For some strange reason, every time there is a big story breaking about the Nickel Plate Rail Line, I seem to be out of town. That is what happened on Monday, July 31. That is the day the owners of the line made the decision many expected.
The decision comes down to this. The rail line, running from Tipton south to Indianapolis, is owned by three governmental entities: Fishers, Noblesville and Hamilton County. Officials from all three governments announced late in 2016 that they would move forward with a plan converting the Nickel Plate Rail Line to a trail from downtown Noblesville south to 96th Street, taking the trail through the City of Fishers all the way to the Hamilton-Marion County Line.
This decision means there will no longer be a fair train running from downtown Fishers to the State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis. The fair train ran for many years, but ended in 2016 when the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, the entity with appointees selected by the track owners, had the rails inspected and made a decision that the rails were not up to safety standards.
The Indiana Transportation Museum in Noblesville argued strongly that the rail line was not as bad as the Port Authority determined. But as the owners, the Authority had the legal right to make that judgment.
There was a public hearing in Noblesville to take comments on the trail proposal, and the rail supporters filled the room to overflow, making emotional arguments to save the rail line.
The Port Authority then took requests for proposals on the use of the entire line. The three owners reviewed all the proposals and announced their decision Monday morning. There will be some rail excursions, after acceptance of the proposal submitted by Hamilton County Tourism Inc. on behalf of Arcadia Arts & Heritage Depot and Atlanta Pacific Railroad LLC. The approved bid calls for operating tourism trains only on the northern portion of the corridor — from Arcadia to Tipton.
The county abstained from voting because Commissioner Christine Altman recused herself and Commissioner Steve Dillinger was not present at the Monday morning gathering. That left only one commissioner, Mark Heirbrandt, available to vote. But the votes of Mayors Ditslear and Fadness were enough to approve the plan.
Hamilton County, Fishers and Noblesville will now move forward on converting the rail line south of downtown Noblesville to 96th Street.
There have been a number of twists and turns along the way. Some rail supporters utilized the Indiana public access laws to make public e-mails from Noblesville Deputy Mayor Steve Cooke. The messages were embarrassing, leading to Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear to remove Cooke from the rail issue.
Rail supporters asked for a federal court injunction but the judge turned down that request. There is a civil lawsuit pending over the rail vs. trail issue, but no one knows how that will end.