LETTER: Future rail will doom trail

In 2017, leaders from Fishers, Noblesville and Hamilton County, owners of the roughly 40-mile railroad running from downtown Indianapolis to Tipton, announced they were going to turn the railroad into a multi-use trail. Nearly 12,000 residents opposed the trail-only solution, suggesting a rail-with-trail instead.

Those residents formed “Save the Nickel Plate,” met with local leaders and attended public meetings to voice their concerns. Despite these efforts, leaders of Fishers and Noblesville remained unyielding to compromise.

In the 1980s, the Monon railroad abandoned and removed their line. But after vibrant study and community input, leaders of Indianapolis, Carmel and Westfield agreed to purchase the overgrown right-of-way and convert it into a walking trail. Unlike the Monon, the Nickel Plate tracks are still in place and several railroads have offered to run trains on them. Many community activists believe the Nickel Plate Trail represents the height of government waste—spending taxpayer money to replace one amenity with another when both are possible.

Since the 2017 decision to construct a trail, Fishers, Noblesville and Hamilton County have engaged the Surface Transportation Board to “railbank” the Nickel Plate. Railbanking allows for interim trail use but dictates that a railroad company may re-establish service at any time. While Fishers, Indianapolis and Noblesville are poised to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to build a trail only, their uncompromising decision guarantees that future rail service will require destruction of the trail.

Interestingly, on March 29, U.S. Rail Holdings LLC asked the STB for rights to operate on the Nickel Plate railroad to provide freight service to three adjacent businesses. Ironically, while freight is strongly opposed, the choice to railbank the line made freight possible. If our elected officials would have listened at their “listening sessions,” freight could have been prevented—but now has priority.

Save the Nickel Plate supporters don’t relish the idea of freight trains. However, we are excited about the possibility of organizations like First Transit LLC and the Hoosier Rails to Trails Council to provide what we’ve envisioned—commuter rail and a multi-use trail—or to put it another way, rail-with-trail.

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Derek Zollinger

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