The Times photo by Betsy Reason
Nickel Plate Express executive director Deanna Holt (standing) greets train passengers Karen Radcliff, vice president and chief strategy officer of Hamilton County Tourism; and Mark Truett (right), vice president of marketing and communications for The Center for Performing Arts in Carmel.
The Times photo by Betsy Reason Nickel Plate Express executive director Deanna Holt (standing) greets train passengers Karen Radcliff, vice president and chief strategy officer of Hamilton County Tourism; and Mark Truett (right), vice president of marketing and communications for The Center for Performing Arts in Carmel.
On Friday afternoon, I stood along the railroad tracks on Main Street in downtown Atlanta, Ind., awaiting the arrival of the new Nickel Plate Express.
Media was among invited guests, who also included Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear, public officials and anybody who contributed to make this new Nickel Plate Express come to reality. 
As we awaited one of the first train rides that would take us on a brief round-trip ride south through the countryside, I had an opportunity to talk to Brenda Myers, president and CEO of Hamilton County Tourism.
“I just really think it’s important to understand the amount of community effort that went into this project. It was massive. A lot of these people here were involved in some way in making this happen,” she said.
Myers said the startup of the Nickel Plate Express is estimated to be about $1.7 million, with an annual operating budget to be about $1 million. 
Money comes from private loans from Atlanta Pacific Railroad, which has been formed as a limited liability corporation by its president Tom Hoback, successful railroad entrepreneur, who was also in attendance. He handles the operations side of the Nickel Plate Express, for which the new operations manager is Bret Davis, who previously served Indiana Rail Road Co., as a train operator, having been both qualified and certified as a locomotive engineer and conductor.  New executive director Deanna Holt of Cicero and Dagny Zupin, the new communications coordinator, handle the programming.
Myers said, “We have a half-million-dollar grant, which is exactly what we gave the Indiana Transportation Museum (the former nonprofit that operated a train out of Forest Park in Noblesville from 1960 to 2017).” Over four years, the ITM was awarded $496,000, she said.
For the Nickel Plate Express, Myers said, “We also have another $250,000 in other loans and grants, private loan and bank loan which is backed by public funds but is going to be paid for by private.”
The 1956 diesel locomotive originally built for the Erie Mining Co. is yet to be painted, said Myers, who would also like to see more dining space available on the train. “We think the wine and beer trains are going to be lucrative and fun and incredible,” she said.
What does this new train mean for Hamilton County? “For the northern part of the county, it’s going to be transformative,” Myers said of the nonprofit, which has already created 13 new jobs.
And what about plans for Noblesville? Myers touted that the train would go “all the way back to Noblesville,” that the “12.6 miles is going to be connected again, and all four towns (Noblesville, Cicero, Arcadia and Atlanta) are going to benefit.”
She said, “I think it’s nothing but positive.”
She said the Nickel Plate Express would travel to downtown Noblesville. “It’ll go to the northwest corner of Logan (and Eighth streets). Right now, it doesn’t because the City is still working with Forest Park. Also, there are some additional repairs that need to be made there.”
Myers said, “I think by early next year, we’ll be in Noblesville.”
She said,  “I think that’s definitely one of the visions is that you’ll be able to board in Noblesville and come up here, you’ll be able to board here and go to Noblesville.”
Hamilton County Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt, loves that the new train, “I think it’s going to be exciting to get the train down into downtown Noblesville, especially to close off the street near the Courthouse and just park it there for community events so that people can come up, get on board, touch it, feel it, and see part of history.”
The actual depot for the Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad, the nonprofit that serves as governing body for the Heritage Railroad operation, is located in the former Arcadia Heritage Depot. 
“The improvements at the depot that have been done are extraordinary,” Myers said. “The storytelling that’s in that depot is amazing.We got an Indiana Humanities grant for that. A lot of private donors have given money for that depot to be a hub of activity as well.”
Myers, moments later, spoke publicly to the crowd from aboard the back of a red caboose on the tracks, alongside Toni Dickover, Nickel Plate Heritage Board president; and Hoback, of the Atlanta Pacific Railroad. Also, Duke Energy presented a check for $40,000 to the Nickel Plate Express.
Following the guest speakers, all attention turned back toward the railroad tracks, where the Nickel Plate Express slowly arrived from the south. Rather than a traditional ribbon-cutting, guests watched as the train broke through a “NickelPlateExpress.com” banner as it arrived downtown.
I snapped photos as I joined passengers as we boarded either of two Santa Fe Railway Hi-Level passenger cars. These cars were developed in 1956 to provide exceptional comfort on the El Capitan luxury train which operated between Chicago and Los Angeles.
Upon boarding, I was directed to ascend a short staircase, to the upper level, where passengers were finding their seats. These hi-level passenger cars, which are two stories tall, and each accommodate 72 passengers, allow for better views and a quieter ride than conventional trains. 
Passengers, including State Rep. Kathy Richardson, and Chuck Goodrich, president of Gaylor Electric, which will light up the holiday Reindeer Ride, looked out the windows and socialized about the niceties of the new train. The Nickel Plate’s first season will also 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 today
Zupin, who rode the train along with Holt and Hoback, answered questions from passengers, and said the nonprofit is looking to make the bottom level ADA accessible in 2019.
During our train ride, passengers also had the opportunity to get up and walk to the dining car, which has seating for 58 that resembles a sit-down restaurant. There is also transition car that can hold 38, for a total capacity of 240 riders on the train. The transition car is half sleeping berths, which may be renovated in the future.
Train passengers admired the interior and the smoothness of the train ride, some reminiscing about their childhood and their love for trains.
Everyone seemed to be quite impressed, including me.
Fittingly, Hamilton County Tourism handed out to every passenger a button that reads, “I love trains,” a button that I wore all weekend.
-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.