United States Transportation Secretary
Ray LaHood and State Representative Nick Rahall last week announced a $1
million grant for West Virginia to develop a state rail plan. It will serve as
a guideline for the state’s rail investment strategies.
The sound of freight trains is common
here in Huntington as well as across West Virginia. The planning process, made possible by the new
grant, will examine freight and passenger lines already in place It will
also focus on future possibilities for commuters and tourists.
Cindy Butler is the Executive Director
for the State Rail Authority. She says the grant offers a great opportunity
for her organization.
“The scope is going to include looking
at current situations such as our freight, commuter rails, potential corridors
for high-speed rail, we’re going to look at capacity issues, we’re going to look
at Amtrak service and what our needs are now and what they’re going to be in
the future and then we’re going to try to get a consultant to gives us an
overall funding analysis,” Butler said.
To date, more than $5.3 billion has been obligated to States
under the Federal Railroad Administration’s High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail
Program. The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 requires
each state to develop its own Rail Plan. Such a plan is also required if a state wants to apply
for additional rail grants.
says the studies will look at population growth in the state and whether it is
worth investing in lines that take citizens to metropolitan areas on the east
coast and the Midwest.
“This is going to look at not only
current corridors, but potential future corridors and where is the population
growth going to be and where is it going to be able to connect, is it going to
be feasible and make sense for something that runs from Charleston to
Huntington to Chicago or similar to what’s running there in the eastern
panhandle,” Butler said.
The only high-speed rail service now
operating in the state is in the eastern panhandle connecting the area to
Washington D.C. Butler says it’s important that West Virginia try to stay ahead
of the game.
“We do not want to says oh well we don’t
see it now or for the next three years because if this does continue to grow
this high-speed vision then we’re going to need to be in the game with a good
plan showing what is the most logical vision for trains to come through us,”
Patrick Donovan is Director of Maritime
and Intermodal Transportation with the Rahall Transportation Insitute. He says,
when it comes to commuter trains, the rail system in West Virginia faces a real
“What you find yourself doing is riding
passenger rail on freight railroads so there is a situation here that we really
have to address, how do we look at the coexistence of passenger rail on the
freight railroad system and is the answer the segregation of those two,”
Donovan says it’s great to think about
what high-speed rail could mean for the state, but such service is still years
“You always have to tap down
expectations because there is always a lot of excitement that comes with this
that oh my gosh I’m going to be able to jump a train from Huntington to
Charleston to Morgantown, well the reality is that we may not do that, our
children may do that, our grandchildren may do that, so really that’s we’re
laying is a solid foundation on how to advance this issue going forward,”
State officials say they will spend 20
months developing the rail plan.