West Virginia leaders in Washington D.C. are working to preserve a multi-million dollar industry in the mountain state.
Private trains offer trips to D.C., New York and also run the annual fall foliage or “Leaf Train” trip to Hinton. Amtrak recently made the decision to end these programs by no longer allowing private cars to hookup to their trains. But now state leaders are intervening.
This is a trick subject for lawmakers. Amtrak is a private company, and our Senators and Congressmen don’t want to tell them how to run their operation. But Amtrak also receives a lot of federal funding, especially for repairing rail lines and replacing equipment. The decision to no longer permit private rail cars to connect to Amtrak trains could be a big economic hit for the mountain state.
Amtrak runs through Huntington each day, but the company says it can’t afford to wait for private rail cars to hookup every time it stops at the station. Rail car owners argue it takes just 15 minutes to connect, and Amtrak is paid, per mile, for pulling the cars. So Congressman Evan Jenkins, along with Senator Joe Manchin and Senator Shelley Moore Capito set up a meeting with Amtrak to work out a solution.
“As somebody who has grown up in Huntington, while I’m a little older then how long the Leaf Train and Hinton Days have been going on, I know how important tourism is, how beautiful in the fall with the leaf change, people come from literally all over the world,” Congressman Jenkins told 13 News.
Jenkins says these train rides are economic drivers and a part of West Virginia’s culture. He says Amtrak’s CEO is committed to at least saving the fall train rides.
“We are excited about the commitment from Amtrak, now we’ve got to keep their feet to the fire, we have to make sure they honor their promise to keep the Railroad Days, the Leaf Train, going out of Huntington because it’s literally hundreds and hundreds come each fall,” Congressman Jenkins explained.
Senator Manchin says losing the New River train alone would take $5-million out of the state economy. So he spoke with Amtrak’s CEO directly.
“Richard says ‘Joe, I’ve got to run a railroad.’ I said, ‘But Shelly and I have to keep a state running too, we have to keep it open.’ And these little towns are depending on us,” Senator Manchin said in a Senate Appropriations hearing.
Senator Capito hosted railway stakeholders in her office, saying small West Virginia towns rely on industries like this. She had this to say about the meeting:
“My staff and I have been working diligently with Amtrak and the state to find a solution to this issue. Yesterday, I met with Hinton officials and the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society to discuss this issue and the importance of Hinton Railroad Days – not only because it’s a longstanding tradition in West Virginia, but also because it plays an important role in our state’s economy. I have and will continue to make sure Amtrak knows how important this service is to the community, our economy, and the entire state of West Virginia.”
“This is the lifeblood for some of these people. We have the Collins B. Huntington Railroad Historical Society, which is very dependent upon that,” Senator Manchin said.
Both Senators Manchin and Capito sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Congressman Jenkins sits on the House Appropriations Committee. So they control the approximately $1-billion Amtrak gets from the federal government each year. They hope Amtrak and the Huntington Rail Association can come to a solution by working together, but they’re wiling to use the power of the purse if necessary.