CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Although it isn't generating publicity comparable with the governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways, a separate series of public meetings on transportation this month could directly affect the commission's work."Every time we can add a rail car, we can take four trucks off the road," state Rail Authority Director Cindy Butler said Monday.The Rail Authority will begin a second round of public meetings Tuesday in Charleston as part of the process to come up with a new State Rail Plan."We're about 75 percent through the process," Butler said.The plan, which will outline recommended long- and short-term improvements for the state's rail system, is required by the federal Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act in order to qualify for federal matching funds.Butler said she believes the State Rail Plan can work with recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways to help relieve traffic congestion and control road maintenance costs.
"It is to try to prioritize. They're going to have to look at all different modes of transportation and determine what is the most cost-effective," Butler said."We're looking at both the short-term and long-term, from the next five years, to 20 to 30 years from now," she said of the State Rail Plan. "This is our vision for the state, with where we want to be with our rail structure."Among initial recommendations from a first round of public meetings conducted over the winter:
- Expand infrastructure for intermodal rail service, which uses freight containers that can be transported by rail, tractor-trailer truck or barge.
- Improve rail access to oil and natural gas drilling operations.
- Improve rail connections to Ohio River ports.
- Increase advertising and marketing of intercity passenger rail service, including promoting rail travel as part of state vacation packages.
- Expand Amtrak Cardinal service from three days a week to daily service, while addressing schedule reliability issues.
- Improve parking, platform capacity and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance for Amtrak Capitol Limited stops at Harper's Ferry and Martinsburg.
- Increase parking at all MARC commuter rail stations in the state.
- Improve marketing and infrastructure for state tourism railroads, including expanding individual lines and connecting existing tourist railroads.
Tuesday's public meeting, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Culture Center Great Hall, is the first of eight scheduled around the state through July 27."We also want the public to be aware they can go to our website [www.westvirginiarailplan.com
] and make comments if they can't get to the public meetings," Butler said.A final draft of the plan should be available by September, she said.Reach Phil Kabler at email@example.com or 304-348-1220.