Photo provided
This yellow 1956 F9 diesel locomotive, delivered this week, will operate on Saturday during the Nickel Plate Express grand opening in Atlanta, Ind.
Photo provided This yellow 1956 F9 diesel locomotive, delivered this week, will operate on Saturday during the Nickel Plate Express grand opening in Atlanta, Ind.
The highly anticipated new Nickel Plate Express will open on Saturday with three train rides and an afternoon festival for the community.
Visitors to downtown Atlanta, Ind., who have purchased tickets, can board the train for a 12-mile trip from Atlanta to the north side of Noblesville.
To build anticipation, train cars have been displayed on the railroad tracks in downtown Atlanta, and also one car is stationed on the tracks in downtown Noblesville.
“Seeing this equipment on our tracks, I can’t wait to watch it run,” said Dagny Zupin, the Nickel Plate Express’ new communications coordinator. 
Her office is in the former Arcadia Heritage Depot, home to the Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad Inc., a nonprofit formed to serve as governing body for the new Heritage Railroad operation. “The Nickel Plate Express has been two years in the making. I can’t even say how excited we are,” she said.
Passengers with tickets will board the train on Saturday for a 75-minute round-trip ride at 10-15 mph. There will be no stops. A family dining-lounge car will also be open for rides.
The festival is from noon to 5 p.m. with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 12:30 p.m., before the first train ride. The event will feature deejay Sunny Moon, who will play 100 train songs. Also, Caravan Classes in Noblesville will lead a free passport-related craft at the festival. Caricaturist Nick Nix will draw free caricatures. 
Saturday’s grand opening is bound to stir excitement for the train’s first season, which will include a Pumpkin Express, in partnership with Hamilton Heights High School’s FFA Pumpkin Patch, and a Ghost Express, in October, with tickets to go on sale Monday. Tickets are already on sale for a Reindeer Ride: Bright Night holiday excursion Nov. 23-Dec. 9. Gaylor Electric in Noblesville is sponsor of the Reindeer Ride Nov. 23-Dec. 9. Gaylor Electric will light up the entire outside of the train, she said.
Hamilton Heights FFA students will be at Saturday’s festival to talk to visitors about their Pumpkin Express, along with other local booth holders.
Zupin has taken many inquiries about the train. “People are really excited to come ride the train. Some have never ridden a high-level train, where you sit up so high,” she said. 
The groundbreaking Santa Fe Railway Hi-Level passenger cars were developed in 1956 to provide exceptional comfort on the El Capitan luxury train which operated between Chicago and Los Angeles. Unlike conventional passenger cars, these hi-levels were two stories tall, with an upper and lower floor. Most seating is on the upper level which offers better views and a quieter, more comfortable ride
Passengers board the train, take a short staircase, about 6-7 steps, to the upper level. Zupin said the nonprofit is looking to make the bottom level ADA accessible in 2019.
The passenger cars and F9 diesel locomotive were made in 1956 and have been partially restored for passenger use this year. More restorations are to come. The train car parked in downtown Noblesville, at Eighth and Logan Street, has already become a favorite location for many photographers, and will remain there until December. The train car will become available for passengers and parties in 2019.
Deanna Holt is the Nickel Plate’s new executive director. Bret Davis, the Nickel Plate’s new head engineer, will drive the train this Saturday. Davis, a full-time employee who is doing mechanical work on the train, has a staff of engineers to rotate on the weekends. There are a total eight team members plus a part-time staff.
Zupin, Winamac, Ind., native and a graduate of Ball State University, said her job all about bringing awareness to the new Nickel Plate Express, “mostly a lot of about the history and where the train’s going to go.”
-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.