Red lights flash side by side as two gates lower from the air in sync to keep vehicles out.
There is a rumble in the distance. The head of the train approaches the tracks and its horn sounds regularly. Suddenly, the train and its wagons arrive at the intersection and move at high speed.
As cars wait at both ends of the road, the train passes – it might take five minutes, it might take 30.
Since the creation of the first railroad in North America in 1827, trains have transported goods and people from one place to another. However, trains do not strictly serve as a means of transport or an inconvenience for commuters.
Trains and railroads connect communities, which is what Big Four Rail Park and its staff hope to do in Muncie.
Last fall, Big Four Rail Park Secretary Braedyn Kelley and President Charlize Jamieson traveled to Fostoria, Ohio to tour a rail park. At first, Jamieson was reluctant about the rail park concept, but after her two-hour visit to Fostoria, she said her skepticism and perspective changed after a startling conversation.
“Are you from around here? Jamieson asked another visitor.
“No, I’m from State College, Pennsylvania,” the man said.
“Well, do you have family here or are you here on business?” Jamieson said.
“No, I’m here to watch the trains,” the man said.
After her conversation with the man, Jamieson saw two other men. One told Jamieson he was from New Jersey and drove to Fostoria to watch the trains while the other told Jamieson he was from Michigan.
“In that little group of people, we had four states represented, sitting there watching the trains,” Jamieson said. “It’s not just about watching the trains, it’s about economics because these people stay there. Fostoria has a motel — they stay in the motel. They have a few restaurants — they eat it in those restaurants. Two guys brought their wives and they shopped at Fostoria stores. Now I’m starting to think about this from a business perspective and from an economic perspective.
While in Fostoria, Jamieson and Kelley not only met travelers, but also members of the local community, including a grandmother and her 8-year-old grandson who described it as “her favorite place where to go”.
Big Four Rail Park was formed in July 2021 to create the first rail fan viewing area in Muncie, one of the few cities in the Midwest to have three active rail lines that intersect in one location: the CSX line Indianapolis, the Norfolk Southern New Castle line and Nova Scotia. District of Frankfurt.
Jamieson said she was relatively new to rail fans and rail parks, but had a background in project management and had several contacts in the community. She hopes to bring organizational structure and analysis to the Big Four Rail Park, but has been fascinated by the loyalty and commitment of the rail community.
“There are people who spend hours online watching live train cams,” Jamieson said. “I found it difficult for me to understand. Then we had the experience at Fostoria, and I can tell you that [the] three hour ride home was completely different because I had the vision. I saw the potential.”
The board meets once a month, but Jamieson said there is daily communication. Although the park has yet to open, Jamieson and Kelley have held four meetings with key stakeholders to discuss the Big Four Rail Park’s dream and goals, including location, which they cannot post until they have received a signed rental agreement from the property owner.
As Secretary, Kelley carries out organizational development for Big Four Rail Park by writing grants and helping the project build its brand. Kelley said November 2021 was a pivotal time in the process, as the IRS accepted her application for 501(c)(3) charitable status.
“It allows us to be able to accept grants from foundations and different agencies,” Kelley said. “That was the key – it was a real turning point.”
Throughout the reunion process, Jamieson said she received a positive reception and excitement from listeners about what this project could do for Muncie.
“Everyone we introduced to came away excited,” Jamieson said. “The hotel is excited because each and every one of them sees how Muncie and their particular entity will benefit. These people aren’t necessarily rail fans themselves, but they are excited about the possibilities Muncie has.
Kelley echoed Jamieson’s message and said he met with Muncie Mayor Dan Ridenour, owner of the downtown Courtyard Marriott and the Arc of Indiana, to pitch ideas and share content. Kelley said Ridenour had a favorable response toward the rail fleet.
“He was really excited because our project coincides with a lot of his administration’s priorities — developing the park space and improving gateways into the community,” Kelley said. “We have a lot of common goals between his administration and the rail fleet.”
Although Jamieson and Kelley said the construction process is several years away, Big Four Rail Park is already fundraising to help fund its plan. They fundraise for attorney fees, basic expenses, website development, and insurance. Proceeds are also required to qualify for matching grant programs available to nonprofits.
A critical part of the current process is getting the message out and expanding the group. Big Four Rail Park lists its annual membership at $40 for adults and $25 for students and seniors.
Jamieson understands that there is a lot to do before any construction begins and realizes that it will be a multi-year effort. However, she has a clear vision in mind.
“It’s not just rails, it’s not just pieces of rail, it’s the vehicle that brings people to Muncie,” Jamieson said. “Muncie has the potential to be the best rail fleet in the country, and that’s what we want to achieve. We want to be the best rail fleet in the United States.
Once built, Big Four Rail Park and its members will have succeeded in bringing a new and unique attraction to Muncie that the community has never seen before.