The Barbour County Chamber of Commerce this week heard proposed railroad expansion plans for the West Virginia Central Railroad that could bring many economic opportunities to the eastern part of the state.
"There isn't anything like this in the entire world. We think that uniqueness will broaden its appeal," said John Smith, president and chief executive officer of the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad.
Smith and Lars Byrne, dispatcher and historian for the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad, gave a presentation to the Chamber and members of the public in attendance about the expansion project.
"We targeted six counties, but it goes bigger than that. It's opportunity," said Byrne. Those six counties are Randolph, Barbour, Tucker, Pocahontas, Greenbrier and Webster.
The project would add 60 miles of new rail trail, creating the Highland Adventure of Mountain & Rail, a 90-mile loop connecting Canaan Valley in Tucker County with The Greenbrier Resort, and Belington with Cass Scenic Railroad in Pocohantas County, Bergoo in Webster County and Snowshoe Resort.
"The goal is to have the trains load and unload in Belington," said Smith.
There could be economic benefits to all counties involved, combining recreation with transportation. Those with canoes, for instance, could go canoeing at one location, board a train, and canoe at another location in the same day.
"We think (the rail project) will open many new opportunities because of this plan," said Byrne.
The Highland Adventure of Mountain & Rail could result in the expansion of existing recreational opportunities in the area as well as provide an opportunity for others.
The project would cost about $20 million and is expected to attract 150,000 tourists in its first year, bringing a $50 million economic impact. In 2011, Smith's railroad had 35,998 passengers.
"With the new rail system, even West Virginia residents will have more places to go," said Byrne.
Many of the trains will travel through scenic areas of the state and provide the opportunity for many to merge their train rides with other recreational activities such as rafting, camping, hiking and more.
"We want to combine these rail excursions with overnight stays," said Smith.
The project could create the ability for a partnership between buses, hotels, theaters, Snowshoe Resort, Canaan Valley, Slatyfork and more.
The 90-mile excursion could be used by eight local trains departing from eight different cities and towns. It would feature 30 departures per day. Tourists and locals alike could ride a train to one destination and then a different train in return or to another location.
The Highland Adventure loop would run on existing West Virginia Central Railroad tracks, owned by the state.
Those eight trains would include the four currently in operation by Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad, two trains operated by Cass Scenic Railroad, a steam train from Beverly to Elkins, and a train from Cass to Elkins and back. Three different rides will span the whole route.
"People will come from all over the world, we think," said Byrne.
Call 1-877-686-7245 for more information about the railroad and the project.