Railroads helped make the Ohio Valley prosperous years ago, and now the state of West Virginia wants your help to plan public policy for the future of railroad transportation.
At Independence Hall in Wheeling, the West Virginia State Rail Authority conducted the seventh in the first round of public meetings on January 22. Pete Holloway, Senior Vice President at Wheeling brokerage firm Hazlett, Burt & Watson, talked about how geography plays a role in economic development, then and now.
"Let's face it," Holloway said. "Wheeling was built here because of transportation. The B & O railroad stopped here. This was the western terminus for quite a long time -- plus the National Road. Both those things brought a lot of people to Wheeling, and quite simply, I don't this town would be here without those two items," he continued.
Federal laws designed to improve intercity rail passenger service established the pattern for the current state-level involvement in railroading. West Virginia's State Rail Authority holds title to a number of former railroad rights-of-way in the state. One idea for future rail service concerns the former Panhandle Line through Weirton to Steubenville, currently designated as a walking trail.
"I've talked personally to the DOT in Pennsylvania and Ohio, asking about the possibility of a Pittsburgh through the northern panhandle into Ohio," Cindy Butler, the Executive Director of the West Virginia State Rail Authority said. "Ohio does have that right now on one of their 'future rail plans' and we will be looking at it as one of ours as well," Butler added.
Any future renaissance of railroads in the Ohio Valley would depend on availability of funding -- either public or private -- to rebuild the rails.
Holloway talked about funding sources for that development. "It would have to be CSX or companies like that, that would be willing to put up the money to redo the lines -- cause they're all gone right now -- put the rails down, and all the rest that happens with that. And so, there would have to be an economic reason for them to do that, and I believe that will be here," Holloway said.