The Nickel Plate Railroad

The cities of Noblesville and Fishers recently released a plan to remove the rails from the Nickel Plate Railroad right of way and replace them with a trail. For a number of reasons I believe this is a bad idea.

First, let me affirm my strong support of trails in general. I have been a bike rider all my life and I believe Noblesville has lagged in trail development for years. We need to build more trails. They are a healthy alternative to driving and a great community asset if they are built properly.

But, that’s the issue. Is this a proper place for a trail? Here’s why I think not.

  • There are only a few historic railroads left in the nation. We are lucky to have one. Hundreds of communities didn’t have the foresight to save their historic assets and their communities are worse off for it. History and the railroad are woven into Noblesville’s character. Let’s respect that.
  • The fact that the railroad is rare makes it valuable. Until recently the Indiana Transportation Museum was operating this railroad and maintaining the tracks without government subsidies. They were self-supporting based on a business model that depended a strong market for tourist excursions to the State Fair and on the Polar Bear Express. If they were doing it then, there’s no reason they can’t do it again. Local residents would pay $25/ticket to ride the Polar Bear Express on the tracks that the cities now want to tear out, and the museum would sell out all the tickets at that price. They could have charged more. Those markets still exist and are growing. They provide a wonderful opportunity for entrepreneurial-minded businesspeople. With a little creative thinking and political leadership these tracks have loads of business potential.
  • Trails are a great amenity and in high demand but they cost money. Noblesville hasn’t budgeted for this trail and you can bet that if we rip out the rails it will be years before the city gets around to paving it. Think of how long they’ve been talking about the Midland Trace and the Levee Trails. It’s been years and neither one is close to being done yet. Midland Trace won’t connect to downtown for many years to come and there’s no reason to think this one will be different. Meantime residents along the right of way will have an abandoned railroad line adjacent to their property. Once its built it will be more public infrastructure to maintain. Remember, the ITM ran the train without public money.
  • City leaders are dreaming of a “Monon East” between Noblesville and Fishers and on into Indianapolis. I ride the Monon a lot and one of the most appealing aspects of it is its shade on sunny days. It is a linear park, after all. But while virtually the entire Monon is covered by trees, this trail is almost totally exposed. Check it out for yourself on Google Earth. Yes, trees would eventually grow around the trail but the point is that this is not like the Monon Trail. There are many other reasons this comparison doesn’t work.
  • This idea may be a win for Fishers but it doesn’t serve Noblesville very well at all. While the right of way goes right into downtown Fishers, the current plan is to stop short of Noblesville’s courthouse square by some seven blocks. It will eventually connect to the Riverwalk and downtown but those connections are years away.
  • Let’s talk road crossings. I’ve heard our city leaders say that trains are very inconvenient for traffic at railroad crossings. I don’t deny they stop traffic but as long as they keep moving the inconvenience is minimal and sporadic. If this trail is as popular as we’re being led to believe it will be, the traffic interruptions at thoroughfares every half mile will be constant. In fact, safety will likely dictate bridges…more cost. The $9.3 million you’ve been sold will likely double once you start building bridges.

After the initial announcement, the cities of Fishers and Noblesville conducted “listening sessions” for residents to express their views on this idea. When they asked for public comment, everyone who spoke was opposed except one woman from Indianapolis who wanted to see the right of way cleaned up. You would have a really hard time finding anyone outside of government who likes this proposal. Virtually everyone is against it. But city leaders aren’t “listening.”  It makes you wonder why they even hold the sessions.

Trails are great for a community and I want to see more in Noblesville and Fishers. But let’s be smart in the way we go about building them. Let’s not tear down an important community asset because it’s easy and convenient. The easy way is seldom the best. Noblesville issued an Alternative Transportation Plan in 2008 and updated it in 2011. It identified 99 potential trail routes in the city and not one of them was the Nickel Plate Railroad right of way. Let’s work the plan and not get distracted by alternative ideas that distract from our strategy.

I welcome your comments. Please feel free to post here and if you would like to stay informed or get involved further, leave me your contact info.  

