The owners of the Nickel Plate Railroad have filed a petition with the Federal Surface Transportation Board to keep the rail corridor intact for use as a walking/biking trail, or a railroad.

The petition asks the STB to permit the owners to move forward with plans to rail bank the line.

Rail banking is a voluntary agreement between a railroad company and a trail agency to use an out-of-service rail corridor as a trail until a railroad might need the corridor again for rail service.

Robert Herrington, public affairs manager for Noblesville, said the request will allow the owners - Noblesville, Fishers and Hamilton County - to keep the railroad corridor intact for use as trail, but also provided the option it could be reopened as a railroad, or used for other forms of mass transit.

(The owners) have filed for the entire line - Tipton to Indianapolis. If successful in rail banking, the owners have preserved the opportunity for each community along the line to convert from rail to trail. Communities that convert will be responsible, legally and financially, for maintaining that portion of trail within its jurisdiction.

The process could take as long as a year to receive federal approval.

"Recently, the owners have decided to revisit their options for the Line, and have concluded that the local area would most benefit from the creation of a recreational trail/linear park along the Line's right-of-way. Such a plan would entail the removal of significant portions of the (track) along the route," the petition reads. "The owners do not anticipate consummating abandonment. Instead, they plan to negotiate a trails use arrangement intended to preserve the corridor for the possible future restoration of railroad common carrier service."

Noblesville and Fishers announced plans to convert the southern portion of the Nickel Plate to a trail in March.

The plan calls for a 9 mile trail from Pleasant Street in Noblesville to 96th Street in Fishers.

Monday, the owners awarded operating rights to Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad, made up of a partnership between Arcadia Arts & Heritage Depot, a charitable non-profit which will serve as the non-profit operator of the railroad excursions under the name Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad Inc., and Atlanta Pacific Railroad LLC, a company owned by Thomas Hoback.

The organization proposes to operate the railroad between Arcadia and Tipton.

Save The Nickel Plate, an organization formed to rally community support for maintaining the railroad, is planning a response to the petition.

"We're already working on our response, and we're encouraging the public to join us in this effort," said Logan Day, associated with the organization.

However, STB's role is administrative in terms of making sure all documents and steps have been followed correctly. It does not take a policy stance.