Commerce Secretary talks about the discussions surrounding Cass Railroad

Cass Scenic Railroad has been drawing a countless number of tourists to Pocahontas County since it first opened as a state park in June 1963. AMR has learned that recent discussions between the Department of Commerce and the DNR have some listeners concerned about the park’s future.

Keith Burdette was appointed Cabinet Secretary for the Department of Commerce by Governor Tomblin in December 2010. Burdette said there are ongoing discussions about the future of Cass, but they are aimed at preserving the operation, not splintering it.

“Cass is a great venue for the state, we very much support it,” explains Burdette. “We have no plans to close it. There’s no plans to privatize the state park or anything like that, but it loses about $1.4 million a year and has immediate maintenance needs totaling well over $2 million. And that’s a tough road for us, and if we’re going to sustain and keep and allow Cass to be part of our system, we need to see if there’s some ways to advance that.”

A Facebook page,”Save Cass Railroad,” was launched recently and has garnered more than 8,000 “likes.”

“There’s significant misinformation on that page,” points out Burdette. “The semblance of truth is, is that the Department of Commerce, the Division of Natural Resources has been having discussion for much of the last year about how we sustain Cass Railroad.”

Burdette stressed that the inter-agency communication is nothing more than a discussion right now.

“We had been talking with the Greenbrier Valley Rail, about some proposals, but the bottom line is there are just discussions right now,” says Burdette. “There’s no proposal out on the table yet, there’s no bid process, there’s no contract. We’re just trying to explore our options to see what we can do, to do exactly what that FaceBook page wants us to do, and that’s to save Cass Railroad.”

According to Burdette, the state values Cass and wants to ensure its future.

“We want to make sure it’s here for a long, long time,” Burdette says. “And if there’s ways we can partner with other organizations, or other rails, to make that a more successful operation, we think we have a responsibility to do that. So, that’s what we’ve been doing and hopefully we’ll come up with a solution that will protect the operation at Cass for a long, long time.”

Burdette said there shouldn’t be any concern about Cass remaining a mainstay for tourism in Pocahontas County.

“In fact just the opposite,” he says. “Our goal is to sustain the rail and enhance the tourism experience. I think it’s safe to say discussions are ongoing, but the discussions are geared towards making the system stronger, not dismantling it.”

Story By

Angelo Jiordano

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