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All aboard: Autumn Colors Express adding railcars and a fourth run in 2020

Autumn Colors Express

The exterior of the Cedar Rapids chairman’s class car is seen during a tour of the special passenger train, assembled for the 2019 Autumn Colors Express, at the C&O Depot in Huntington. The Autumn Colors Express is returning in 2020, with an additional fourth day of service.

It’s official: The Autumn Colors Express is back for 2020, with additional historic luxury railcars and with an additional Thursday run.

Rail Excursion Management Co. (Railexco) announced Friday the second year of the fall excursion trains from Huntington and Charleston to Hinton.

In addition to more railcars, the 2020 excursions will add a fourth run, with round-trip same-day excursions on Oct. 22, 23, 24 and 25.

Lou Capwell, Railexco spokesman, said they are excited to be making the announcement in January instead of August, as they did last year, when the Autumn Colors Express was a last-minute replacement for the now-defunct New River Train.

Operators of that excursion train, which operated along the same route for 52 years, announced in February 2019 that because of financial losses, the popular train would not run in 2019.

That prompted a scramble by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and others to find a replacement to salvage the popular fall tourism event, and to maintain the concurrent Hinton Railroad Days festivities.

That’s when Railexco, a company specializing in private railcar charters and excursions, came to the rescue.

After extended negotiations with national rail passenger service Amtrak to operate the train, the official announcement of the 2019 Autumn Colors Express didn’t happen until Aug. 2, barely three months before the first excursion.

“We’re excited to have extra time this year to promote the train,” Capwell said of the 2020 excursions.

Most significantly, Capwell said that will allow time to work with charter bus companies to set up travel packages, something that was impossible with the late confirmation date last year.

Also, he said riders visiting from out-of-state who are staying in Huntington will be able to book rooms now, ahead of the crush for a home Marshall football game that weekend.

For a second year, the trains will also stop to pick up and discharge riders in Charleston.

Despite the late announcement, ticket sales for the 2019 Autumn Colors Express were strong, with the Saturday run sold out, and with the Friday and Sunday runs nearly sold out.

That convinced Railexco to add the fourth run this year, on Thursday, Oct. 22, after 2019 ticket sales for the Friday train proved to be strong.

Previously, the New River Train ran on consecutive weekends — a costly option, since railcars had to be stored in the CSX railyard, in Huntington, during the week.

“We were surprised by the demographics,” Capwell said of the 2019 excursions. “We had a lot of families with young children, and about half the people who rode with us had never ridden the New River Train, and many had never been on a train before.”

Capwell also noted that many travelers indicated they used the Autumn Colors Express excursion as the focal point of two- or three-day mini-vacations in West Virginia, and said the advance notice for the 2020 runs should give people opportunity to plan longer stays this year.

Additional details and tickets can be obtained at the Autumn Colors Express website, www.autumncolorexpresswv.com, or by calling 844-724-5399.

Reach Phil Kabler at

philk@wvgazettemail.com,

304-348-1220 or follow

@PhilKabler on Twitter.

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