HUNTINGTON — A Kentucky railroad historical preservation organization is working to keep a 50-year-old excursion train chugging along in West Virginia.
Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation, based in Ravenna in Estill County, in on board as a partner in the project with the Railway Excursion Management Co. (Railexco) inaugural trip of the Autumn Colors Express excursion train, which will depart the last weekend in October between Huntington and Hinton, West Virginia.
The organization is taking over from the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society, which announced in February it was canceling its 2019 runs of the New River Train after 52 years of continuous operation. The reason for the cancellation was more than $180,000 of operating losses from 2018, attributed to higher fees and operational restrictions imposed by Amtrak, the national rail passenger service.
“The Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation is keenly aware of the economic benefit that rail-based tourism can provide our region, and we are proud to support our neighbors in West Virginia by providing logistics help and on-train personnel for the Autumn Color Express excursion,” Kentucky Steam President Chris Campbell said in a release.
People have expressed gratitude for keeping the excursion train tradition alive, said Lou Capwell, Railexco's marketing manager.
"It's obvious what this train trip, and this 50-year tradition, means to the people of Appalachia," he said.
State tourism officials have estimated the former New River Train excursions brought in about $2.5 million of revenue annually to Huntington, where many passengers stay overnight before and after the trips, and also accounted for a majority of visitors to the Hinton Railroad Days festival.
"The return of the train this fall means so much to the city of Hinton and its residents," said Hinton City Manager Cris Meadows. "Our local nonprofits operate food and vending tents that, in turn, provide scholarships to so many of our local students. We're overjoyed that this tradition can keep going year after year."
The excursion train's revival was spurred by efforts by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who negotiated arrangements for the train with Amtrak.
"For over a year, I have been working hard to make sure this annual festival would continue, first advocating for Amtrak to end their crushing regulations and fees in order to save Collis P. Huntington, and then working with Amtrak and Rail Excursion Management to keep this West Virginia tradition alive," Manchin said in a statement. "I look forward to the new Autumn Colors Express and will always support the Railroad Days festival however I can."
The Autumn Colors Express trips will take place three times on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 25-27. Tickets are on sale now, with prices ranging from $149 to $599 per person. To purchase tickets or to learn more information, visit AutumnColorExpressWV.com or call 1-844-724-5399.
Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.