Saving a Railroad, Part II
Twelve years ago, the Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum first saved the railroad connecting North Judson with the rest of the North American rail network. Once again, we are forced to preserve our interests. The best way we can tell our story is with the facts. You can agree to disagree on as many levels as you like, but the facts will remain the same.
We will be adding to this page as the situation develops. In the meantime, please feel free to contribute to our GoFundMe campaign to help pay for our legal expenses.
Statement from the Museum
Below is a statement published in our April 2016 newsletter:
Over the last several months, the museum has been embroiled in a situation that may have long-lasting negative impacts on our efforts to fulfill our mission. The museum successfully spearheaded an effort to preserve the 33-mile rail corridor along the remaining portion of the Chesapeake & Ohio’s Wabash Subdivision back in 2004. The entire story about the efforts of the museum can be read on our website at hoosiervalley.org/fullstory that shows just how involved the museum has been.
It has always been the explicit intent of the museum to make sure that rail line stays open. HVRM Secretary Mark Knebel wrote to the Surface Transportation Board on December 10, 2003, stating, “Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum has the abilities and desire to establish a tourist train operation over a segment of the railroad line, but most important is the desire to see a ‘railroad’ connection to the outside world remain a viable option.”
Over the next several months, the museum worked hard to bring local politicians, government agencies and shippers together in an effort to save the railroad. Those efforts were ultimately successful and the rail corridor was purchased using Federal Highway Administration funds administered by the Indiana Department of Transportation with one clear stipulation:
“Purchase of the rail line to maintain a rail corridor for railway excursions from the transportation museum (HVRM). Additional freight activities will not be allowed to operate to the detriment of the historical railway museum located in North Judson and its railway excursions. Any income derived from use of the tracks purchased under this agreement shall be used for maintenance and operation of the tracks and to the benefit of the transportation railroad museum.”
Unfortunately, we feel that the spirit of the original agreement has fallen by the wayside. There are those who would seek to extinguish our museum’s ability to operate our trains through a series of hostile actions. The original partnership that the museum forged in the beginning to save the railroad has now been trumped by more self-serving commercial interests that are focused on keeping our trains off the tracks.
We cannot and will not sit idly by while everything we have worked for is stripped away. HVRM has invested a great deal of money, materials and volunteer hours to make sure that the railroad stays open.
As a result, the HVRM membership approved a resolution last May to support the Town of North Judson in their search for a more responsible shortline operator. Unfortunately, the situation had degraded to the point where we have genuine concerns.
The fate of the museum may now be determined by a mix of government bureaucrats that have a skewed perspective of the situation. This is thanks to the less-than-accurate story being told to them by attorneys for those self-serving commercial interests mentioned earlier. That is why the museum has opted to hire our own legal counsel and why we have chosen to fight.
Throughout this process, there have been a number of accusations made in regards to this matter in various public forums and STB filings. Let us set the record straight on several points:
- The museum does not advocate the abandonment of any portion of the railroad.
- It is not the intent of the museum to become a common carrier and take over the operations of the shortline.
- Our tourist operations do not adversely affect the movement of freight trains over the shortline railroad.
- We have always encouraged economic development that would bring additional businesses and increased freight traffic onto the railroad.
HVRM would like nothing more than to partner with a responsible shortline operator. We feel that a strong working relationship between all involved parties is necessary for the future success of the railroad. However, given the current climate, this seems to be a distant possibility.
Over the last several years, we have experienced first-hand what happens when certain parties decide to create an adversarial situation. This situation has produced a negative financial impact on the museum with lost revenue opportunities and increased insurance premiums. Since 2006, the museum has carried 42,670 passengers over the former C&O rail corridor, fulfilling our promise to educate the public about the railroad’s historical significance. It is our duty to continue this vital educational initiative and we will not be swayed into giving up.
The Town of North Judson filed an "Adverse Discontinuance of Service" with the Surface Transportation Board on April 16, 2015 to replace the current operator with another rail operator. You can read all of the filings by searching the STB website for Docket #AB_1232_0.
All filings with the STB are public record.
Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum Suspends LaCrosse Trips Amid Legal Dispute
May 11, 2016 - The Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum has canceled all of its excursions to LaCrosse until further notice. The museum blames the cancellations on an ongoing legal dispute over control of the railroad line. It’s owned by the Town of North Judson and operated by the Chesapeake & Indiana Railroad.
