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RIDE ALONG: Amtrak Changes Policy on Private Rail Cars

Amtrak Changes Policy on Private Rail Cars

HUNTINGTON, WV (WOWK) - You may have taken a ride on Amtrak before, or at least seen it whiz by your town. Sometimes private rail cars pay to hook up on the back of these trains. The cars offer luxury trips and excursions to key destinations in West Virginia, and around the region. But Amtrak is enacting a new policy to no longer allow these cars to connect. 

The "Dearing" has been from Seattle to Miami, taking passengers for a "cruise on wheels" experience. Trips like the New River Gorge Summer Excursion attract folks from all across the country.

"The gorge has been a huge drawing point for our business. And people drive in from all over the country to take that ride with us," Borden Black told 13 News. 

Black said she and the other 250, or so, private rail car owners, have a big impact on local economies. But that will soon stop as Amtrak is no longer allowing private rail cars to hookup with their trains.

"We also employed people in the trades, carpenters, plumbers, electricians. We had an electrician out here yesterday fixing our air conditioning system. So we brought a fair amount of money into the community," Black explained.

The "Dearing" now heads to Savannah, Georgia where Black hopes to connect with another engine company and provide rides in that region.

"We've had a wonderful time, we met great people and we're very sorry to leave, but this has to be our last trip because we won't be able to leave Huntington again," Black added.

But Amtrak gets more than a billion dollars from the federal government each year. So Senator Joe Manchin says he's having a frank conversation with Amtrak's CEO.

"He says we have to run a railroad, and I agree. We're hooking up basically cars that are helping us with the tradition, the culture and economy of West Virginia, especially to the towns of Hinton and Huntington," Senator Manchin said.

Manchin sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and says this decision will be part of the conversation come budget time.

"I'm able to get them to where they come in to justify their expenditures, and when they're looking at those expenditures, and looking at their operations, which we want to look at also, I want to find out how much good does the public get out of this," Manchin added.

Senator Manchin and Borden Black say it's also about the area's rail history- something they hope can be preserved.

Congressman Evan Jenkins and Governor Jim Justice are also getting involved. They've convinced Amtrak to all the New River trains to at least connect for the fall.

Amtrak also says it will may allow cars to hookup at the beginning or end of lines, so the train can still make their trips on-time.

Senator Joe Manchin announced Friday he will bring Amtrak and Collis P. Huntington officials together to discuss a pathway forward to reestablishing service for the New River Train on Tuesday.

“I applaud Amtrak for heeding my calls and agreeing to sit down with Collis P. Huntington to try to work out a solution to reestablish New River Train service," Manchin said.

“Each year, the New River Train travels from Huntington to Hinton for Railroad Days – bringing visitors and economic activity to those communities. Discontinuing the New River Train would have an especially hard-hitting effect in West Virginia, where we pride ourselves on showcasing our beautiful, hospitable state to visitors – and count on tourism to help keep our economy strong. Losing this service would take an estimated $5 million out of West Virginia’s economy. We simply cannot afford that. I will continue doing everything I can to fix this problem," Manchin added.


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