Published: January 14, 2023
By: Adam Burns
West Virginia has long been known for its natural scenic beauty. The state's tourism department heavily promotes this, luring visitors to hike, fish, camp, ski, and generally experience its many beautiful state parks like Dolly Sods, Seneca Rocks, Pinnacle Rock, and Beartown State Park in addition to the New River Gorge National Park.
Since the late 1990s, with the addition of the West Virginia Central Railroad, you can now enjoy a fine train ride while experience the state's great beauty. The WVC, state-owned but operated privately by the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad, has grown extensively since its launch on May 16, 1998.
Among the railroad's many excursions now available are trips offering food service within climate-controlled cars. Other excursions in the Mountain State offering some type of food aboard include the Potomac Eagle Scenic and Cass Scenic Railroad.
Despite its ruggedness and small size, there were once several notable first-class trains which passed through West Virginia in the mid-20th century operated by the Baltimore & Ohio, Chesapeake & Ohio, and Norfolk & Western. These names included, but were not limited to, the National Limited, Pocahontas, George Washington, Powhatan Arrow, Cincinnatian, and Metropolitan Special.
Operating on former logging lines in the heart of the state's Appalachian region Cass Scenic Railroad, now a division of the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley, always operates trains with a fleet of geared steam locomotives, usually Shays.
Their longest traditional excursion, which departs from the depot in Cass and runs to top of the mountain at Bald Knob. The 11-mile journey makes for a 22-mile round trip which requires about 4.5 hours to complete due to the stiff grades required.
Due to the trip's length, the railroad offers lunch aboard the train. According to its website: "A 'King of the Road' hobo lunch will be provided to enjoy with your ride as well. The hobo lunch consists of a cold sandwich (lunch meat, cheese, etc. all separated in plastic wrap), chips, cookie, and bottled water."
The Cass Scenic Railroad operates much of the original West Virginia Pulp & Paper's (later Mower Lumber Company) former Greenbrier, Cheat & Elk Railroad, which served the company's timber operations centered within the small community of Cass, West Virginia.
At its peak the GC&E ran from Cass to Spruce and then from Spruce Junction to Bergoo, for a total of 175 miles. At Cass the line connected with the Chesapeake & Ohio's Greenbrier Division at Cass and the Western Maryland at Spruce Junction.
Most of the general public, however, only knows of the Cass - Bald Knob/Spruce segment, which is today operated by the Cass Scenic Railroad. In 2015 the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources transferred operational authority of the railroad to the West Virginia State Rail Authority, which delegates day-to-day operations to the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad.
This popular excursion operates of the former Baltimore & Ohio's Petersburg Branch, running 53 miles from Green Spring to Petersburg. The line winds its way along the South Branch of the Potomac River as it passes through small communities such as Romney and Moorefield before terminating in Petersburg.
The Potomac Eagle Scenic began operations in 1991 over this corridor, which also hosts freight service as the South Branch Valley Railroad. The property is wholly owned by the state of West Virginia under the West Virginia State Rail Authority.
The Potomac Eagle Scenic has quietly grown into one of the state's top heritage railroads, offering guests the chance a wide range of accommodations during trips that last anywhere from 3 hours to 8 hours with latter covering most of the line. Its name is derived from the bald eagles regularly spotted along the river during excursions.
With several climate-controlled cars in their fleet the railroad provides full dining service on their trips and even go the extra-mile by offering different level of classes, from standard-coach (with no meal, although concessions are available) to "standard," "premium," and "superior" dining.
Also an operating freight railroad the WVC, another division of the D&GV, features several different trips including its climate-controlled New Tygart Flyer, which has the option of buffet service. They also host the popular Mountain Explorer Dinner Train. Finally, be sure to learn more about their Murder Mystery Wine Train.
The West Virginia Central is the Mountain State's most expansive heritage railroad in terms of territory covered, maintaining about 85 miles of track. Launched in May, 1998 the WVC operates the old Western Maryland from Tygart Junction to Spruce/"Big Cut" where it connects with the Cass Scenic Railroad.
Its operations are based out of the historic depot in Elkins where the railroad once had an expansive yard and terminal. This historic building is currently used for passengers boarding and de-boarding from their train.
This terminal constituted the end of its Thomas Subdivision, now largely abandoned north of Elkins but once operated through the beautiful Blackwater Canyon to Thomas and on to Cumberland, Maryland.
The West Virginia Central is a can't-miss attraction of the state, offering guests the chance to see the very best of its beauty and natural scenery. Trains run along the Cheat River's Shavers Fork, pass through Tunnel #1 east of Canfield, cross multiple trestles and bridges, and of course enjoy the splendid scenery of the Appalachian Mountains.