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.
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 yard.
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.
After funding 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 of WV-related 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 shelved indefinitely.
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.
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!
Check out the website's digital book (E-book), An Atlas To Classic Short Lines, which features system maps and a brief background of 46 different historic railroads.