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Supporters of running Indiana State Fair train face obstacle

March 13, 2017

The operators of the suspended Indiana State Fair train have devised a plan for expanded service that would feature year-round trains rolling between Noblesville and downtown Indianapolis.

The plan by rail enthusiasts at the Indiana Transportation Museum comes as elected officials in Hamilton County prepare to convert a 9.2-mile stretch of the Nickel Plate railroad, which had carried the fair train for 30 years, into a greenway trail. The $9 million project was announced on Jan. 30.

Museum officials said they favor putting the trail alongside the tracks and are planning to offer their alternative option at public hearings this month, The Indianapolis Star reported.

The rail line once carried freight and passenger trains, but most recently has been used only for the fair train, which was operated by the Indiana Transportation Museum. The train, which carried passengers from the northern suburbs to the fairgrounds, ceased operations in 2016 after some of the volunteers running the train alleged that the tracks and signals were unsafe.

An inspection of the line by the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority determined that about $5 million in repairs were needed before it could be operational again. Making the necessary improvements just along the line from Fishers to the state fairgrounds could cost more than $2 million.

"We are looking at full-length trains that would run weekends all year," said Craig Presler, secretary for the transportation museum. "We were profitable before the suspension and were heading to our best year ever. We think there is a market for this."

Officials from the Fort Wayne Historical Society are joining the museum's effort. The society's vice president, Kelly Lynch, said Fishers and Noblesville will squander a tourism asset if they get rid of the tracks.

"The trend now is for communities to go back to their roots and their cultural heritage, not get rid of it," Lynch said. "It is one thing to say you are a railroad town and another to be one. You'd think they'd like to stay authentic to their heritage."

Fishers spokeswoman Ashley Elrod said the city has received about six letters from railroad backers but said many more people have expressed support for the trail.

"We understand there is a lot of nostalgia related to trains," Elrod said. "But people are really enthusiastic about the trail."

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