The West Virginia Central Railroad, aside from the venerable Cass Scenic Railroad with its lovable Shays, is West Virginia's best-known little railroad. Although state-owned and run in conjunction with excursion trains like the New Tygart Flyer, the WVC is also very much a short line operation serving a number of industries around Elkins and Dailey, West Virginia.
The WVC’s lines date back to the Western Maryland Railway, which once
had extensive operations around Elkins and south of the city. At one
time, the WM's activity in the area included serving numerous coal mines
and other local industries connecting its southern hub at Elkins with
the communities of Belington, Durbin, and Webster Springs. Today, the
WVC attempts to continue serving these communities as it can with the
remaining customers still shipping by rail.
WM BL2 #82 and slug #139T perform their daily switching duties at the yard in Hagerstown, Maryland on a cold December 29, 1970.
The WVC itself came to life in
1998 when the State of West Virginia won a long legal battle with CSX to
keep the rails in place between Tygart Junction and Bergoo, West Virginia
(some 130+ miles of railroad) with a right to purchase them, which it
quickly did. After finding an operator in the way of John and Kathy
Smith, owners of the nearby little Durbin & Greenbrier Valley
Railroad and a real knack for running a railroad, the West Virginia Central Railroad has really taken off over the past decade. The railroad’s latest milestone includes moving its headquarters to the
former WM two-story brick station in Elkins, once home to the “Wild
Mary’s" large freight yard which served as both its western terminus as
well as staging operations for the numerous coal branches that once
fanned out around the Elkins area. In the early 1990s CSX, with the
loss of coal mines and traffic in the region moved to close the yard,
ripping up the tracks and removing the bridge that was used to access
The loss of the yard left an empty scar on the downtown area of Elkins
and the removal of the bridge all but ended any chance of rail service
returning to the area. With the WVC taking over rail operations in and
around Elkins this was soon to change. In the early 2000s both the West Virginia
Central and City of Elkins began looking for ways to reuse the old rail
yard. While it was impossible to reuse the entire yard for rail
purposes (it just was not needed) both came up with a dual-use plan
involving both rail and retail and the plan thus far has worked very well.
During the 1960s the WM performed a rebuild program of its first-generation Geeps giving them unique, low (chop) noses as seen here on Chessie System #6402 (originally WM #27) in St. Thomas, Ontario on June 23, 1984.
was secured to rebuild the bridge a dedication ceremony was held in the
late spring of 2006 acknowledging the accomplishment of returning rails
to the yard (currently there are two staging tracks serving the
station). What’s more the West Virginia Railroad Museum also plans to
rebuild the former WM roundhouse to showcase its ever-growing collection
rail equipment, on the exact same spot of the original! Hopefully,
this idea will come to fruition although the museum has announced that
due to funding shortfalls the roundhouse and visitor complex may be
The Western Maryland Railway was once an important eastern carrier,
connecting Baltimore, Maryland with points to west including, in
Maryland, Hagerstown and Cumberland. It reached as far as
Connellsville, Pennsylvania where it connected to the Pittsburgh &
Lake Erie and Pittsburgh & West Virginia (the railroad also served
other Pennsylvania towns including Shippensburg, Gettysburg, and York).
To the south the WM connected to Elkins, West Virginia, a city which
became the railroad's central hub for the coal mines it served in the area (at Durbin it had an interchange with the Chesapeake & Ohio).
As for its place amongst eastern carriers, the WM was part of
the famed "Alphabet Route", which included a number of smaller Class Is
(aside from the WM it included the Nickel Plate Road,
P&WV, W&LE, Reading, Central Railroad of New Jersey, Lehigh
& Hudson River, and New Haven) that gave shippers an alternate route
between Boston and St. Louis/Chicago. These corridors were
predominantly controlled by the B&O, NYC, and PRR, and the Alphabet
Route lines tried very hard to provide top notch service across their
respective routes to gain and retain as many shippers as they could.
The WM's line through the Mountain State was officially known as
the Thomas Subdivision, which connected Cumberland with Elkins and was
originally built by the West Virigina Central & Pittsburgh Railway, a
company sold to the WM in 1905. Today, the state of West Virginia has
the WM's entire lines around Elkins operational except its extension
from Bemis to Webster Springs (in total these lines comprise exactly
132.13 route miles of railroad). Interestingly, this stretch of
out-of-service track, nearly 80 miles in length is the largest part of
the line. Hopefully one day the state will have the funds to restore
the route, although with no current shippers as an incentive it is
unknown when it will actually occur.
Western Maryland F7A #242 sporing the Circus livery and a mate in the older speed lettering await their next assignments at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on June 9, 1972.
Currently, I do not know much about the West Virginia Central's freight
operations, except for a quarry served near Elkins and another shipper
near Dailey. For more information about the West Virginia Central Railroad please click here to visit their official website. The site covers all of their operations, including both their excursion trains as well as available freight services. To the delight of railfans the WVC operates some of the most unique diesel equipment you can find anywhere, including a rare BL2, of original WM heritage. What’s more, the West Virginia
Central currently has its entire roster painted in WM’s original “speed
lettering” livery. All in all,the future certainly looks bright for
this little shortline in West Virginia!