The Durbin & Greenbrier Valley (reporting mark, DGVR) is a tourist railroad based in Durbin, West Virginia. It operates slightly over 5 miles of Chesapeake & Ohio's former Greenbrier Division. Better known as the Durbin Rocket, the train acquired its moniker during the 1990's when the engineer would humorously tell passengers "this train's gonna take off like a rocket," in reference to its slow speeds. The route south of Cass is currently a popular, state-owned recreational corridor known as the Greenbrier River Trail. The first component of John and Kathy Smith's rail operations that now spans multiple states and railroads was launched in 1997. Despite its rural location the D&GV has gained a loyal following; owners John and Katy Smith now also operate the nearby West Virginia Central (which includes 132.4 miles of former Western Maryland trackage north, south, and east of Elkins) and a Virginia short line. For those interested in rail history, the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley features an operating geared steamed locomotive. Most importantly, the D&GV will soon rejoin the national rail network as crews are working to rebuild the washed out right-of-way to Cass. The future looks bright for this tourist railroad!
In reality, the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad (D&GV) is only one component of a growing operation originally launched by the Smiths in 1997 when the D&GV initiated excursions over . 2.2. miles of the Chesapeake & Ohio's former Greenbrier Division, or "Greenbrier Branch." The 14-mile Cass-Durbin segment was originally acquired by the state of West Virginia in 1977 and operated excursions from that time until devastating flooding on November 4-5, 1985 severely damaged the right-of-way. The current active portion includes the former wye at Durbin (where the Western Maryland's old Durbin Branch to Elkins made a connection) and heads south along the Greenbrier River. Following its startup, D&GV volunteers diligently worked to rebuild another 3, a process accomplished by 1998 (the same year in which the West Virginia Central was launched). About a decade later, in 2006, the Smiths won a contract to operate the Shenandoah Valley Railroad, a Virginia-based short line maintaining 20.2 miles between Staunton and Pleasant Valley, Virginia. This railroad interchanges with CSX and Buckingham Branch Railroad in Staunton, and Norfolk Southern in Pleasant Valley.
The Mountain State has long been a staunch rail proponent, dating back to the 1960's when it preserved the former Mower Lumber Company's operations at Cass. In 1978 it became the first state to own and operate a freight railroad when it purchased Baltimore & Ohio's 52.4-mile Petersburg Branch (Green Spring - Romney - Petersburg), operated by new short line startup South Branch Valley Railroad. When the 1985 floods ended excursions north of Cass, operations around Durbin remained dormant for more than a decade. In his article, "Mountain Railroad Empire: The Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad," featured in the May, 2007 issue of Trains Magazine, author Alan Byer notes that John Smith had been interested in West Virginia railroads since he visited Cass as a boy at the age of 12. Originally from Pennsylvania, he moved to West Virginia in 1988 and watched with keen interest the Mountain State's changing, and sadly, declining, railroad landscape during the next 10 years. CSX Transportation was particularly aggressive in abandoning or selling large components of former Western Maryland and Baltimore & Ohio lines in northern West Virginia. In the 1990's it petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to shed its remaining WM trackage. John, and wife Kathy, both attended those abandonment hearings.
While these lines were ultimately saved by the State Rail Authority, the agency announced the rails between Durbin and Cass would be removed and the right-of-way converted to a trail. However, the Smiths successfully convinced the state to allow a new tourist attraction to take over the property. As a result a license for the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad was issued in July, 1996 although it came with a major stipulation; the state would provide no subsidies, requiring the couple to go it alone. They began by purchasing a small, 20-ton, gas mechanical diesel switcher originally built by the Whitcomb Locomotive Works for the U.S. Navy in 1939. To carry passengers a flatcar was acquired from an Army base in North Carolina. Elsewhere, a caboose was leased. Interestingly, D&GV's first task was to support the nearby South Branch Valley Railroad, which need the swtcher to help repair flood damage. Using the money from this work, plus the sale of their trucking business, the Smiths debuted the 4.4-mile (round-trip) Durbin & Greenbrier Valley in July, 1997 with trains departing from the preserved C&O depot. By the spring of 1998 the group had rebuilt 3 more miles.
The Durbin & Greenbrier Valley slowly grew in popularity as evermore visitors came to ride this rural West Virginia curiosity. The railroad's publicity dramatically increased when it acquired former Middle Fork Railroad 2-truck Climax #3 from the Connecticut Trolley Museum in 2001. It was placed into service during the spring of 2002. Today, along with the D&GV's Durbin Rocket, the WVC operates climate-controlled excursions along parts of the old Western Maryland near Elkins (complete with locomotives painted in WM livery). These trains include the New Tygart Flyer, Cheat Salamander, and Mountain Explorer Dinner Train among others. Today, The Durbin Rocket hosts trips from May through October. Within the next few years the D&GV will finally reconnect to Cass as work wraps ups on rebuilding the entire 14-mile segment. It is part of a long range plan, unveiled in 2012 during a presentation to the West Virginia State Tourism Commission, to also rebuild the former Durbin Branch (now today's West Fork Rail Trail). Doing so would allow for a significant boost in tourism whereby guests could ride aboard the West Virginia Central, Durbin & Greenbrier Valley and Cass Scenic Railroad as part of a 90-mile loop from Elkins to Cass, and return (via Spruce). It's still unclear when this project may be completed but the goal still remains. If you are interested in riding The Durbin Rocket, Durbin is located about 40 miles to the south of Elkins, along Route 250. You may also purchase reserved seating in advance although to do so you will need to either visit their website or call ahead. And on that note, please click here to visit their website and learn more about all of they have to offer (tickets can also be picked up directly in the depot).Home › Tourist Train Information › Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad