Nickel Plate Express passengers soon will have a much better visitor’s experience when boarding the train at Hobbs Station in Forest Park. The city broke ground on a $1.5 million renovation project at the 10-acre railyard to be called the Forest Park Depot at Hobbs Station Sept. 7.
The renovation includes a new boarding platform, new restroom facility, refacing the electrical building, adding another shelter to the south of the station and moving the entrance to align with Shelters 2 and 3 at the park. There also will be paved parking and new trails. Phase 1 is scheduled to be finished in April 2022.
When complete, Nickel Plate Express Director Dagny Zupin said passengers will be able to enter the station, read about its history and visit a gift shop. They also can take photos on the boarding platform. The Nickel Plate Express takes passengers on two-hour train rides through northern Hamilton County with a variety of ticketed themes, such as dinner, a wine experience, a holiday experience and more. The train offers experiences for adults and families.
“When visitors show up now, they are showing up to a grassy area and boarding on gravel. It’s not much of a sense of arrival for a visitor,” Zupin said. “You can see the train parked there, but the sense of arrival is key to visitor experience, and it’s not there yet. When Hobbs Station is finalized, it will make it all encompassing.”
Zupin said the Hobbs Station renovations will provide a better experience during holidays, as the boarding platform will be decorated.
“It completely changes the guest’s experience,” Zupin said.
Noblesville Parks and Recreation Dept. Director Brandon Bennett said the renovation is the first of possibly several phases of construction in the 10-acre railyard area of the park.
“One of the key pieces to this is to reintegrate that part of the park or that train yard back into the park so it’s a revitalized area that feels more like it is part of the park,” Bennett said. “It’ll be the new home for the Nickel Plate Express to operate out of for train rides.”
Nickel Plate Express has operated out of Forest Park, a 150-acre park northwest of Ind. 32 and Ind. 19, since September 2018. The Indiana Transportation Museum vacated the park in 2015 after the city did not renew its lease and ordered ITM to vacate the property because of environmental concerns and ITM “not being a good steward” through its unlawful handling of chemicals, according to a 2018 press release from the City of Noblesville. In the three years between the two operators, the train sat dormant because the tracks were deemed unsafe. Nickel Plate Express spent several months repairing the tracks prior to opening.
When the first phase of the Hobbs Station renovation is complete, Zupin is confident it will encourage passengers to spend more time in Forest Park and in Noblesville.
“They can board the train, take their two-hour train and visit the museum component of Hobbs Station. Then, they can walk around the park and across the pedestrian bridge to downtown,” Zupin said. “By adding Hobbs Station, it incentivizes people to stay and experience something where, now they’re getting on the train, taking a ride and then leaving.”
The second phase, which doesn’t yet have a timetable, will include static display pieces, such as leftover train equipment from when ITM operated at the park.
“I’ve gone through and selected several pieces that represent the railroad history of this area the best, and eventually, in Phase 2, they’ll be used as display pieces,” Zupin said.
For more, visit nickelplateexpress.com.
From the mayor
Renovating Forest Park Depot at Hobbs Station was one of Noblesville Mayor Chris Jensen’s top priorities when he took office in January 2020.
“Trains have had a significant history in Noblesville, and this project shows our commitment to keeping that history alive and also activates the space in Forest Park,” Jensen said. “This project will make Hobbs Station a destination spot and draw visitors downtown. Hobbs Station will revamp the underused railyard and reintegrate the 10 acres back into Forest Park as a viable and attractive piece of the park. It also will become a better home for Nickel Plate Express to operate out of Forest Park and add a covered platform to board passengers.”