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Leah McGrath: Nickel Plate Trail is plan to create our next destiny

September 28, 2018

McGrathThe Nickel Plate Track to Trail project has generated a lot of conversation and some misinformation. As someone who has been deeply involved in the process, I want to provide some context to the project and how we arrived at this juncture.

In 1995, Nickel Plate railroad, which runs north-south from northern Hamilton County to Indianapolis, was defunct. The leaders of the communities along the vacant line had a choice: Wait to see if a buyer might come along and live with the buyer’s vision, or purchase the line and control their destiny.

The leaders of Fishers and Noblesville decided to purchase the line, and soon Hamilton County came on board as a third owner. The three owners formed the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority to manage rail line and contracted with the Indiana Transportation Museum to be the operator. For almost 20 years, the ITM ran excursion trains, mainly twice each year during the Indiana State Fair and around the holidays.

Unfortunately, the ITM ultimately failed to execute the responsibilities outlined in the operator’s agreement. It left rail lines in need of repair, it failed to provide proper insurance, and it lacked appropriate licensure for its operators. In 2015, the HHPA revoked the operator’s agreement and the leaders of Fishers, Noblesville and Hamilton County found themselves with another chance to control their destiny.

In early 2017, Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness (whom I work for) stood with Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear and the Hamilton County commissioners to announce a proposal to convert the track to trail. The Nickel Plate Trail has the potential to create a 50-mile loop in central Indiana as the link connecting the Monon to the Midland Trail.

Shortly after, the cities of Fishers and Noblesville held two public sessions, where a variety of ideas and opinions were heard. That summer, in response to a request for proposals, the HHPA received five proposals for a new operator. Four included freight trains either running daily along the line or for storage of freight cars on the line. Freight running through the heart of our downtown across multiple thoroughfares and creating congestion is not the vision I have for my city. The proposal selected to operate the Nickel Plate Express includes an excursion train that runs from Noblesville north to the town of Atlanta.

In May 2018, the city of Fishers created a master planning committee composed of artists, educators, entrepreneurs and longtime community leaders to guide the vision for the 4-1/2 miles of Nickel Plate Trail in Fishers. I have the privilege of serving on this committee.

There are people who don’t agree with the Nickel Plate decision, but I believe those opposed are the minority. Many opponents don’t live in Fishers, and in some cases don’t even live in Indiana. And suggestions and accusations that the process was anything but transparent and open are patently false.

We can have the best of both worlds with the Nickel Plate Express to the north and the trail to the south. We can honor the history of this line and still be excited about what the future holds.

We have an opportunity to create a new kind of public space that inspires discovery and wellness every day of the year. What will it look like? Planning committee members want your input. Do you want pop-up shops? Outside work spaces? Fitness zones? Drone zones? Aromatic gardens? One young student suggested a rocket launch along the line to send our trash to the moon!

Let’s be bold. Now is the time to create our next destiny. We hope you will join us.•

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McGrath is deputy mayor of the city of Fishers and is vice chairwoman of the Indiana Republican Party. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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