Train museum to file lawsuit against area authorities as Nickel Plate fight continues

The Indiana Transportation Museum announced Friday morning that it plans to file a federal lawsuit against area government entities and authorities in regards to their ongoing battle over the Nickel Plate Railroad.

The Noblesville-based museum and area officials have been wrestling over the future of the 37-mile railroad for months. Noblesville and Fishers seek to convert a section of it into a 14-foot-wide pedestrian trail, but the museum argues the rails should remain and that it should be able to operate trains along it.

The Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, the quasi-government entity that oversees the railroad, terminated its policy-of-use agreement with the museum in March 2016 amid concerns about the not-for-profit’s financials and maintenance of the tracks.

That meant the museum had to discontinue its popular State Fair Train and Polar Bear Express rides last year, and the rides are in jeopardy of being permanently discontinued.

The port authority recently issued a request for proposals for a new operator of the track, and responses were due Tuesday. Four groups submitted responses—the transportation museum, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Railway Co. of Indianapolis, Hoosier Heritage Railroad Inc. of Fishers and Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad of Arcadia.

The museum contends it won’t be given a fair chance. A media advisory issued Friday morning by the museum said the lawsuit it intends to file will focus on the “biased RFP process.”

It was not clear whom specifically the lawsuit would be filed against. Fishers, Noblesville and Hamilton County split ownership rights of the railroad. The advisory said that the litigation would be "against government entities and authorities that have inhibited the Museum and its historic and educational train programs progress and success."

Museum officials are expected to discuss the details at a press conference at 2 p.m. Friday outside the Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in downtown Indianapolis.

“We need to ensure our operation continues to have a positive economic impact on the communities we serve,” museum board chair John McNichols said in a written statement. “We are here because of the outpouring of community support for keeping the trains running.”

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