By JESSICA FARRISH
BECKLEY, W.Va. — Prince Railroad Station Authority board members will meet April 26 to discuss the purchase of Prince Station from CSX Railroad, PRSA Chairman David Gay said Monday.
Gay said members will discuss fundraising efforts, elect officers and approve documents at the meeting.
“Our group would become Amtrak’s new landlord,” Gay said, adding, “I’ve had fruitful discussions with CSX.”
He said he’ll announce CSX’s proposal at the meeting but was optimistic that his non-profit group would be able to raise the funds required to buy the historic station, which was built in 1946.
“I think we can raise the money for it,” he said.
The local meeting coincides with efforts by Gov. Jim Justice and both Democratic and Republican state lawmakers to increase Amtrak passenger train service in the state and with President Donald Trump’s budget proposal to slash funding for Amtrak in “fly-over states, ” including West Virginia.
Amtrak is a federally-funded passenger railroad service that provides medium- and long-distance intercity service in the United States.
The Cardinal, an Amtrak train which runs between Chicago and New York, currently provides service in Prince, Hinton, White Sulphur Springs and other stations in southern West Virginia on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.
The Cardinal provides connection to the national network for those in southern West Virginia.
Last week, Justice signed into law a bill that aims to improve and advance the availability of rail service in the state, since it could be beneficial to local economies in West Virginia.
Prince is the hub of train service to the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in Raleigh and Fayette counties.
State lawmakers’ move to increase rail service in the state comes at a strategic time, according to Gay.
“The Cardinal’s business has gone up so much,” Gay said Monday. “Amtrak business is at an all-time high.
“Passenger train travel in this country is at the highest in 50 years,” he said.
Millenials, or young Americans born between 1984 and 2004, aren’t as excited about getting driver’s licenses as their parents and grandparents were.
“Millenials, in general, are migrating towards mass transit,” he explained.
As the interstate highway system took shape in the 1950s, cars became all-important to Americans. Train travel dipped, and in the 1960s, private rail passenger trains were in trouble.
“There was still rail passenger business,” Gay, a retired pharmacist explained. “But it was starting to fall off.”
In 1971, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, a quasi-public, government-owned corporation doing business as Amtrak, was created to maintain a rail passenger service in the country.
Gay said the oil embargoes of the 1970s boosted Amtrak business, starting in 1979.
“It’s been climbing ever since,” he said. “The market is there.”
Gay characterized rail service as “critical” to economic growth and added that transportation along the rails is the most fuel-efficient and safest form of travel today, statistically.
He reported that the Cardinal line offers tourists a stunning view of the New River Gorge and the Appalachian countryside between Charleston and Washington, D.C.
Along with Boy Scouts of America officials, Beckley Mayor Rob Rappold supports state lawmakers’ plan to bring daily train service to Prince.
“It really would, without a doubt, have a very positive effect (on the economy),” Rappold said Monday. “Right now, the Amtrak is used sporadically, and I think with some of the things we have going on, including the Summit Bechtel Reserve with the Boy Scouts and the potential for that increase to the rail passenger traffic, I think it’s a great thing for Beckley and the entire southern part of the state.”
Trump’s budget proposal called for taking away Amtrak service at around 220 towns and cities in the so-called “flyover country” between California and the Eastern seaboard, including the Cardinal line in West Virginia.
The president’s move would allow for federal savings of $2.4 billion (13 percent) in transportation spending.
Several presidents in the past have proposed slashing funding for the train, but support for Amtrak has, historically, been bipartisan, according to Gay.
Gay said that all five West Virginia representatives in Washington have told him they will support Amtrak, but he urged constituents to contact them to show support.
“It’s important to let our senators and congressmen and women know that Amtrak service is needed,” he said. “It’s not only a necessary service, but it’s something that can grow and earn even more money.”
For those who wish to contribute to the Prince station purchase, Gay said that fundraising information will be made available after the April 26 public meeting at the Tamarack Conference Center at 11 a.m.
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