An update on ITM's situation copied from the Indy Star newspaper's March 13, 2017 edition:
Fair Train supporters ready to rumble
While elected officials in Hamilton County prepare to convert the Nickel Plate railroad to a greenway, the operators of the suspended State Fair train have developed a plan for expanded service that would feature year-round trains traveling from Noblesville to Downtown Indianapolis.
Rail enthusiasts at the Indiana Transportation Museum are putting the final touches on the plan, which includes adding tracks from the State Fairgrounds to 10th Street and linking with freight tracks that head into Union Station.
“We are looking at full-length trains that would run weekends all year,” said Craig Presler, secretary for the transportation museum. “We were profitable before the suspension and were heading to our best year ever. We think there is a market for this.”
The museum had operated the fair train for 30 years before the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority halted it last summer because of concerns about the safety of the tracks. The authority, which represents Hamilton County, Fishers and Noblesville and oversees 37 miles of track, said it would cost up to $5 million to make the repairs.
Presler said the museum hired a consultant to draw up a feasibility and operations plan for even more service. He said the trains could stretch to 10 cars, including dining cars and compartments for bicycles, even canoes, to take people on day trips in the city or nights on the town.
Stone Consulting of Pennsylvania estimated the train could attract 100,000 visitors from across the United States who would pump dollars into the local economies. The museum said the Nickel Plate line was unique because it connects three cities: Noblesville, Fishers and Indianapolis.
The ambitious endeavor faces a major obstacle, however. Fishers and Noblesville plan to tear out the tracks and replace it with a bicycling and walking trail. The $9 million project was announced with much fanfare along the tracks in Fishers on Jan. 30.
The museum said it favors putting the trail alongside the tracks, and its members will attend public hearings to offer their alternative on March 21 in Fishers and March 23 in Noblesville.
Joining them will be rail buffs from the Fort Wayne Historical Society. Kelly Lynch, vice president of the society, said the cities will squander a tourism asset if they get rid of the tracks.
“The trend now is for communities to go back to their roots and their cultural heritage, not get rid of it,” Lynch said. “It is one thing to say you are a railroad town and another to be one. You’d think they’d like to stay authentic to their heritage.”
Indeed, downtown Fishers is filled with reminders of its railroad days. From the Nickel Plate Diner to its train platform to two new apartment complexes named the Depot and the Switch.
The museum said many railroad lovers have come forward to voice opposition to the line’s demise. A change.org petition to “Save the Nickel Plate” has more than 1,800 signatures.
Fishers spokeswoman Ashley Elrod said the city has received about a half-dozen letters from the railroad backers but said many more people have expressed support for the trail.
“We understand there is a lot of nostalgia related to trains,” Elrod said. “But people are really enthusiastic about the trail. Some people are telling us they were envious of Carmel and Westfield where they have the Monon Trail and were even thinking about moving because of it.”
Elrod said there was also a lot of “buzz” from businesses who hope to profit from trail activity.
“They see how breweries and restaurants along the Monon have thrived and hope we can emulate it here,” she said.
The city did some preliminary research on putting the trail next to the tracks and found it could be dangerous or impractical. Generally, the corridor needs to be about 120 feet wide. The Nickel Plate is narrower than that in most places.
“It might be tricky if you have children on bikes and people walking dogs,” Elrod said.
Meanwhile, the port authority is proceeding with plans to solicit bids for a new operator for the fair train and the museum plans to apply. But if the plans for the trail proceed, construction could begin in about a year and the operation of the fair train could be moot.
The transportation museum is a nonprofit run mostly by volunteers who restore and maintain trains and educate the public on rail history. The fair train and a Santa Claus train were its biggest money makers, providing more than $240,000 in ticket sales each per year.
The museum said it collected $705,000 in revenue in 2015 and received a $458,000 donation. “We’ve always been self-supporting,” Pressler said. “But instead they want to spend $9 million on a trail.”
I sure hope it works out for ITM as their line has much potential - and some of the equipment they have is very nice too. I just signed the petition and hope some of you here will do the same too: https://www.change.org/p/save-...n-to-indianapolis-in