By JESSICA FARRISH
BECKLEY, W.Va. — Prince Railroad Station Authority Chairman David Gay said Wednesday that group will push Amtrak to add Amtrak Express shipping service and to have an agent placed at Prince, once the group assumes ownership of the historic station.
The Prince stop, built by Chesapeake & Ohio in 1946, was the eastern-most staffed station stop for the train in West Virginia until 2016, when Amtrak officials cited online ticket purchases and home ticket printing for the decision to stop providing an agent at the station.
PRSA members are forging a plan to purchase the Fayette County station from current owner CSX for a one-time maintenance fee of $5,000. Per a proposed agreement with CSX, the non-profit PRSA will lease the land for $1,300 annually, Gay said at a public hearing held at Tamarack.
Once the purchase is secured, Gay said he will lobby for Amtrak officials to offer Amtrak Express, a freight shipping service, at Prince. The service would benefit local businesses since it would close a service gap that currently exists in local shipping options.
“(Amtrak) handles bicycles, and they handle human remains,” he said, offering two examples of how Amtrak Express would benefit the business community. “I don’t think UPS or Fed Ex handles human remains.”
The Prince station was originally built to handle freight service, in addition to passenger service. A large room at the station is still available for freight shipments and a forklift, Gay said.
“It would be every easy for us to remodel things back there to make it accessible for Amtrak Express,” he said. “That’s the sort of thing we can use to get an agent back in place.”
Gay said the PRSA purchase of the station is part of a larger economic picture.
Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill earlier this month to promote daily Amtrak service into the state as a means of advancing local economies.
Amtrak travel is at an all-time high across the nation, as more millennials choose rail travel over driving.
“The train has the potential of being one of Amtrak’s best, because of our God-given scenery in this part of the country,” Gay reported Wednesday. “This train does have a reputation for that.”
The Cardinal now stops at Prince and at other southern West Virginia stations on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.
Prince is the hub of train service to the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in Raleigh and Fayette counties, where 30,000 visitors are expected to visit this summer, according to statements made at the meeting.
A budget plan by President Donald Trump has called for slashing funding for Amtrak service in the so-called fly-over states, including West Virginia, but Gay said all five West Virginia representatives in Washington have assured him they support Amtrak.
William Welch of Prosperity, a retired train engineer who said he has “run the trains all over these mountains,” attended the Wednesday meeting to support the PRSA purchase of the station, which CSX had remodeled several years ago for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“That don’t make any sense to me,” he said. “If you’re going to move ahead, you’ve got to move.”
He said flights are often canceled in inclement weather.
“Trains keep running,” he said, adding, “To me, it just makes a lot of sense to have some train travel.”
Gay said the PRSA is eligible for Board of Risk Insurance Management coverage, and the Coal Heritage Authority of Oak Hill has started the work of having the Prince station added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The National Register work has been put on hold at the request of CSX officials until after the purchase is final.
“Once we take ownership, they’ll complete the process, and we’ll be on the Register,” Gay said.
Gay is setting up a P.O. box, and the group will begin accepting donations for the purchase of the station.
“I’m going to do all I can, working with my colleagues, to get an agent back and have things stronger than ever,” said Gay. “So say a little prayer for us but know I’m going to do all I can.”
See more from The Register-Herald