Ride the Rails
Nickel Plate Express Celebrates Grand Opening, Offers Local Train Excursions
Photographer: Ron Wise
Looking to change things up a bit from your normal weekend social routine of dinner and a movie or drinks with friends at the local watering hole? Hop aboard the Nickel Plate Express, which covers 12 miles of historic train track between Atlanta, Indiana and Noblesville and was officially launched on September 15.
Two years ago Tom Hoback, former CEO and founder of the Indiana Rail Road Company, discussed the idea of a non-profit, tourist railroad experience with Brenda Myers, CEO of Hamilton County Tourism, Inc. After Hoback and a group of fellow organizers secured the proper operating agreement with the track’s overseer, the Hamilton County-based Hoosier Heritage Port Authority (HHPA), Hoback began the process of procuring and restoring 1956 Santa Fe El Capitan high-level passenger train cars for the project, which feature two levels and seven-foot windows. The cars originally traveled between Chicago and Los Angeles.
“Tom was very lucky to find these trains,” says Dagne Zupin, Nickel Plate Express communications coordinator. “They were made as two-level trains because airplanes were getting popular back then so railroads felt they needed to have something new and exciting to compete with the airlines. I don’t think anyone but Tom could have secured these trains because he’s so deep into the railroad world and has great connections.”
The Nickel Plate Express, which comprises 12 of the 37 miles of historic track between Tipton and Indy managed by the HHPA, runs from downtown Atlanta to 216th Street in Noblesville and will operate year-round.
“The 12 miles that we’re running on is the part of the 37 miles that’s been restored,” Zupin says. “Twelve miles of track doesn’t sound like a lot, but because a passenger train moves 10 or 12 miles an hour, that 12 miles of track makes for a one-hour-and-15-minute round trip, which is kind of a sweet spot for excursion time.”
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held during the September 15 grand opening, and there are already plenty of themed rides lined up – in October, Express leaders are partnering with Hamilton Heights FFA to offer the Pumpkin Express, which includes a trip to a local pumpkin patch near the Hamilton Heights school. The Ghost Express, for older youths and adults, will run in the evenings and features a tour of Hamilton County’s historic Roads Hotel – said by some to be home to haunted occurrences.
“For the Ghost Express, there’s a spooky story included onboard that pulls from local Noblesville lore,” Zupin explains. “Our full-service bar will be available as well, just in case people need a little liquid courage to get through while listening to the spooky stories.”
The Uncorked Express and Ales & Rails rides will feature drinks from local wineries and breweries respectively, and around Christmas time families can take their kids on a Reindeer Ride with Santa onboard amidst decorative lights adorning the train cars.
The train is also available to be rented out for private events such as company retreats, family reunions and birthday parties. The dining and lounge car has a capacity of 58 and the entire train has a maximum capacity of 200.
“It seems like people are really excited to have a train back in the county because it’s been such a long part of this area’s history,” Zupin adds. “Especially in the northern towns like Arcadia, Atlanta and Cicero where the train hasn’t been here in five or seven years. I think people are excited to see a train finally rolling through again.”
For more info on the Nickel Plate Express and to purchase tickets, visit nickelplateexpress.com or call 317-285-0682.