Fishers and Noblesville officials announced plans Tuesday morning for a $9 million project that will convert a 9.2-mile stretch of the Nickel Plate railroad corridor into a paved pedestrian and bicycle trail between the two cities.
The Nickel Plate Trail would run from 96th Street in Fishers to Pleasant Street in Noblesville.
For months, officials have been discussing ways to preserve the right-of-way of the 37-mile railroad corridor, which is owned and maintained by the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, a quasi-government entity operated by Fishers, Noblesville and Hamilton County.
Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness, Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear, and Hamilton County Commissioners Christine Altman and Mark Heirbrandt revealed the trail project standing outside The Switch development along the Nickel Plate corridor in Fishers.
“In the 1850s, this railroad right here was meant to connect people in communities and that's what we’re doing here,” Ditslear said. “We’re proposing to connect by trail Noblesville and Fishers.”
The 14-foot wide trail expected to cost $9.3 million to construct, with Fishers paying $4.4 million for its portion and Noblesville paying $4.15 million. Hamilton County is not expected to contribute funding.
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 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.
Local officials said Tuesday they wanted to find a more productive use for the corridor while preserving the right-of-way for the long-term future.
Altman said under state law, if the rails are removed or if operations are no longer maintained on the track, the Port Authority could lose the right-of-way.
But under a federal rail banking program, the railroad could be converted into a trail while still maintaining the right-of-way for the future transportation use. The corridor had been suggested to be part of a mass-transit system connecting Indianapolis and Hamilton County, but those plans have not progressed.
“We still think it’s a valuable corridor for transit purposes,” Altman said.
Altman said they are going through the federal process to ensure that the right-of-way can be preserved.
The rail banking process, which is overseen by the federal Surface Transportation Board, could take six to 12 months to complete. Construction would not begin until that is process is finished.
“This is very much a long-term vision,” Fadness said. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”
Several public meetings have been scheduled to gather community input. The first will be 6 p.m. March 21 at Fishers City Hall, and the second will be 6 p.m. March 23 at Noblesville City Hall.
The Hamilton County Council will also discuss the trail project at a work session at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Hamilton County Judicial Center.