CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Information gathered during a series of public meetings around West Virginia will help the state develop a plan for freight and passenger rail service for the next 20 to 30 years, said Cindy Hunt, executive director of the State Rail Authority.The authority held the last of eight public meetings on Saturday in Charles Town.The Charles Town discussion focused on potential tourist rail projects after Jefferson County Commissioner Lyn Widmyer questioned why the state's draft plan did not include any such project for her county."This is why we're here - we want to know what projects should be added to the plan," Hunt said. "These projects are the only ones we were aware of. Three or four projects have been added on the road."Hunt agreed with comments that existing rail infrastructure in Jefferson County could be used for tourism projects."You've got the trains -- we just have to convince CSX to let us run trains on the weekends," she said.While passenger service was discussed at the Charles Town meeting, freight service was the focus at a meeting held last Wednesday in Weirton.
Coal is the most heavily moved commodity by rail but the growth of the oil and natural gas industry could change that, said Steve Slavick with consulting firm CDM Smith, which is helping the state to develop the plan.Rail is vital "to the movement of freight and really contributes to the economy," Slavick said at the Weirton meeting.Hunt said that the public does not realize what an intermodal facility can do for the state."If we can get trains to stop in West Virginia, that's where growth is going to come from," she said.The U.S. Department of Transportation requires states to have plans to receive federal funding for rail projects.West Virginia's draft plan includes freight, intercity, commuter and tourist service.Projects listed in the draft plan include upgrading the Harper's Ferry station to make it handicap accessible and adding a rail spur and station for a tourist train in Hampshire County.