The Hamilton County Convention and Visitor Bureau will be supporting a bid by a local non-profit to be the new operator of the Nickel Plate railroad. If chosen, a new plan to redo the northern portion of the railway will take effect.
If the new bid is accepted, it will have no effect on the Noblesville's and Fishers' plans to create the Nickel Plate trail, a proposed 9.2 mile walking/biking trail. The themed trains would run on the northern 8.5 miles of tracks.
Brenda Myers, President and CEO of the organization, gave her support for a proposal to create a themed excursion railway to the Cicero town council Tuesday night.
"Our proposal is going to be awesome because we are community focused," she said. "That's what we do."
Unlike a proposed plan by the Indiana Transportation Museum to build tracks along the proposed trail in Noblesville and Fishers, the Visitor Bureau's plan is focused a little further north.
The operation headquarters would be located in Atlanta. Trains would leave a station there and travel through Cicero, Arcadia and Tipton.
"We have a three pronged approach," said Myers. "There would be an operator, a non-profit, and a community based organization."
The Bureau would partner with a local non-profit to create a depot, which will more than likely be a train museum. The Railroad Association would consist of individuals from the communities along the railway.
"It's very important to me that the three or four communities on the railroad be a part of the discussion, and a part of the vision for the future," Myers said.
The proposal includes a request for a USDA Development Grant, which would be used for developing downtown enhancements for the communities involved. A railroad themed park and additions to local community centers are being discussed.
The Tourism Bureau has conducted market research and found that people are more likely to travel to experience a train if it is themed.
The proposed trains will carry up to 200 passengers and run with themes such as railroad history, history of war, and holiday themes including rides with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
If the non-profit does not win the bidding for the Nickel Plate railway, Myers still hopes to rebuild the train heritage within local communities.
"Even if nothing happens on the railroad, if it becomes a trail, we would be ready to acknowledge and celebrate train history," she said.
The Tourism Bureau reached out to the Indiana Transportation Museum, the former operators of the railway, but collaborating on this project was not of interest to them.
Portions of the railway in Noblesville and Fishers will potentially be removed in order to create the Nickel Plate Trail, a project announced earlier this year.
The trail project, proposed as a way to bring the cities of Noblesville and Fishers together, has an estimated price of $9 million.
The Nickel Plate tracks are currently without an operator due to 13 safety violations found by the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority during an inspection. Estimates have shown a price of $5 million to get it back up and running. However, a new option seems to have surfaced.
Glen Schwartz of the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority proposed an idea at the Tuesday gathering. Taking the railway down to a class 1 or 2 operation, meaning the trains could only go between 10 and 25 miles per hour, could bring the cost down to $55,000.
Safety repairs would still be necessary, but the trains could start moving again after an initial set of repairs totaling $55,000.
Bidding for potential Nickel Plate railway operators will be begin in April.