Indiana trail group pushes for preservation of Nickel Plate rails

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An Indiana group that promotes trails and greenways in Indiana is trying to persuade Fishers and Noblesville to include both a railway and a trail—as opposed to a trail-only plan—in the redevelopment of the Nickel Plate corridor. The group says such a development could be more successful than the Monon Trail.

But city and county planners say such a plan probably isn't feasible.

The Hoosier Rails to Trails Council, or HRTC, which was started in 1987 and bills itself as the “original advocates and initiators of the Monon Trail,” wrote letters this week to Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness, Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear, and the Hamilton County commissioners, asking them to meet to discuss the idea.

Last year, Fishers and Noblesville announced plans to convert the Nickel Plate railroad corridor through part of Hamilton County into a greenway trail, spending $9.3 million to convert a 9.2-mile stretch of the railroad. It will require removing the tracks.

“While local officials have suggested that the proposed trail-only is the sole feasible option for the corridor between Fishers and Noblesville, opponents of the plan have stated from early on that rails-with-trails would be a more inclusive compromise to allow the railroad corridor to remain intact and operational,” said Richard Vonnegut, vice chairman of  of the group in a written statement.

Vonnegut wrote there has been “no public discussion among trail organizations as to the possibility of a rail-with-trail development.” He said the HRTC would be glad to assist city and county planners with such a development.

A “rail with trail” project on the Nickel Plate would not only allow Hamilton County and other adjacent communities to experience the type of community-oriented growth they desire, but it would create a world-class amenity above and beyond that of the Monon Trail," Vonnegut said. "We’ve assessed
the Nickel Plate corridor and believe it to be quite suitable for a rail-with-trail development."

The HRTC said there is a growing trend of rail-with-trail development in transit corridors.

"HRTC can attest to the numerous social and economic benefits provided by “rail with trail” projects all around the United States," Vonnegut said. "Communities which have chosen to develop trails alongside their railroad corridors reap all of the usual benefits of a trail, but with the added
advantages of additional transportation options, increased land development value, expanded tourism activity, and deeper community engagement."

Local officials say the corridor won't accommodate both a trail and rails without major redevelopment costs.

Fadness spokeswoman Ashley Elrod acknowledged receiving the group’s letter and said the mayor is “still investigating” the ideas, but overall doesn’t believe it is feasible.

Elrod said the rail is built on an incline in the center of the right-of-way, which “makes it really difficult to find space without acquiring [additional] right-of-way.”

“When you move beyond that, the cost to bring the rail line back up to safe standards, plus the cost of building the trail with right-of-way acquisition, the economics don’t seem to be there,” Elrod said.

Ditslear spokesman Robert Herrington said the city of Noblesville “opposes incorporating a recreational trail alongside the Nickel Plate Railroad south of Conner Street.”

He said the city’s engineering staff has determined the option was not feasible “given the substantial increase in costs to pay for right-of-way, property acquisition and bridge widening—not to mention the safety hazards this proposal would create.”

Herrington also said said in some neighborhoods, doing a rail-and-trail project would have threatened trees and required fencing.

“Instead, the city’s proposed trail-only project for the corridor will safely convert the existing rail corridor to a trail without any loss of property or installation of fencing,” he said.

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