week that he is awaiting a “track usage agreement” with the county Port Authority which is owner of the Nickel Plate tracks. With that in hand, he will begin efforts to acquire rolling stock.
While it would seem logical that the new Heritage group would want to acquire train equipment from the Indiana Transportation Museum in Noblesville, Hoback said he has not pursued that, noting he is not sure of the condition of the equipment there. In any event, the museum apparently has no interest in selling its trains, according to its president.
Meanwhile, the Transportation Museum (ITM), still located in Forest Park, wants to continue operations on the Nickel Plate where it ran excursion trains for the past 20 years until the Port Authority suspended its use of the tracks in March 2016 citing safety concerns. Earlier this year the authority approved a plan to convert the railroad south of Noblesville into a recreational greenway trail for walkers, joggers and bicycle riders similar to the popular Monon Trail.
The president of the museum board of directors, John McNichols, indicated this week that the struggle to use the rail line will go on. The museum this week filed a request with the federal Surface Transportation Commission asking that the Port Authority not be given the right to place the Nickel Plate in the Rail Bank.
The rail bank simply means local government is on record as reserving the right to use the right-of-way for a trail, but if and when needed again for rail service it could be converted back to that use. McNichols is not happy with the Noblesville city administration claiming that charges of toxic pollution at the museum’s Forest Park site are not true and only part of an effort “to run the museum out of town.” The museum has a year-to-year lease on its park location which will be up for renewal early next year.
Another organization known as Save the Nickel Plate is continuing efforts to raise funds to save the rail line, but this group is not directly connected with museum. It does support the ‘Save the Train’ yard signs that have appeared around the city.
Meanwhile, the popular Polar Bear Express that operated locally during the holiday season for many years, has moved to Logansport. The ITM, which has found a second home in Logansport, is going to run the Polar Express this year beginning Nov. 24 on tracks from Kokomo to Logansport.