Rails, trails and rail banking


Persistence often pays off in any political battle and the people with the Save the Train movement would get an “A” grade from me for their persistence. However, in this case, it is my view their persistence will not pay off in the end.

At Monday night’s City Council meeting, a group of about 10 Save the Train supporters sat in the council meeting holding “Save the Train” signs. There was nothing on the council agenda that related to the rails vs. trails issue, they just wanted the mayor and council members to see they were there.

If you are not familiar with the issue, Fishers is planning to convert the Nickel Plate rail line within the city to a trail and Noblesville plans to convert the train tracks from downtown south to Fishers into a trail.

The Save the Train group has been pushing to keep the Nickel Plate Line a train track. Most are familiar with the Nickel Plate as the rail line used in the State Fair train from Fishers to the Indiana State Fairgrounds for many years. It was also used for other excursions, such as the Polar Express.

In order to convert the rail line to a trail, there is a process called Rail Banking that must be completed through a federal regulatory process. One agency that is part of the Rail Banking process is the Surface Transportation Board.

Save the Train has been urging its supporters to send comments to the Surface Transportation Board asking that the rail line be preserved. The group is also asking its supporters to send messages to their federal elected officials to preserve the rail line.

In a recent statement, Save the Train pointed to an extension of the Surface Transportation Board comment period and emphasized that 73 comments had been submitted supporting the rails.

It is fair to say there is a well-organized and very loud opposition to converting this rail line to a walking and biking trail. You see their signs around Fishers and you couldn’t miss them at the Fishers City Council.

I continue to admire the work done by Save the Train. It is democracy in action and it is good to see people with strong feelings about an issue organize for what they think is right.

However, having said all that, I do not believe Save the Train has much of a chance succeeding here. Save the Train emphasizes that the rails to trails plan for the Nickel Plate is not a done deal. That is technically correct, the regulatory process does continue.

Those supporting the conversion of the Nickel Plate Rail Line to a trail have been working hard as well, but have not been doing their work publicly. I have it on good authority that local officials have been in touch with Indiana’s congressional delegation pushing for the trail project.

Here is one fact that must be emphasized in all this – the Nickel Plate Rail Line is owned by three government entities – Fishers, Noblesville and Hamilton County. Elected officials made the decision to convert the rail line to a trail. If you own the track and want to Rail Bank and convert the rail line to a trail, any federal body, including the Surface Transportation Board, will give the owners a great deal of weight in this debate.

That leads me to believe federal regulators will not stop the effort by local government officials to construct the Nickel Plate Trail. The rail supporters are doing all they can, but it does not look good for their cause.

Save the Train is doing what it can to get its view known by the feds, but they are fighting an uphill battle. I’m not saying Save the Train will lose. I am saying they are not likely to win.