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Concerns grow in Hamilton County over Nickel Plate Rail Line conversion plans

HAMILTON COUNTY, Ind. -- Michelle Yerkeson worries her city’s future soon won’t include the Nickel Plate Rail Line.

She’s part of a growing group of angry Hamilton County residents who are concerned about the new plan by the cities of Fishers and Noblesville to convert the Nickel Plate Rail Line into a greenway similar to the Monon Trail.

This week they’re bringing their concerns to city officials, armed with an online petition and a long list of questions about why officials are choosing this option.

“The train will no longer run here,” said Yerkeson. “The people that ride the train, who get on and off and spend money in Fishers and spend money in Hamilton County, those people will be gone.”

The converted path would connect Fishers and Noblesville to the tune of $9.3 million. That cost could be reduced due to value engineering and could be partially offset by grants.

The bill to taxpayers is just one of many reasons local rail enthusiast Logan Day started his change.org petition. It now has more than four thousand signatures from Hamilton County and around the world.

“This isn’t something that you can just decide one day, ‘Oh I want to put one in. It cost many millions of dollars to do this,’” said Day. “It’s a part of history and heritage and that’s not something you can get back.

Day says he’s received notes from people as far away as Australia who say they’ve visited Fishers just to ride the train on the Nickel Plate Line.

Yerkeson says a lot of the signage in Fishers and even names of buildings pay homage to the long history of railroading in the city. She feels certain people in the future fishers will forget its rail history, if today’s residents bury it under asphalt.

She thinks the past isn’t holding much weight with city officials.

If you think about the Monon in Carmel, that’s kind of what they’re aiming for,” said Yerkeson. “I know a lot of people here in Fishers, moved to Fishers because it was different than Carmel and this is a big part of our identity here in Fishers. It’s been here since the 1850s.”

Yerkeson, Day and many others want to see an extended greenway in Hamilton County. They don’t want to see the tracks paved over to make it so.

“Charlotte has a great example of their trail right along their tracks, just as it is here in Fishers,” said Yerkeson.

Just three years ago, Fishers officials seemed to champion that solution when the city’s pedestrian plan advocated for a “trails next to rails” path.

According to our partners at the Indy Star, Fishers officials now say their research shows there’s not enough room to safely put the trail next to the railroad in all places.

Yerkeson says other cities show that with fencing, you don’t need to have as much space as city officials believe. She also believes the city could get creative, finding solutions for where the chart the path so pedestrians are safe.

Yerkeson worries that other residents may not understand that even though the federal program calls for the “right” to go back to railroad use, the reality if the cities change their minds, will not be that easy.

“It just doesn’t work and it’s doesn’t pan out,” said Yerkeson, referring to her research. “Really, I feel that it’s just a way to placate the public into thinking you can get the track back sometime and that’s simply not true.”

Two community listening sessions are scheduled for community feedback:

  • Tuesday, March 21 from 6-8 p.m. at Fishers City Hall Auditorium (1 Municipal Drive, Fishers, IN 46037)
  • Thursday, March 23 at Noblesville City Hall, 2nd Floor Conference Room (16 S 10th St, Noblesville, IN 46060)
  • Residents can also provide feedback or ask questions by emailing NPT@noblesville.in.us

Because it’s not clear whether space will be made for them to present their plans, preservationists ask anyone interested in hearing about their alternative option to come early before the meetings and they’ll be standing nearby.