Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


March 5, 2014

Two-state cooperation: Tourist train back on track

— — A long-envisioned tourist train for Mercer and Tazewell counties appears to be back on track — at least from a legislative standpoint. The two-state tourist train is an idea that has been batted around for nearly 20 years. The project itself appeared dead just last year after former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell did away with a package of several dormant state-sanctioned authorities, including the two-state tourist train authority.

But in recent weeks, the concept of a two-state tourist train and the authority overseeing this decades old vision has been resurrected by the Virginia General Assembly. Senate Bill 72, which reinstates the Tourist Train Development Authority and its board, cleared the state Senate 38-0 in January. And it passed the House Counties, Cities and Towns Committee last week on a vote of 19 to 3. It was officially read in the full House Monday.

The concept of the two-state and two-county tourist train first gained traction several years ago when former West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin and former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, now both U.S. senators, made the two-state tourist train authority a part of their short-lived, two-state cooperation plan.

The tourist train concept is a good example of what can be done when neighboring localities and elected officials are willing to work together. And in this particular case, it does show that West Virginia and Virginia can, and certainly should, work together on projects that could benefit both states.

Area citizens who have been meeting, planning and fighting for this two-state vision also should be applauded for their commitment and perseverance. However, stumbling blocks to this well-intended project remain. First and foremost is the associated cost of running a tourist train between the towns of Pocahontas and Bramwell.

Years ago, when the tourist train concept first started gaining steam, officials reported that it would cost in the neighborhood of $1 million to obtain an operational steam locomotive, and thousands more to maintain, staff, operate such a steam engine. Today, many years later, that cost is believed to be significantly higher. Complicating matters is the fact that there is no current financial backer for the project, and no state or federal dollars have been earmarked for the project.

Still, it is good to see that the tourist train vision is being given a second chance by lawmakers in Virginia. It is our hope that this endeavor could help pave the path toward other joint projects between the neighboring counties and states. In the meantime, the burden will still rest upon area elected officials, and the individual tourist train authority members, to find state, federal or local funding to help make this long-planned vision a reality for Tazewell and Mercer counties.

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