DOT denies Slaty Fork rail money
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) denied a West Virginia State Rail Authority (SRA) request for more than $20 million of economic stimulus funds to upgrade a 13-mile stretch of rail line between Spruce and Slaty Fork.
The DOT announced a list of funded projects on February 17, which did not include the Slaty Fork rail upgrade project. On February 25, SRA executive director Cindy Butler confirmed the funding had been denied.
The SRA requested the stimulus money to upgrade and reopen the line from Slaty Fork to points further north in order to generate regional economic development. The 13-mile rail line has been dormant since 1994, when CSX stopped using it. The agency purchased the line in 1997, with the prospect of reopening it to further regional economic development.
The SRA had developed a preliminary agreement with Waco Oil and Gas, Inc., a Glenville company, in the event the money was approved. Under the agreement, Waco would have invested more than $8 million to upgrade a limestone quarry at Linwood and rail loading facilities at Slaty Fork and Tygart Junction in Barbour County.
A potential problem with the project was the amount of guaranteed rail traffic required by the SRA. Butler said the SRA needed 10,000 train car loads per year before committing the $20 million for the rail upgrade, if the funding became available.
In January, Waco president Ike Morris said that amount of traffic would be hard to generate with just the Linwood limestone quarry.
"This rail has got to be used by a lot of things," he said. "It would be hard to open it up for just stone."
The plans to reopen and expand the quarry were opposed by the Snowshoe Property Owners Council (SPOC) and Eight Rivers Safe Development, LLC.
SPOC argued an expanded quarry and associated activity would devalue their property and ruin the area's tourist industry. Eight Rivers claimed an expanded quarry posed an "unreasonable risk" to the fragile ecosystem of the Upper Elk River.
During the early 1900s, the rail line connecting Spruce, Slaty Fork and Bergoo carried millions of tons of lumber, pulp and coal across Cheat Mountain at the "Big Cut," the highest "mainline" trackage east of the Mississippi River.
The DOT funded 51 projects nationwide with Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grants, only two of which directly affect West Virginia.
The National Gateway Freight Rail Corridor Project received $183,000,000. The project will improve rail capabilities and increase rail capacity along a corridor from Northwest Ohio through Pennsylvania, Northern West Virginia and Maryland on rail lines owned and operated by CSX.
The Appalachian Regional Short-Line Rail Project received $17,551,028 and will improve the infrastructure on five lines of R.J. Corman Group's short line railroads operating primarily in Kentucky, but also in Tennessee and West Virginia.