At its regular meeting Thursday, the West Virginia State Rail Authority voted to accept a lease of the railroad assets of the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. The 10-year agreement will transfer control from the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources on Nov. 24 and includes a 10-year renewal option.
Even though the assets will be leased to Authority and operated by Durbin & Greenbrier Valley, the operation will continue to use the Cass Scenic Railroad name in advertising and marketing.
Earlier, the Authority agreed in principle to extend the scope of the current Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad operating agreement to cover the 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 tells Trains News Wire. “The combined operations will offer numerous trip options of interest to a wider demographic with the goal of increased ridership and customer satisfaction.”
“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,” Mountain State Railroad & Logging Historical Association President Paul Rujak says. “We are very confident our Climax restoration project will continue unchanged, along with our annual trips such as Cass Railfan Weekend.”
Plans are in place for Durbin & Greenbrier Valley and Cass Scenic trains to coordinate schedules to allow patrons to ride two trains with overnight stays at Cass and Elkins. Riders can overnight in Cass, ride the Cass Scenic to Spruce and a connection with the WVC Cheat Mountain Salamander, overnight in Elkins, and then return by the same route to Cass.
In 2012, during a presentation to the West Virginia State Tourism Commission, Smith outlined a plan to create a 90-mile rail excursion loop using both West Virginia Central and Cass Scenic Railroad track. This agreement is the first step toward achieving that goal, which will also involve relaying track from Cass to Durbin along the Greenbrier River, and from Durbin to Bemis along the route of today’s West Fork Rail Trail.
The state of 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. From just two operable Shay locomotives and 4 miles of track, the railroad has grown to include roster of 10 locomotives, eight Shays, one Heisler, and one Climax, operating 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. The Cass Scenic celebrated 50 years of operation in 2013. For more information on the Cass Scenic, see the August 2013 issue of Trains Magazine.
Onetime long-distance trucker John Smith started the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad in 1996 with his wife and business partner Kathy. At first, they operated a tiny 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, they and a cadre of loyal volunteers had extended the track an additional 3 miles toward Cass and, 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, at first, an experimental Leyland railbus and, later, a reproduction Edwards railcar. Since then, they’ve purchased a 35-ton Climax geared locomotive for the Durbin Rocket and expanded their rail offerings to include diesel-powered excursions over the entire length of the railroad. The Smith’s have actively marketed freight traffic, and even operate a Virginia short line, The Shenandoah Valley Railroad. For more information on John Smith and the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley, see the May 2007 issue of Trains Magazine.