When residents involved with the Save the Nickel Plate railroad initiative realized the City of Fishers planned to replace the railway with a trail, they encouraged the city to look into a Rails with Trails option, which would keep the railroad tracks intact and construct a trail alongside the tracks.
After conducting a feasibility study, the City of Fishers recently ruled ‘no’ on that request. The study examined two options, Option A and Option B, which would result in an additional $20.5 million and $39.8 million, respectively, for acquisition of right-of-way, repair of the rail and additional construction to complete the Rails with Trails proposal.
In a press release, city officials wrote: “Due to the continued inaccuracies shared to the media by train advocate groups, the city is responding to their assertions that alternative designs were not considered through a feasibility study. For purposes of the study, the City of Fishers and its retained consultant analyzed the rail corridor to determine the feasibility of keeping the existing Nickel Plate Rail in place throughout the corridor, with the new trail being placed alongside.”
The city then stated it would pursue development of the Nickel Plate Trail without the Rails with Trails option.
Following the city’s announcement, Save the Nickel Plate announced it would commission a privately funded feasibility study to be released within 45 days from Feb. 25. The group called the city’s transparency into question.
“Two years ago, the City of Fishers decreed that a multi-purpose trail is the only feasible option for the Nickel Plate Corridor. So, it comes as no surprise that the city’s study released (Feb. 22) makes the argument rails with trails is not feasible,” the organization stated in an emailed press release. “Save the Nickel Plate has grave concerns about the report. Since the public has not been presented with an objective set of options for this corridor at public meetings during the past two years, the City’s claim of openness and transparency is suspect and calls into question the motives for discounting options other than a trail.”
Save the Nickel Plate spokesperson Tyler Mendenhall said if the Rails with Trails option was pursued, it could lead to more visitor spending within the county. In 2015, Hamilton County Tourism released numbers that showed the Indiana Transportation Museum, which is associated with the Nickel Plate Railroad, brought in an estimated $1.6 million in visitor spending.
Mendenhall said he’s not sure how a trail without the railroad would benefit the county.
“None of us are anti-trail, but if we had to make a decision on one or the other, we would choose rail,” Mendenhall said. “We figure the Rails with Trails is a great economic improvement use of the corridor, and it’s very popular in other areas.”
Fishers has pursued the Nickel Plate Trail proposat since 2017 and has planned to construct a trail in place of the railway through the National Trails System Act. The deteriorating and unsafe condition of the railroad compelled its owners – the City of Fishers, the City of Noblesville and Hamilton County – to examine other options. The Rails with Trails option would allow continued use of the railroad tracks, and although Fishers, Noblesville and Hamilton County deemed the railroad unsafe, Mendenhall doesn’t believe that’s true because a track inspection report by the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority stated, “Though the gauge wear is significant, the rail probably has significant life remaining.”
The railroad’s owners forged an agreement that a trail was the best option, and the City of Fishers moved forward with a master planning process, which was presented to the public Feb. 18. According to the City of Fishers, only 4 percent of more than 1,500 ideas from the public included the Rails with Trails suggestion.
To read the full feasibility study, visit playfishers.com/DocumentCenter/View/851/Nickel-Plate-Rail-Trail-Analysis—Report.