NEW HAVEN, Indiana – The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, Inc (FWRHS) is moving to replace major components of historic steam locomotive no. 765 and take on a variety of other projects in 2016 after another successful year of operations. Read More
FORT WAYNE, INDIANA – The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, Inc. (FWRHS) marks the beginning of its 2015 excursion season with an inaugural trip out of Fort Wayne and news of a major donation toward making a combined railroad and riverfront attraction a reality.
Steel Dynamics has donated $15,000 toward a marketing and feasibility study for Headwaters Junction, a lauded attraction concept designated as a critical component of Phase 1 of the riverfront plan. The total cost of the $70,000 study and development work is anticipated to be covered by grants and private donations.
Headwaters Junction would prominently feature the Society’s popular attractions, annual events, programming, excursion trains, and an interpretive facility and is estimated to attract between 100-200,000 additional visitors to downtown Fort Wayne each year.
“We are very grateful to Steel Dynamics for helping us kick off the project,” said Kelly Lynch, Communications Director. “The community has steadily come to understand the worldwide appeal of the 765 and its operations. Having this train is a lot like having one of the last living dinosaurs and the Polar Express all wrapped up into one.”
SWA Group, a landscape and architecture firm, consulted with the city throughout 2014 to develop a viable riverfront plan. Early in 2015, SWA Group proclaimed that Headwaters Junction has the potential activate the neighborhood and riverfront area in an authentic and catalytic way. More information on the project is available at headwatersjunction.org.
On July 18th and 19th, historic steam locomotive No. 765 will operate two round-trips between Fort Wayne and Lafayette, Indiana in a repeat of its successful trips from 2013, which sold out in less than 2 hours. The round-trips feature a variety of accommodations aboard passenger cars from the turn of the century, including the Dover Harbor, a 1920s car complete with its own wait-staff, kitchen, and meals served throughout the day. Tickets are on sale now at fortwaynerailroad.org.
The Society has recently added additional tickets for its reincarnation of the Wabash Cannonball, a famous passenger train that operated between St. Louis, Fort Wayne, and Detroit.
The Fort Wayne trips mark the beginning of a busy year that will see No. 765 operate in Youngstown, Ohio, Allentown and Scranton, Pennsylvania, Buffalo, New York, and the Cleveland-Akron region. Passengers routinely travel from all 50 states and travel internationally to experience the vintage steam locomotive and train.
On February 4th, the City of Fort Wayne and its consultant SWA Group revealed the master plan for the 700 acres of downtown riverfront. As part of the first phase of enhancements, SWA has recommended the inclusion of Headwaters Junction, a railroad tourist attraction featuring the collection and operations of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society (FWRHS), including historic steam locomotive no. 765.
“We believe that Headwaters Junction would be a catalyst for the riverfront and activate the entire area with the draw of this famous train. People come from all around the world to experience the 765 and now they’ll able to do it along the riverfront,” said Todd Meyer, Director of Planning and Urban Design for SWA.
The inclusion of Headwaters Junction follows several years of planning and community input, wherein Headwaters Junction was endorsed by Legacy Fort Wayne as “big, bold, and transformational.” The plan has consistently ranked highly among the community since 2011 and was recently included among the top ten riverfront improvement priorities.
Initial plans call for Headwaters Junction to include a recreated roundhouse, a once-common structure in Fort Wayne that served many of the community’s railroads. The roundhouse would be used for restoring and maintaining historic equipment and include a turntable, small railroad yard, and interpretive facility for display and exhibition, as well as a mixed use venue for private and public events. Visitors will be able to take rides, tour the facilities and participate in hands-on activities, and even operate real-life trains. Additionally, educational outreach programs targeting young adults would be offered, allowing high school students the opportunity to learn welding and preservation skills, as well as experience working on a railroad.
“The 765 and the railroad tourism industry provides a very unique kind of emotional experience for visitors and passengers. Trains are a romantic, sensory attraction,” said Kelly Lynch, Communications Director for the Railroad Historical Society. “We are thrilled that SWA and the City of Fort Wayne have recognized the potential in these incredible community assets breathing life to the riverfront.”
“For the same reason that you don’t need to be a sports fan to enjoy a night at Parkview Field, you don’t necessarily need to be a lover of history or trains to enjoy the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of Headwaters Junction,” said Lynch.
The Railroad Historical Society would utilize Headwaters Junction to expand its present operations, events, and annual programming. An adjoining railroad right-of-way would be reactivated for tourist train service with annual programming that would include events like dinner trains, the Polar Express and others throughout the year. Additional images, videos, renderings, and information are available at headwatersjunction.com.
Regional excursions behind the 765 could depart from the location at Harrison Street. The attraction would also house other historic railroad locomotives and equipment, including another steam locomotive, which are conceived to also operate on the railroad line.
Early estimates see at minimum 100,000 additional visitors downtown and an estimated economic impact of 9 million dollars from operations and out-of-town visitors each year. Comparable attractions earn anywhere from 100,00 – 400,000 visitors each year.
