Federal board rules in railroad owners’ favor, pushing Nickel Plate Trail development forward

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The Federal Surface Transportation Board on Friday ruled in favor of Fishers and Noblesville’s plan to convert the Nickel Plate Railroad into a trail.

The board issued three notices of interim trail use (one for each segment of the track in Noblesville, Fishers and Indianapolis) and denied U.S. Rail’s motion for preliminary injunction.

The determination comes after U.S. Rail filed a petition in July asking the board to force the railroad’s owners (Fishers, Noblesville and Hamilton County) to sell the tracks so they can be used to move grain.

Following U.S. Rail’s petition the not-for-profit Save the Nickel Plate asked the board to stay an any action on the matter until lawsuits the not-for-profit has filed against the cities are resolved. That request was also denied.

The decision ends a lengthy federal process to rail bank the Nickel Plate Railroad so the right-of-way can be preserved for future transportation uses. Now, the cities can move forward with ripping out the tracks so the corridor can be converted into a multi-use pedestrian and bicycle trail.

“Today is a definitive step forward in the city’s ability to execute to a vision of creating a transformative trail for our community,” Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness said Friday in written comments. “This decision reaffirms the city’s right by law to move forward with the trail and we plan to do so imminently. This guarantees that the countless volunteer hours by our residents in developing a vision for our trail will not be wasted while closing a chapter on the countless frivolous actions taken by Save the Nickel Plate and its representatives.”

The city of Fishers has already hired two firms to oversee master planning of its 4.5-mile section of the trail, lined up financing for the first phase and started hosted public input sessions.  

In Noblesville, work on the trail isn’t expected to begin for a few years as the city completes other infrastructure projects already planned.

Logan Day, spokesperson for Save the Nickel Plate, said in written comments that the organization will continue to pursue what it considers violations of Indiana’s Open Door laws by Fishers, Noblesville and Hamilton County leaders.

“We will continue to monitor their actions to make sure they comply with federal requirements since a railbanked line is subject to potential reactivation for rail service by a qualified third party,” he said in written comments.

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