Board grants rail owners permission to convert line to trail

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Owners of the Nickel Plate Rail were granted permission Thursday to convert the Nickel Plate Rail into a pedestrian trail and proceed with rail banking the line.

The determination came from the Federal Surface Transportation Board and confirms the owners, the cities of Fishers and Noblesville and Hamilton County, have legal authority to move forward with the trail.

Last July, officials who control the 37-mile railroad corridor voted to move forward with a plan to convert a 9.2-mile stretch of the railroad into a 14-foot wide multi-use pathway. The Nickel Plate Trail, estimated to cost $9 million to develop, will run from 96th Street in Fishers to Pleasant Street in Noblesville.

Developing the trail requires removing the tracks.

The rail’s owners will continue working with the Federal Surface Transportation Board to complete the rail banking process, essentially protecting the right of way for future transportation uses, and to finalize a trails-use agreement, which will provide communities along the line, which runs from Indianapolis to Tipton, with the opportunity to convert rail to trail within their jurisdiction, according to a news release from the city of Fishers.

Once the process is complete, the city of Fishers will immediately pursue the conversion of the Nickel Plate line to a trail from 96th Street to 146th Street. The city on Wednesday released the names of the representatives picked to serve on the Nickel Plate Trail Master Planning Committee, who will be charged with facilitating its development.

Next month, the city plans to issue a request for proposals for the trail, a news release states.

While Noblesville and Fishers officials plan to convert the rail line into a trail, communities in northern Hamilton County are working to preserve it as a train track.

Last month, The Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, which manages the 37 miles of rail track from Tipton to 10th Street in Indianapolis, announced it had signed a 15-year operating agreement with Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad Inc. to run a tourism rail line on 12 miles of track between Atlanta and Noblesville.

Operations are expected to begin sometime this summer.

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.

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