Railroad owner talks about rail loop project
Cass, W.Va. – The Pocahontas County Chamber of Commerce hosted a public meeting Thursday evening at the Cass Community Center to inform the public about a proposed recreational railroad project. John Smith, owner of the West Virginia Central Railroad, developed an idea to rebuild railroad tracks from Cass to Durbin and from Durbin to Glady in Randolph County. A 90-mile rail loop through the Monongahela National Forest would be created, connected to Elkins, Belington and Tygart Junction.
Smith, who operates the recreational trains Cheat Mountain Salamander, Durbin Rocket and New Tygart Flyer, says he’s in the process of building consensus for the project.
“Informing everybody, getting everybody’s input and seeing that it’s beneficial to all the counties involved, so our elected officials can work on this – so, it’s basically a consensus of opinion that this will improve the economy of the area,” he said.
Smith said the project would bring an additional 150,000 tourists to the region in the first year and boost the local economies by $50,000,000 every year, pending economic study results.State delegate Bill Hartman describes the economic impact of bringing Smith’s excursion trains into downtown Elkins.
“You saw in the presentation about the railroad bridge,” he said. “That was the key to the whole thing – when we could get the train back in the yard in Elkins. From there, we have two new motels. We have two theaters now. We have the railroad restaurant. A lot of excitement and a lot of new people in downtown Elkins. It’s being revitalized because of all the folks that are down there now and it’s exciting for local people, too.”
Smith says National Forest managers have been supportive of the project.
“It’s working out with the National Forest,” he said. “Maybe a few right-of-way issues that we can deal with and any other private property issues have already been talked about and everybody’s onboard.”
“I think the Forest Service – the people that are there now – they’re very attuned to local economic development and best use of the assets that are available. So, they’ve been 100-percent positive and very cooperative, to the extent that they’d like to see this project move forward.”
Phase One of the project would re-establish the rail line between Durbin and Cass. Phase Two would involve removal of tracks between Snowshoe and Bergoo and construction of a rail trail in its place. The recycled track would then be used to connect Durbin and Glady, using an existing Western Maryland Railway roadbed. Phase Three would begin tourist rail operations on the new lop and tie in new and existing rail trails. Smith estimates the project will cost $24 million.
Hartman says project funding has support at the state level.
“It would have to be a bond issue by the State of West Virginia,” he said. “I know we have the support of the Governor’s Office. He’s very interested in it. We have to investigate that bonding authority and the funding source. I think it can – we just did $20 million for Cacapon State Park. We’re doing almost that much at Canaan Valley State Park in new lodges. So, I think people realize the importance of tourism.”
Bruce Elliot, board member with the Baltimore and Ohio Historical Society, says the rail loop would rival tourist trains in the Western U.S.
“I think it’s going to rival what thay have out in Colorado and perhaps even exceed it,” he said. “Lord knows, this community could definitely use that.”
See alleghenymountainradio.org for slides from Thursday’s public meeting.