State exploring options to sustain Cass Railroad - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

State exploring options to sustain Cass Railroad

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Photos courtesy of Walter Scriptunas II. Cass Scenic Railroad celebrated its 50th anniversary as a state park in 2013. Photos courtesy of Walter Scriptunas II. Cass Scenic Railroad celebrated its 50th anniversary as a state park in 2013.
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Cass Scenic Railroad could use a push.

The West Virginia State Park, located in the highlands of Pocahontas County, has historically operated at a deficit, according to Keith Burdette, cabinet secretary of the West Virginia Department of Commerce.

Burdette says the railroad's budget typically receives a $1.4 million state supplement. In addition, the facility currently has maintenance needs in excess of $1 million, including new railroad track ties. 

Opened during West Virginia's Centennial Celebration of 1963, the railroad just completed its 50th anniversary season. Burdette said nothing has been finalized, but the state is looking into the possibility of establishing a working relationship with a private enterprise.

"We are trying to figure out how we can make the railroad sustainable because the deficits are fairly substantial for that operation," he said. "We are talking with several parties, including the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad, to see if we could have some tie in where we could create a much more sustainable plan for Cass Railroad.

"No decisions have been made and probably will not be made for a while yet," he said. "We're going through the process of exploring options." 

Durbin & Greenbrier Valley operates a similar tourism railroad system in the region with the Cheat Mountain Salamander, Durbin Rocket and New Tygart Flyer.

"There have been other interested parties in that area who have contacted us," he said.

Burdette said state government is not looking to sell the facility, but perhaps have an operational agreement that would help sustain the railroad over the long-term.

"If we do anything, we would probably do it as a vendor's contract," he said. "We would still maintain ownership of the Cass property within the state park system. We simply are looking for some kind of scenario to operate the railroad itself."

In addition to the locomotives, Cass consists of a depot, gift shop, restaurant, museum and overnight lodging in restored company houses. The original owner, West Virginia Pulp and Paper, ceased operation in 1960. It was purchased by the state a year later.

The tourist season is scheduled to begin May 16 and continue through early November.

A group of supporters wants the state to maintain control of the park. A "Save the Cass Railroad" site on Facebook had 8,065 "likes" as of April 15.