North Judson Extends Agreement with Railroad Operator, Challenges Remain for Museum Trains
May 13, 2016 - The Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum’s excursions to LaCrosse will likely remain suspended for at least the next few months. The North Judson Town Council voted Thursday to extend an agreement with the Chesapeake and Indiana Railroad, the operator of the line.
North Judson Preparing for Railroad Lease
June 2, 2016 - The Town of North Judson is looking to move ahead with efforts to lease its railroad. The town council will meet in special session this evening to decide whether to proceed with publishing a request for proposals.
North Judson Officials Approve Railroad Lease RFP
June 3, 2016 - The Town of North Judson hopes to have a new lease in place for their short line railroad by the end of September. During a brief special session last night the council approved a request for proposals to lease the line.
INDOT Calls for Railroad Museum Excursions to Resume
June 7, 2016 - The Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum’s efforts to resume train trips to LaCrosse appear to have gotten a boost from the Indiana Department of Transportation. In a letter dated June 1, attorneys representing INDOT in the matter say there’s plenty of room on the track for all users, including freight customers and museum excursions.
Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum Turns to Public to Cover Legal Fees
June 28, 2016 - As the Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum continues its efforts to resume excursions to LaCrosse, it’s asking the public for help covering its legal fees. The museum believes the restriction of its trains is a violation of the terms of an INDOT grant the Town of North Judson received in 2004 to purchase the line.
North Judson Narrows List of Potential Railroad Operators
July 12, 2016 - The Town of North Judson is moving closer to finding a company to lease its short line railroad. Eleven potential operators expressed interest in leasing the line. Clerk-Treasurer Alicia Collins says the town has now narrowed that list down to two, to proceed in the negotiating process.
Potential North Judson Railroad Operators Revealed
July 15, 2016 - More information has been revealed about the potential operators of the short line railroad owned by the Town of North Judson. Clerk-Treasurer Alicia Collins says Lake State Railway and NIWX are the two companies under consideration by the town to lease the line.
North Judson Nears Decision on Railroad Operator
July 21, 2016 - The Town of North Judson is expected to choose an operator for its short line railroad in the near future, possibly as soon as tonight. The town council will meet in executive session this evening to discuss the lease proposals with Town Attorney Rachel Arndt.
Lake State Railway Selected to Lease North Judson's Railroad
July 21, 2016 - The Town of North Judson has selected Lake State Railway to lease its short line railroad. The town council unanimously made the decision during a special meeting Thursday.
Public Hearing Scheduled for North Judson Railroad Lease
August 11, 2016 - Members of the public will have the chance to offer their input on the lease of North Judson’s short-line railroad. Last month, the town council selected Lake State Railway to lease the line. Tonight, the town’s holding a public hearing on the lease at 6:30 at North Judson Town Hall.
North Judson Railroad Lease Discussed
August 12, 2016 - More details have been revealed in the planned lease of North Judson’s short line railroad. Last month, the town council selected Lake State Railway to lease and operate the line. The company currently operates about 300 miles of track in Michigan with headquarters in Saginaw. Lake State representatives were in North Judson Thursday to explain some future plans and answer questions from local residents.
North Judson Making Progress on Railroad Lease Agreement
September 21, 2016 - Meanwhile, Arndt continues working on a lease agreement for the town’s short line railroad. Lake State Railway was selected to lease the railroad back in July. Now, work continues to finalize a formal agreement. One of the main issues in the process is making sure Co-Alliance, the line’s primary freight customer, is satisfied with the arrangement.
Rail Operator Files Suit Against Town of North Judson
October 28, 2016 - The Chesapeake and Indiana Railroad Company has filed suit against the Town of North Judson for what it alleges is several violations of contract, confidentiality, and the law. Company representatives said in a statement on Friday they don’t believe the town government is working in good faith to resolve what they say is more than $1-million in contract obligations owed to the railroad company. The lawsuit filed Friday involves a little more than 30 miles of railroad traveling through Porter, LaPorte, and Starke Counties. It’s also used by the Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum for local tourism activities.
North Judson Denies Wrongdoing in Rail Line Suit
November 1, 2016 - Officials with the Town of North Judson say they do not have a formal response at this time to claims by a former railroad operator that they violated contract, confidentiality, and the law.
North Judson Town Attorney Steps Down
December 12, 2016 - North Judson is looking for a new town attorney. Rachel Arndt has decided not to renew her contract with the town when it expires at the end of the year, citing increasing responsibilities at law firm Peterson Waggoner & Perkins. The change comes as North Judson faces a lawsuit from the former operator of its short line railroad.