U.S. Rail Looking to Restart Nickel Plate Rail Line

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The city of Fishers unveiled its Master Plan for the Nickel Plate Trail in February. The city of Fishers unveiled its Master Plan for the Nickel Plate Trail in February.

An Ohio-based railroad operator is looking to derail plans for the Nickel Plate Trail. U.S. Rail Holdings LLC has filed a petition with the federal Surface Transportation Board to vacate three Notices of Interim Trail Use authorized in December for Fishers, Noblesville and reactivate rail service on the more than 37-mile Nickel Plate Rail line. The company is also seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent Fishers from removing any existing track until the matter has been decided.

In the 68-page petition, U.S. Rail says it meets criteria outlined by the board to be considered a "bona fide third-party petitioner," saying it has sufficient financing to reactivate rail service and operate the line. The company says there is also sufficient demand for rail service from companies, including Crown Technology Inc. in Indianapolis, Stone Spectrum in Arcadia, and The Quikrete Companies in Indy. 

U.S. Rail adds it could also provide passenger service on the rail line, eventually connecting the line to the Amtrak at Union Station in downtown Indianapolis, which operates the Hoosier State Train between Chicago and Indy.

The filings come just over three months after the STB denied a similar request from U.S. Rail, which also included a preliminary injunction. However, the board said in its ruling a bona fide third-party petitioner could seek to have the NITUs vacated and the line reactivated after the NITUs were issued.

Officials in Hamilton County first announced plans for the Nickel Plate Trail in February 2017. The project would transform more than 9 miles of the Nickel Plate Rail line into a pedestrian and biking trail between Fishers and Noblesville.

Save the Nickel Plate Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the rail line, is supporting U.S. Rail's move.

“This is quite a welcome surprise," said Ty Mendenhall, president of Save the Nickel Plate. "If Fishers, Noblesville and Hamilton County would have invited the residents and members of the public to participate in the early planning stages instead of after they decided to move forward with a trail only plan, we could have collaborated to identify the best outcome for the communities impacted by the future of this corridor. Thankfully, a railroad company has stepped up with a solution that truly capitalizes on the value that the Nickel Plate has to offer to our community.” 

In February, the city of Fishers released its Nickel Plate Trail Master Plan 2040, which includes various ideas for the city's portion of the trail. Less than a week later, the city unveiled a feasibility study that suggested preserving the rail line would add more than $20 million to the cost of the project. Details of the study were also disputed by Save the Nickel Plate.

The city of Fishers released the following statement to Inside INdiana Business following the filings by U.S. Rail:

The latest filing by US Rail Holdings is merely an attempt to re-litigate its failed position before the Surface Transportation Board. The STB summarily rejected arguments put forth by US Rail Holdings, Save the Nickel Plate, and Richard Vonnegut throughout this process.  In particular, STB has already rejected US Rail Holdings’ request previously as being speculative and unpersuasive. The STB issued its final order in December 2018, granting Notices of Interim Trails Use to the owners allowing the line to be converted into a recreational trail. Despite this latest attempt, this order still stands and the City of Fishers will continue its efforts to develop a world-class amenity for its residents.

To be clear, the City of Fishers does not support any proposal that leads to freight cars traveling through neighborhoods and clogging Fishers’ main thoroughfares multiple times a day.

A time frame for a ruling from the Surface Transportation Board has not been outlined.

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