Transportation museum denied restraining order against railroad authority

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The Indiana Transportation Museum has been denied in its request for a federal temporary restraining order against the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority.

Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Indiana denied the museum’s petition in a ruling issued Thursday.

The museum sought the order in an attempt to regain use of the Nickel Plate rail line in time to run excursion trains during next month’s Indiana State Fair.

Magnus-Stinson said the museum did not make “an adequate showing under applicable law that a temporary restraining order is warranted.”

The Noblesville-based museum and area officials have been wrestling over the future of the 37-mile railroad for months. Noblesville and Fishers are seeking to convert a section of the rail corridor into a pedestrian trail, but the museum argues the rails should remain and that it should be able to operate trains along it.

The Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, the quasi-government entity that oversees the railroad, terminated its policy-of-use agreement with the museum in March 2016 amid concerns about the not-for-profit’s financial condition and maintenance of the tracks.

That meant the museum had to discontinue its popular State Fair Train and Polar Bear Express rides last year.

The port authority issued a request for proposals for a new operator of the track, and responses were received last month. Several groups submitted responses, including the transportation museum, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Railway Co. of Indianapolis, Hoosier Heritage Railroad Inc. of Fishers and Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad of Arcadia.

The authority had been expected to discuss the proposals Monday night. However, it delayed the discussion until next week.

Museum officials said a restraining order was needed to stop the port authority from destroying the rail tracks, evicting the museum from its home in Forest Park and granting approval to a new track operator through the RFP.

The museum sought an expedited order that would rescind the authority’s suspension of museum trains.

“If successful, the suit could allow the beloved State Fair Train, the Polar Bear Express Train and future excursion trains to run on the Nickel Plate tracks,” the museum said earlier this week.

Magnus-Stinson said the museum did not meet the requirements or follow the procedures necessary to obtain a restraining order.

The museum argued that it would suffer “imminent and irreparable injury if Hoosier Heritage is not restrained from prohibiting it from operating the 2017 State Fair Train.”

But the judge said the ongoing dispute between the parties is at least a year old and should have been addressed through other means instead of with an expedited order that would give Hoosier Heritage no notice or time to argue its case.

“Lack of time to give the other side notice is both disingenuous in this case and invalid,” she said.

The museum filed a tort-claim notice last month against the authority, Noblesville and Fishers. In it, the museum said it lost more than $350,000 in revenue because it couldn't operate the Polar Bear Express. It also says it lost another $150,000 when it was prohibited from operating the Indiana State Fair Train.


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