By Sam Elliott
The Indiana State Fair Train, operated by the Noblesville-based Indiana Transportation Museum out of Fishers, will not be allowed to run this summer when the annual fair begins Aug. 5.
“(The) Fair Train has been cancelled for this year,” ITM spokesman, brakeman and mechanic Gary Gallinger said. “We’re still in active negotiations with (the port authority inspectors).
“We want to get back to our normal operations. Our goal is to get back to normal operations and make everybody feel comfortable,” he added.
The ITM had previously been banned from using the track owned by the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, an entity made up of appointments from Fishers, Noblesville and elsewhere in Hamilton County. The HPPA announced 13 conditions the ITM would need to meet in order to resume operations on the HPPA-owned tracks to the state fair, and the port authority and their consultants conducted physical inspections Aug. 2.
ITM had previously passed other inspections, after a group of former volunteers and whistleblowers alleged the museum’s leadership of wrongdoings and safety concerns.
“We’ve passed those inspections. The feds have cleared us,” Gallinger said. “The feds went through and said, ‘You’re good to go’ … (The HHPA are) the ones currently making the decision whether or not we can use the track.”
The Indiana State Fair Train has transported thousands of fair attendees each year.
“There are a lot of people that are very sad today because they get such a joy out of all of this,” Gallinger said. “I want (my son) to have the experience of looking out the window and waving to people and having fun going down the train track.”
Volunteers worked long hours earlier in the week preparing the train’s passenger cars, with the hope that the ITM would be cleared to resume operations in time for this year’s state fair.
“(Aug. 2) we had a crew going through and doing brake checks and cleaning because during this time we got hit even harder by vandals. They went through a number of our cars and tried breaking out windows and discharging fire extinguishers. We’re still cleaning up those coaches,” Gallinger said. “They are industrial fire extinguishers by design, so… we’ve wiped down those coaches two, three or four times by hand and mopped it and mopped it and mopped it and every time we move a coach just a little bit more white powder comes out.
“There are a lot of people that are putting in very long days,” Gallinger added. “Physically the trains are ready to go, we’re just cleaning and trying to put our best foot forward.”
Messages left for the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority were unreturned as of press time. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
Update as of 3:30 p.m.
The Hoosier Heritage Port Authority issued a statement via the City of Noblesville on the afternoon of Aug. 3.
“Unfortunately, as of (Aug. 3), the HHPA has informed ITM that the suspension cannot be lifted at this time due to non-compliance with several of the items listed in the HHPA’s Revised Policy of Use,” the statement read, in part.
The HHPA statement noted that the group will continue to work with the ITM as the museum ensures necessary track repairs are made.
“This suspension was an extremely difficult decision for all involved and not taken lightly, as the Fair Train and all the excursions provided by ITM are not only important to our communities that own and oversee the Nickel Plate line, but are truly unique treasures that make our communities such great places to live and work. However, at no time will the HHPA compromise on the Policy of Use items the HHPA has determined are the minimum standards that must be upheld to ensure the safety and welfare of all citizens,” the statement read.
Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear stated his city was disappointed to hear the State Fair Train would not be returning this summer.
“But the safety of riders is our top priority. We know thousands of families have a tradition and enjoy riding the train to the fair because of the unique experience it provides,” Ditslear stated in a press release. “However, we agree with the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority’s decision to keep suspending train operations until we are certain that no one’s safety is in jeopardy.”
Update as of 4:30 p.m.
Indiana Transportation Museum Chairman Jeffrey Kehler released a statement Aug. 3, and he plans to address the media again at 6 p.m. Aug. 3 at the Fishers Train Station.
“We are of course saddened that we will not be able to provide this unique experience for families this year,” Kehler stated. “We will continue to work with HHPA, its rail consultant and others associated with HHPA. ITM’s goal continues to be to provide such information and take such other actions as needed to enable HHPA to lift the suspension.
“Our record of safety in unparalleled in our over-30-year operating history and we will continue that record as we go forward,” he added.