Thoughts on Noblesville   

+5 # Jacob 2017-07-31 01:24
The Nickel Plate railroad is a tremendously important asset to all of the communities it connects. Please work hard to ensure that it doesn't get removed! There will be NO replacing it if it does...and there are multiple untold benefits of improving a rail corridor for even more service to our city!
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+2 # David York 2017-08-02 23:37
I did not realize this is the input field for text. First trails cost us taxpayers while the train made money to support itself. Until the government decided to shut it down.
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+1 # Cody Phipps 2017-08-03 00:27
I think Noblesville is a great place, and the railroad is really what seals the deal for me. It's such a historic artifact that needs to be preserved for generations to come. Noblesville still has such a historic feeling, and without the train, I feel like it'll just go away.
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+1 # Dave 2017-08-03 01:33
So many city governments are not listening to the people anymore. Sad indeed that they so easily vote away an asset for a liability. Where are all the so called supporters of the trail? Too bad but I hope they can somehow be stopped before it is too late.
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0 # Tom DeJoy 2017-08-03 01:58
This is a revenue resource that will go away if nothing is done soon. Imagine what could be done with a line that could run from Michigan City to Evansville! The revenue alone makes it worth while not to mention the local business development along Tha way. The division of tourism MUST become aware of this NOW. Rails AND Trails. We need vision here.
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0 # Kyle 2017-08-03 05:26
-- The HPA was formed back in like 1995. It did many good things, but just never took off to be the successful attraction that it was attended to be, so after 20 long years of patience the cities have decided to try something else. This is normal and to be expected.
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0 # Ryan 2017-08-03 12:07
A community is not a train, it is people. There are 160K people between fishers and Noblesville . If everyone was really that upset over the train leaving you would see all 160,000 people lined up at the courthouse... fact is only a few thousand or upset. They really need to get over it and move on. There are bigger issues facing our community going to train . :sigh:
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0 # Enoch 2017-08-24 01:43
I really hope that important government decisions aren't made on the basis of how many people line up at the courthouse to support them.
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0 # Debra Thatcher 2017-08-03 14:06
I am saddened that Noblesville Officials have moved forward with destroying our history despite the objections of the voters. There are trails currently and trails on the drawing board. I see very few bikers, joggers or walkers in this area. I cannot believe the demand for trails is so great as to need to destroy our heritage. Those who voted for this horrific idea are short minded and apparently easily influenced by others. You will be destroying an alternative mode of transportation for the future as well as our history. It seems to if you truly believed in your trail project you would have been more open with your public meetings instead of using "slicky willy" methods. The legacy that you will leave as community leaders is the legacy you daydream of. You will be known as destroyers of history.
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0 # Gary Brock 2017-08-03 21:20
Save The Train. I will remember Fadness and his cronies come election time.
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0 # Gary Brock 2017-08-24 21:35
I am curious as to how much money Fadness received from the contractors that are in line to fatten their pockets with the tax payer money. Why else would he go against the will of the people. I feel we need an investigation as to were the money is going and who is receiving it.
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0 # Rita Taylor 2017-08-04 13:34
Our home is the second house west of the railroad. We love the transportation museum. We love watching the different engines go by. We love riding the train to the fair and the Haunted Train and the Dinner Train. I would love taking the train to the Colts Games and the Pacer games. My son would spend hour learning the maintenance of the trains from the many volunteers that worked at the TPM. He learned how the engines worked and how to put on breaks as well as our American History. Many Schools take field trips to the museum. This is a treasure that will be destroyed for no reason. There are many trails through out our county. There is no need to lose the train.
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0 # Nancy Filar 2017-08-04 13:39
:eek: :P The plan is wrong on so
many levels. And I don't believe it's a win for Fishers either. So very disappointed!
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0 # Cindy McDaniel 2017-08-13 17:51
If we remove the train tracks, we will lose some our our originality. We would love to be able to take the train to the fairgrounds and downtown Indy. My grandkids love the fair train, Santa train, pizza train, and the museum. Once it is gone, it is gone. This is so wrong on so many levels.
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