Smith presents rail trail excursion at Chamber After Hours
Trains were on the brains of those in attendance at the Pocahontas County Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours in Cass last Thursday, not just because they were at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, but because Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad owner John Smith presented his plan for the Highland Adventure of Mountain and Rails.
Smithﾒs plan, which he unveiled in February, is a combination of railroad and rail trails to create a 90-mile loop connecting six counties through trains and trails. The loop will connect Tucker, Barbour, Randolph, Pocahontas, Webster and Greenbrier counties, with the possibility of more as the loop develops.
ﾓWe think the most unique aspect of this is when weﾒre done with the whole program, you would have this 90-mile circle or loop of rails that would basically start at Cass, go up to Spruce, down to past the High Falls area to Glady, Durbin and then back to Cass. That makes a really unique situation,ﾔ Smith said.
Three trains ﾖﾠCass Scenic Railroad, The Durbin Rocket and The Salamander ﾖ would be the trains used to make the circle.
ﾓWe feel like the railroads can have a bigger impact, especially if we connect them with the trail,ﾔ Smith said.
Included in the circle will be four rail trails, the Allegheny Highland Trail that begins in Elkins and goes to Thomas and Canaan Valley in Tucker County; the West Fork Trail at Glady; the Greenbrier River Trail; and a new trail that will be constructed between Slaty Fork and Bergoo.
ﾓRight now, we have this track that goes all the way down to Bergoo,ﾔ Smith said. ﾓWhat we propose to do is take this track up, then we would go up here to Glady and between Glady and Durbin where the Western Maryland Railroad is, we would put that track back down in a 26 mile segment. Utilizing the rail that is there, we could make this loop. This then would become a rail trail which would connect Bergoo in Webster County with Pocahontas County.ﾔ
The purpose of the loop is to promote tourism in the six counties as well as the entire state. Instead of coming just to Cass and spending a weekend, a family or group of friends could travel from Cass to Elkins and back on three separate trains.
DGVRR Dispatcher and Historian Lars Byrne explained that the train industry is seeing more of a push in ﾓeventﾔ train rides instead of the typical Point A to Point B back to Point A rides.
ﾓPolar Express told us that we have to get away from the mentality of train rides and to offering some kind of entertainment value using trains or trails or some of the assets we have,ﾔ he said.
Byrne added that when the Tygart Flyer offered the Polar Express excursion from Elkins to Belington (The North Pole), people ﾓcame from everywhere to ride.ﾔ
Connecting the trains and trails opens up opportunities to include more outdoor enthusiasts in riding the trains. Smith explained that all the trains will be equipped with racks for bicycles and kayaks for those wanting to ride a rail trail or the river as part of their excursion package.
ﾓWhat you have here is probably the most unique tourist rail excursion around,ﾔ Smith said. ﾓWhat makes this really cool is we can stop being at odds with rail trail users and make this the most unique rail trail network in the world.ﾔ
In order to keep the trails clean and functioning, Smith said a portion of all ticket sales will be put in an account specifically for the trails. He explained that the Forest Service, which usually maintains the West Fork Trail, has given permission to DGVRR to take over the maintenance for the trail.
With the expansion of tourist attractions, the loop will also expand the need for lodging, restaurants and other business in the area, adding the economic development of the county.
Smith said he considers the project ﾓshovel-ready,ﾔ and is in the phase of becoming a detailed plan. Of course, everything boils down to money, something Smith is looking for now.
ﾓIt will take about $24 or $25 million to complete the project,ﾔ he said.
Smith said legislators in the six counties as well as the Forest Service are assisting in finding funding for the project. Once the funding is secure, the project will be put out to bid in three stages and Smith hopes to use as many local contractors as possible.
ﾓHopefully funding will come in this time next year and the project will be finished this time in 2015,ﾔ he said.
Phase I: Durbin to Cass. Upgrade the current active track between Durbin and MP 90.5 and repair flood damaged track from that point southward to Cass. Goal is to re-establish a functioning rail connection between Durbin and Cass by repairing the 150 mile segment of West Virginia State Railroad Authority owned rail.
Phase II: Elkins to Durbin. First remove the existing tracks between Snowshoe and Bergoo, creating a new 30-mile long rail/trail effectively connecting Pocahontas and Webster counties. Those same tracks will be used to construct 26 miles of rail line starting at MP 48.5 on the West Virginia Central Railroad and continuing to Durbin utilizing the existing Western Maryland Railway roadbed. The West Fork Trail will be realigned to be parallel to the tracks and current right-of-ways to private and public lands will be made accessible.
Phase III: The most unique tourist train excursion network and rail trail in the world. Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad and Cass Scenic Railroad State Park will be connected at two locations, Cass and Old Spruce.