Total cost for the entire riverfront plan is estimated at 200 million dollars, with projections for the construction of Headwaters Junction ranging between 10-20 million depending on its final scope.
Headwaters Junction and the riverfront project as a whole will require significant public-private partnerships. As of this writing, the Society is exploring opportunities with potential corporate sponsors. In the past, the organization has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the restoration and maintenance of railroad equipment like no. 765 through donations, grants, and strategic partnerships.
Recently, the organization’s annual Santa Train operations hosted 3,500 passengers in 16 hours. The Society’s excursions behind no. 765 are often filled to capacity, with its 2013 trips out of Fort Wayne selling out in less than two hours. During the 2014 Three Rivers Festival, no. 765 brought several thousand passengers from Detroit to Fort Wayne. Among the riders were passengers from South America, England, Canada, Texas, and California.
In recent years, the 765 has been the centerpiece at events that have drawn crowds of up to 40,000 people. Currently, Norfolk Southern Corp., and the Society partner regularly to operate passenger excursions and employee appreciation trains throughout the railroad’s 22,000 mile system.
The Society plans to pursue a dedicated feasibility study for the project in 2015 and plans to announce its excursions season with no. 765 sometime this spring.
The renderings featured below are conceptual in nature and provided for conversation and illustration.
Final scope, arrangement, placement, and neighboring structures are to be determined.
The Journal Gazette’s columnist Frank Gray writes in this September 7th piece:
“I wondered, though, how did ticket sales go for the October trips for the city? Usually, tickets for the train’s excursions sell out in a couple of days.
Well, in Fort http://www.snortrescue.org/buy/ Wayne, tickets went on sale Sunday and sold out in an hour and a half.
Four hundred people are on a waiting list if more cars are added to the train. Passengers include people from as far away as Florida, Texas and New Jersey. Right now, there’s some talk of running excursions to Chicago and other cities next year.
One inconvenient aspect, though, is that there is no suitable boarding spot in Fort Wayne. For the October excursions, for example, passengers will have to board at the Do it Best headquarters between Fort Wayne and New Haven.
There is a push to establish a home for the train near downtown Fort Wayne, possibly using some of the Legacy money. The train would have access to all possible routes.
The train, after all, is permitted to use all 22,000 miles of Norfolk-Southern track.
The problem is that creating a new base for the train would be expensive, upward of $15 million.
Fort Wayne is always looking for new ideas that will draw people into the city and get them to stay in the hotels and eat in the restaurants and see the sights.
This train is unique, and it’s proved its ability to draw crowds.
“We have an amazing zoo,” Lynch said. The train, he said, is like having the last tyrannosaurus rex and no zoo to put it in.
No. 765 is a rolling Hollywood production, creating, as Walt Disney called it, â€œa happeningâ€ in every town it travels through. This is no ordinary history lesson. It’s an icon of Midwest industry and innovation. It is Fort Wayne incarnate.
Few cities can claim they have their own train, let alone one with a proven, 30-year following. No. 765 experienced 50,000 visitors from all 50 states and five countries in 16 days alone in 2011. The engine traveled more than 3,000 miles in 2012, where up to 3,000 people daily enjoyed the sights and sounds of our rocket ship on wheels.
But how can the success of this people-magnet help Fort Wayne?
Enter Headwaters Junction, an idea that has been endorsed and supported by a number of neighborhood and civic organizations for several years, thanks in no small part to the power of the train.
Recognized by the Legacy Fort Wayne initiative as a plan with â€œcommunity support and catalytic potential,â€ Headwaters Junction is an effort to make mixed-use development along our riverfront unique, entertaining, educational and vibrant with the train.
Saturday’s News Sentinel features an editorial highlighting Headwaters Junction. Click here to read it.
FORT WAYNE, INDIANA – Legacy Fort Wayne, a program of community investment started by Mayor Tom Henry, released its official recommendation for the initial use of up to $20 million in Legacy funds, naming the Headwaters Junction proposal as “big, bold, and transformative” and an idea that â€œshould not be overlooked when developing a vision for our riverfront.” Community officials submitted their recommendations to city council, which approved funding for a riverfront wide feasibility study in December.
Headwaters Junction is a mixed use gateway and downtown attraction concept combining river, rail, and trail development on what is known locally as the North River property and the surrounding areas. Key to the enterprise is city steam locomotive no. 765, at one time a city monument on display in Lawton Park that was restored to operation in 1979 after being preserved by the City of Fort Wayne in 1963.
Headwaters Junction proposes including the train, which experiences anywhere from 900-3,000 people a day when it operates, as part of an attraction with annual programming and events that include dinner and tourist trains operating between area attractions and on regional excursions. In addition, the proposal suggests construction of a multi-use interpretive center that includes park and green space, mixed use components, and a for-profit short line railroad that serves area businesses. The Junction would provide the the anchor to commercial, educational, and recreational actives near downtown, tying into river and trail development, and create the â€œvibrant, regional attractionâ€ recommended by 2007â€™s North River Now and 2005â€™s BluePrint Plus community plans.