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Trip on the Cardinal a charming getaway

Sep. 12, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of Amtrak and the Collis P. Huntington Chapter of the National Railroad Historical Society, welcome aboard Amtrak's Eastbound Train No. 50, The Cardinal."

These are the words stated by Tony Humphreys, one of 15 narrators who volunteer their time and energy for the Collis P. Huntington Amtrak Narration Program. Many Lawrence County residents are well aware of the popular, scenic New River Train that has been taking travelers on an annual fall excursion through the New River Gorge in West Virginia. What many residents may not know, however, is that there is another picturesque train excursion offered year-round from Amtrak on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Initially, the National Park Service, using park rangers, started the Amtrak Cardinal Narration program in 1984. Unfortunately, there were numerous federal budget cuts causing the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society to take over the program in 1987. Narrators now provide charming commentary on The Cardinal, a name given to the train in order to recognize the fact that the state bird of six of the 12 states through which this train travels, is the cardinal. Much like the popular fall excursion, narrators provide commentary through the rugged New River Gorge on the eastbound trip. This narration is not only designed to present numerous facts about the towns, rivers and gorge through which the train passes, but also to increase the enjoyment of the train ride as it winds through areas that are inaccessible by car.

Each of the current narrators completed a training period with veteran narrators, and they are required be a member of the Collis P. Huntington Society in order to narrate train trips. According to Larry Kidd, the Amtrak Narration Coordinator, "the best part of being a narrator is riding the train through the gorge and meeting many interesting people on the train." Furthermore, Kidd adds that during the summer months both he and the passengers enjoy watching New River rafters as well as catching glimpses of bald eagles. Humphreys said he enjoys sharing "interesting history of West Virginia to visitors from all over the world."

In fact, Humphreys stated on one trip this past summer, he began discussing West Virginia history with a lady from the Republic of South Africa who was traveling through the U.S. alone, but thought her husband would enjoy the information Humphreys was presenting. "She asked if a copy of my narrative was available to share with her husband." Humphreys emailed her a copy, and weeks later, he received an email full of thanks and praise of the Amtrak Cardinal Narration Program. "I can now claim that the CPHRRHS narration program has gone international," he said.

Thanks to the narrators, passengers can enjoy an exciting trip through some of the most beautiful scenery West Virginia has to offer. One can board the train in Huntington in the morning, and ride to White Sulphur Springs. While in White Sulphur Springs, passengers might want to consider having lunch at the historic and storied Greenbrier, then board the westbound train in the early evening and arrive back in Huntington that night.

Humphreys points out the Cardinal is equipped with comfortable reclining seats that offer plenty of legroom. The train is handicapped accessible and each coach offers clean, modern restroom facilities. There is a café car on the train serving foods and beverages across the full spectrum from snacks to full meals. Easy access to 120V/60 cycle electric outlets for powering or recharging portable electronic devices is available at each coach seat as well in the Café Car. In fact, Humphreys adds that in his experience, "the Amtrak personnel (on the Cardinal) are professional, competent and friendly. They go out of their way to ensure the trip is both safe and comfortable."

Any passenger wishing to ride the Amtrak Cardinal Narrated train rides offered year-round, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, can purchase tickets online at amtrak.com; from the station agents at manned stops; or, from the conductors onboard the train. There are discounts offered depending upon on how early one purchases tickets, and how far the passenger is traveling. This information can also be found online. It is strongly recommended to purchase tickets early as the Cardinal sells out quickly. It should also be noted that the entire train is smoke free.

When traveling the Cardinal, Kidd recommend wearing or bringing light layers as the train can get chilly at times. He further pointed out that Internet and cell phone service is often spotty. Finally, Kidd adds that if bringing along young children, it is advisable to bring a few items to keep children occupied.

Humphreys explains that the CPHRRHS narration volunteers greatly enjoy sharing their love of railroading and West Virginia with passengers. He adds that the narrators work hard to make their presentations not only factual, but interesting and entertaining as well. "It is our hope that our commentary helps improve the image of West Virginia, and entice others to visit (this) beautiful state."

While the CPHRRHS does operate the annual New River Train Fall Excursion, this is separate and apart from Amtrak. This year, the "Leaf Train," as it is affectionately known, will run Oct. 19-20 and 26-27. Leaf Train follows the same route as the Cardinal, however, it makes fewer stops, running from Huntington to Hinton, and then returning to Huntington. Information, as well as a range of seating and pricing options, is available for the CPHRRHS office (304-523-0364) or at www.newrivertrain.com.

From my home to yours, I wish you safe, happy and interesting travels. Perhaps I will see you on the train!

Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at hill992@zoominternet.net.