Posts Tagged ‘West Virginia Central’

Freight Revenue Helped Get Some Tourist Railroads Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

June 16, 2021

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic last year are all too familiar to John Smith, president of the West Virginia-based Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad.

Based in Elkins, West Virginia, the railroad and its subsidiaries carried 84,000 passengers in 2019.

Ridership in 2020 was 22,000. Aside from the D&GV, the carrier also operates the West Virginia Central (former Western Maryland), Cass Scenic Railroad, and Durbin Rocket (former Chesapeake & Ohio Greenbrier River Branch) in West Virginia, and the Shenandoah Valley Railroad (former Norfolk Southern) in Virginia.

Of those carriers, the Cass Scenic carried 14,000 and 8,000 rode the Durbin Rocket.

The New Tygart Flyer and Cheat Mountain Salamander, did not operate in 2020, largely because they use sealed-window passenger cars. The Cass Scenic and Durbin Rocket were able to run because they had open window cars.

Some tourist railroads were able to earn some extra revenue by offering freight service.

That boosted the Shenandoah Valley Railroad in particular. Some tourist railroads in 2020 were able to make money by storing freight cars for Class I railroads and private owners.

Durbin & Greenbrier to Run Cass Scenic

October 24, 2014

The Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad will be taking over operations of the Cass Scenic Railroad later this year, but the West Virginia operation will continue to operate under the Cass Scenic name.

The changeover will occur on Nov. 24 and includes a 10-year lease with an option for renewal for another decade.

The railroad is currently owned and operated by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources. The West Virginia State Rail Authority voted on Thursday to approve the lease. The authority will continue to lease the Cass assets.

The Durbin & Greenbrier will operate all Cass rail operations including the shops, depot, water tower, rolling stock, locomotives, and facilities at Whittaker and Bald Knob.

The Department of Natural Resources will continue to operate the rental units in the town of Cass.

“New events and activities will be added to the current offerings of both organizations to enhance customer experience through coordination of marketing, customer service, and regional partnerships,” Durbin & Greenbrier Valley President John Smith told Trains magazine. “The combined operations will offer numerous trip options of interest to a wider demographic with the goal of increased ridership and customer satisfaction.”

The Cass Scenic will become a division of the West Virginia Central, which is owned by the Durbin & Greenbrier.

The railroad will also work with the Mountain State Railroad & Logging Historical Association to continue preservation efforts at the state park.

“We see this changing of the guard as a new opportunity to expand on existing preservation projects, while working with the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad on innovative ways to strengthen our involvement with personnel and operations,” said Mountain State Railroad & Logging Historical Association President Paul Rujak. “We are very confident our Climax restoration project will continue unchanged, along with our annual trips such as Cass Railfan Weekend.”

Schedules of the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley and Cass Scenic are expected to be coordinated to allow patrons to ride two trains with overnight stays at Cass and Elkins.

Passengers will be able to spend the night in Cass, ride the Cass Scenic to Spruce and a connection with the WVC Cheat Mountain Salamander, spend the night in Elkins, and then return by the same route to Cass.

The lease agreement is the first step toward creating a 90-mile rail excursion loop using West Virginia Central and Cass Scenic Railroad track.

Track will be relaid from Cass to Durbin along the Greenbrier River, and from Durbin to Bemis along the route of the West Fork Rail Trail. West Virginia purchased the former Mower Lumber Company track from scrapper Midwest Raleigh Corp. in 1962, and opened it to the public as the Cass Scenic Railroad in the summer of 1963.

Starting with two operable Shay locomotives and 4 miles of track, the railroad has grown to 10 locomotives, eight Shays of which one is a Heisler and another a Climax

The Cass Scenic operates on more than 11 miles of track, including extensions to Bald Knob, one of the highest peaks in West Virginia, and Spruce, on the West Virginia Central Shavers Fork line. John Smith founded the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad in 1996 with his wife, Kathy.

Operations began with a Whitcomb locomotive, a flat car, and a caboose, known as The Durbin Rocket over 2.2 miles of rehabilitated track along the Greenbrier River south of Durbin.

By summer 1998, the Durbin & Greenbrier had extended the track an additional 3 miles toward Cass.

That same year, the Smiths submitted the successful bid to operate the 132-mile state-owned West Virginia Central, consisting of former Western Maryland and Baltimore & Ohio trackage.

Their initial West Virginia Central route was Elkins-High Falls, the Cheat Mountain Salamander, using an experimental Leyland railbus and then a reproduction Edwards railcar.

Since then, they’ve purchased a 35-ton Climax geared locomotive for the Durbin Rocket and expanded now operate diesel-powered excursions over the length of the railroad.

The Smiths have marketed freight traffic and operate the Virginia short line Shenandoah Valley Railroad.

W.Va. Eyes Possible Cass Partnership

April 18, 2014

Recent news reports have reported that the State of West Virginia is talking with the West Virginia Central about a partnership to operate the Cass Scenic Railroad

The Cass is owned by the state and its infrastructure is located in a state park.

West Virginia Commerce Commissioner Keith Burdette said the discussion are aimed at helping the Cass operate more efficiently as well as secure the future of the park and its iconic steam trains.

The reports surfaced amid rumors that the state would shut down the Cass or sell it to the West Virginia Central. One fan created a Facebook page titled “Save the Cass Railroad.” State and West Virginia Central officials have denied the rumors.

“Nothing’s gone out to bid, there is no contract, and we’re not planning to close the state park,” Division of Commerce Commissioner Keith Burdette told the Charleston Gazette.

John Smith, president of the West Virginia Central, told Trains magazine that claims his company wants to take over Cass and fire its employees is “a bunch of nonsense.”

“The DNR is committed to Cass as a state park,” Smith said. “The railroad is an integral part of it. You could not operate that railroad without the core 20 experienced people who have been there for years.”

Helping spark the discussions are the fact that the Cass park loses about $1.4 million a year. That is money not available to replace ties and perform other maintenance work on the 11-mile railroad.

Although saying that “state parks don’t make money,” Burdette added that “we’re always looking for ways to operate smarter.”

“Maybe there’s a partnership out there that will be good for the state and good for the area,” Burdette said. “If that’s a possibility, it makes sense we’d talk.”

The West Virginia Central operates a trio of tourist trains and has a track connection to the Cass at Spruce. These include the Elkins-based Tygart Flyer, Durbin Rocket” and Cheat Mountain Salamander

Cass equipment has operated over that connection to reach Elkins on the WVC for special events.

In 2012, Smith proposed a 90-mile scenic railroad loop that would include Cass and WVC. Burdette says there have been discussions with Smith about that proposal, but there has been no action by either party.

“If anything does happen from them, I don’t expect it to happen for several more months,” he said. Smith says his interest in Cass is whether a cooperative agreement could be reached on joint ticketing and schedules if the loop concept reaches fruition.