Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


January 31, 2013

Tourist train — Walking/hiking trail a good start

Talk of a two-state tourist train linking the towns of Pocahontas and Bramwell, and other neighboring communities, is an idea that has been batted around now for nearly 20 years. And at least one aspect of the original vision is now nearing a reality.

Tommy Childress, the Northern District member of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, says a ribbon-cutting ceremony has been tentatively set for April 27 on the hiking/riding trail component of the project along the connector tracks between Pocahontas and Bramwell. That’s good news. The hiking/riding trail should nicely complement the Spearhead Trail project also planned for the Pocahontas area.

The ribbon cutting is being held on the same day as the popular Indian Run, and the annual evening service to honor the 114 coal miners who died in the 1884 explosion at the East Mine. So April 27 is shaping up to be a big day for the greater Pocahontas area.

Although the actual tourist train concept itself was derailed several years ago by the Virginia General Assembly, area lawmakers, including Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Russell, and Delegate James W. “Will” Morefield II, are now hoping to get the steam locomotive vision back on track.

It won’t be an easy task.

The tourist train concept has been talked about for almost 25 years, but without a financial backer to step up, the few miles of Norfolk Southern track between Pocahontas and Bramwell remain rust covered. In the 1980s, people in the know reported that an operational steam locomotive would cost in the neighborhood of $1 million, with thousands of dollars more for maintenance and even more thousands for staff to operate and maintain an operational relic. And the cost of operating a steam locomotive today is believed to be even higher.

That cost in itself presented a difficult challenge for local officials to overcome. But tourist train activists in both Virginias lobbied their respective state legislatures, and the movement gained traction several years ago when former governors Joe Manchin and Tim Kaine, now both U.S. senators, made the two-state tourist train authority a part of their short-lived, two-state cooperation plank.

Sadly, the project failed to materialize. And two years ago, Gov. Bob McDonnell did away with a package of several dormant state-sanctioned authorities, including the tourist train development authority. The two-state authority was eliminated as part of McDonnell’s government reduction plan.

However, at the start of this year’s legislative session, Puckett introduced a bill, SB 819, that would resurrect the train authority. The bill cleared the Senate Committee on Local Government on Jan. 22 with a 12-0 vote. But it remains to be seen if state funding for this project can be found — particularly given the number of challenges facing the Commonwealth. At the top of that list is McDonnell’s renewed push for a new transportation package to address highway infrastructure needs across the Commonwealth.

Area leaders are to be applauded for their continued tourist train push, but finding state and local funding to make this vision a reality won’t be easy. We are nevertheless pleased to hear that the new walking and hiking component of the community connector project is on target to become a reality this spring.

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