How’s a train from Fishers to an Indianapolis Colts game, coupled with a little “rail-gating,” sound?
Or a business-related excursion on a fine-dining car with a few dozen of your favorite corporate clients?
Those are some of the ideas being rolled out by the Indiana Transportation Museum for expanded service along the Nickel Plate rail line from Tipton to Indianapolis. The Noblesville museum submitted a proposal this week to the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, which oversees the 37-mile line through Marion and Hamilton counties. The track is owned jointly by Fishers, Noblesville and Hamilton County.
The port authority sought applications from potential operators of the Nickel Plate after it failed to reach an agreement with the museum on an estimated $5 million in track repairs and maintenance. The museum had run its trains on the tracks for about three decades, including to the Indiana State Fair. The port authority ended its relationship with the museum last year because it said the tracks were in disrepair. The museum, however, was allowed to reapply.
The museum’s proposal was one of four bids offered by potential track operators before Tuesday’s deadline. Two other applicants — the Indianapolis Metropolitan Railway Co., of Indianapolis, and the Hoosier Heritage Railroad Inc., of Fishers — also proposed running trains to 10th Street.
The fourth bidder, Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad of Arcadia, proposes train operations from Noblesville to Tipton.
The transportation museum proposes rebuilding tracks from the State Fairgrounds at 38th Street to 10th Street near Massachusetts Avenue. The museum says that in five years, the tracks could be extended farther south to Union Station Downtown.
Museum spokesman David Shank said a Union Station landing would make the train ideal for select Colts games at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indiana Pacers games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Indianapolis Indians games at Victory Field.
“All three venues are walkable,” he said.
It also would be a perfect starting point for corporate leaders to take clients or employees on excursions and dinner trips, Shank said.
The museum proposes investing $1.5 million over five years for track repairs and maintenance if the authority grants it a long-term contract. But museum officials were unable to provide an overall cost estimate for the expanded service.
Hamilton County Commissioner Christine Altman said running trains to 10th Street would be “extraordinarily expensive.”
“Just acquiring the right-of-way would be expensive and complicated,” she said. Most of the track corridor running south of 38th Street is alongside the Monon Trail and next to industrial plants. The tracks have either been removed or are overgrown with vegetation. To get the train from 10th Street to Union Station would require a link with the CSX freight tracks and likely payment for use of the track.
“The cooperation with CSX is a whole other thing,” Altman said. “But I don’t even see where you connect from one track to another.”
Altman has been a longtime member of the Metropolitan Planning Organization and said proposals to extend trains to 10th Street have been floated before, even by the transportation museum. She said planning board studied the proposals about 10 years ago and determined that getting the rights-of-way were just too daunting.
There is also one other locomotive-sized obstacle to the ITM’s plan, however. Fishers and Noblesville want to tear out the railroad tracks in their cities and replace them with a 9-mile greenway connecting the suburbs. Museum officials are trying to convince the cities that the trail could be built next to the tracks.
The museum said the Bullseye Event Group, an Indianapolis-based event and promotions company, has agreed to partner with it. Bullseye has worked with the Masters golf tournament, Super Bowls, concerts and the Indianapolis Colts.
“There is huge untapped potential for train excursions to and from Indianapolis,” Bobby Milan, Bullseye founding partner and transportation museum board member, said in a prepared statement. He called the potential for heritage rail operations for Indianapolis games and events “a huge opportunity.”
The port authority will rank the bids by July 1 before making a recommendation. There is no deadline for a final choice.
Call IndyStar reporter John Tuohy at (317) 444-6418. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
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