New River Train trips will not run in 2019

February 28, 2019

HUNTINGTON — While there was still some hope that the New River Train might run in 2019, that hope appears to be gone.

Chris Lockwood, the general manager of the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society Inc., the nonprofit organization running the annual New River excursion train, said Wednesday 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 has run trips between the West Virginia cities of 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.

Cabell-Huntington Convention & Visitors Bureau President Tyson Compton says the decision will have a significant tourism impact in the area.

“The New River Train is nationally known and helps shed positive light on West Virginia and everything we have to offer,” Compton said. “The two weekends bring nearly 5,000 visitors into Huntington, with an economic impact of $2.3 million for the city and $5 million to the state.”

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.

Just last week, a meeting with U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s staff, Huntington area state legislators and the state tourism commissioner took place to explore options to secure funding for the 2019 train trips.

Messages seeking comment from those involved in that meeting were not immediately returned.

West Virginia’s U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin also has been working on a solution and wrote a letter to Amtrak’s CEO Richard Anderson expressing concern over Amtrak’s policies. The letter explained the impact of Collis P. Huntington’s closure to West Virginia and urged Amtrak to re-examine its policies.

Manchin issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying he was upset that the train trips have been canceled.

“For more than 50 years, the New River Train has been at the heart of West Virginia’s proud railroading history as the focal point of the Railroad Days Festival. From providing jobs to bringing people from across the country to visit our beautiful state, railroads are still vital to the Mountain State today. That’s why I am saddened to hear that the New River Train has been canceled,” he said. “I have worked and will continue to work with Amtrak and Collis P. Huntington to find a way to continue the New River Train in a way that’s profitable for everyone. I am committed to doing whatever I can, legislatively or otherwise, to save the traditions and communities threatened by Amtrak’s new policies that harm nonprofits like Collis P. Huntington. Together, we can keep West Virginia’s proud railroad history alive.”

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.