AP NEWS

Editorial: Demise of New River Train will hurt Amtrak

March 6, 2019

You’ve got to give the guy running Amtrak credit. If he wanted to kill the goodwill his organization has built up over the past 50 years, getting rid of the New River Train was a good way to do it.

Last week, Chris Lockwood, general manager of the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society Inc., the nonprofit organization running the annual New River excursion train, announced that the nation’s last mainline passenger excursion will not run this year.

“A 9.6 percent hike for this year’s train, coupled with Amtrak’s ability to implement new prices and policies with only 60 days’ notice, makes it financially impractical to plan and market the train for 2019,” he said in a news release.

For 52 years, the New River Train had run trips between Huntington and Hinton for two weekends in October. However, in March 2018, Amtrak imposed new restrictions that eliminated special trains like the New River Train and removed Huntington as a station where private cars could access regularly scheduled Amtrak passenger trains.

“As the result of intervention by West Virginia’s senators, the passenger rail company agreed to allow the 2018 special train to run, but increased the cost by $120,000 and imposed additional costly restrictions,” the release said. “Despite selling all the seats for the two October weekends at an increased price, the New River Train operated at a $180,000 loss. In addition, other regularly scheduled trips to Washington and New York had to be canceled since the (Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society) cars could no longer originate from Huntington.”

Lockwood said in a previous report that despite meetings and efforts to find a solution, the financial loss meant the two employees were laid off and the chapter’s offices in Huntington closed. The situation also means Huntington will take a $2.3 million hit in tourism dollars and the state will suffer overall to the tune of $5 million.

In addition, Railroad Days in Hinton, which benefits that area’s nonprofit organizations, relies on the passengers from the train and will be negatively affected, according to the release.

Lockwood added special trains like New River and the movement of private cars behind regularly scheduled Amtrak trains brought about $10 million a year into the federally subsidized passenger railroad.

“In the last nine months, Amtrak officials report they have seen a decrease of 23 percent from private cars,” he said.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson has been cutting costs ever since he took the helm two years ago. Anderson and other Amtrak executives have focused their attention on the profitable high-density urban corridors while allowing long-distance service to fall by the wayside.

It was a sad day for both Huntington and Hinton when the announcement came that this year’s train had been canceled. There’s still time to get things corrected for next year.

Amtrak receives subsidies from Congress to stay in business. Cutting long-distance service and special trains looks good on paper, but in the long run it cannot help but work to the detriment of America’s last remaining large-scale passenger railroad.