Bucolic Rail Adventures in West Virginia

West Virginia, Cass, historic Cass Scenic Railroad
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There's nothing quite as relaxing as a train trip. You have time to take in all the scenery without worrying about traffic and road hazards. If your travels take you to West Virginia, you can choose from four different scenic railroad adventures.

Cass Scenic Railroad

The Cass Scenic Railroad began as a logging train, part of the West Virginia's early 20th-century lumber industry. The Shay locomotives that pull the Cass Scenic Railroad train today used to haul logs and finished lumber along remote rail lines. Today, you can ride the rails from Cass to Whittaker Station and back, a two-hour trip, or continue on to Bald Knob or to Spruce, each a four and one-half hour round trip from Cass. The train has both open-air and enclosed cars. You can bring food to eat on the train or buy a snack at Whittaker Station.

According to G. Fred Bartels, Trainmaster, the train can accommodate up to four wheelchair users per trip. One coach has a wheelchair lift that is able to transfer most wheelchairs. Mobility opportunities at Whittaker station, Bald Knob and Spruce stations may be limited; please call ahead for details and planning assistance.

Trains run daily from Memorial Day weekend through early September, on Fridays and weekends in September and daily in October. Special events include the evening Elf Train in December and murder mystery adventures. Ticket prices vary by route, day of the week and season.

Cass is about four hours by car from Pittsburgh and five hours' drive from Washington, DC. If that's too far to drive round-trip in one day, you can spend the night in a "company house," formerly the residence of a lumber mill employee, in a wilderness cabin or in a caboose.

Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad

Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad takes its name from the bald eagles passengers typically see in "The Trough," a steep-sided valley through which flows the South Branch of the Potomac River. The Potomac Eagle's Wappocomo Station, the point of departure for all trains, is in Romney, about two and one-half hours by car from Washington, DC, and three hours' drive from Pittsburgh. The Potomac Eagle train is pulled by General Motors locomotives that were built in the late 1940s and 1950s. You can sit in open-air or traditional rail cars.

There is a concession stand onboard the train, and you can bring a small cooler onboard. Most trips are three and one-half hours long, but the Potomac Eagle also makes all-day trips.

The Potomac Eagle runs Saturdays July through September, daily during October, and for special weekend events during November and December. Ticket prices vary by season and length of trip.

One train car is a retrofitted combine car (half baggage, half passenger) with 16 seats, accessible restrooms and a sliding door wide enough to accommodate a scooter, according to Potomac Eagle Vice President Dan Snyder. Wheelchair users can also take advantage of the train's airplane-size folding wheelchair to transfer to their own wheelchairs, which they can station at a table in one of the other train cars. It's best to call the reservations office in advance, particularly in October, when the train is 16 cars long, so staffers can respot the train to ensure easy access.

Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad

The Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad offers four different scenic railroad excursions. Most depart from Elkins, but the Durbin Rocket, pulled by a Climax-geared steam locomotive originally used on logging trains, leaves from Durbin, and the Cheat Mountain Salamander offers round-trip departures from both Elkins and Cheat Bridge. The New Tygart Flyer and the Mountain Explorer Dinner Train leave from Elkins. You can even stay overnight in the "Castaway Caboose," which is towed by the Durbin Rocket and left overnight in a riverside campsite.

Trip lengths vary from two to nine hours. Most trains operate on weekends from May through September and add weekday departures during October. The Mountain Explorer Dinner Train has a limited schedule. Tickets for some excursions include a sandwich buffet, and ticket prices vary by trip and season. According to Durbin & Greenbrier Railroad spokeswoman Amanda Swecker, "The Durbin Rocket is wheelchair accessible," but, she adds, some of the other historic trains are not. Please call the railroad for accessibility information.

New River Train

The New River Train runs only four times per year, on October weekends, and tickets are expensive. For railroad buffs and lovers of pristine scenery, the 300-mile trip is worth every penny, because the New River Train takes you through West Virginia's New River Gorge National River, part of the US National Park system, during the peak fall foliage season – and the scenery is truly spectacular. The New River Train, which is operated by the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society, uses Amtrak and private railcars.

You can board the train in Huntington or St. Alban's for the trip to Hinton and back. Huntington is two and one-half hours by car from Columbus, Ohio, four and one-half hours from Pittsburgh and almost seven hours from Washington, DC.

Ticket prices vary by type of service. Premium service includes continental breakfast and dinner, while coach service does not. Snacks and non-alcoholic beverages are available for purchase on the train, and you can buy food during your stop in Hinton. The train is not wheelchair-accessible; if you use a wheelchair you will probably need to travel with a companion. Contact the C. P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society for more information.