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New plan in works for WV's railroads

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HUNTINGTON, WV -

By JAMES E. CASTO

For The State Journal

Cooperation of the state's two Class I railroads is essential to West Virginia's successful completion of a new State Rail Plan, Steve Slavic told a meeting here Dec. 11.

CSX and Norfolk Southern operate 84 percent of the state's approximately 2,220 miles of railroad, said Slavic, a representative with CDM Smith Consulting, a firm that's working with the West Virginia State Rail Authority to develop the rail plan.

"Thus it's essential that we have input from CSX and Norfolk Southern as we work on the plan," he said.

But the planners are also seeking to involve the public, which was the purpose of the Huntington meeting, the second of eight to be conducted. A first meeting was held Dec. 10 in Lewisburg and six more are scheduled in various West Virginia communities in January.

"When completed the plan will establish a vision for the state's freight and passenger rail systems," said Cindy Butler, director of the State Rail Authority. "It will provide guidance for future freight and passenger rail planning, investments and activities. The plan is required for West Virginia to be eligible for existing and prospective federal rail financial assistance."

"The scope of the plan includes many tasks," Butler said. "Freight rail assessment will include commodity movement, economic impact of freight rail in West Virginia, freight rail network capacity assessment and freight rail/highway safety and security. Passenger rail assessment will include intercity and high-speed rail, Amtrak, commuter and tourism. The plan will also address funding opportunities for railroads and prioritization of rail projects within the state."

It's also hoped the completed plan will help educate the public to the importance and benefits of West Virginia's rail system, she said.

Slavic said the aim of the plan is to look ahead for 20 to 30 years, and one important point to consider in that regard is the certain future decline in rail shipments of coal. At present, coal accounts for about 94 percent of the state's rail traffic, he said.

"The total budget for this project is $2 million," Butler said. "The funding for it consists of a 50/50 federal grant. The state match was budgeted from the FY2011 general fund."

Work on the plan began in mid-summer and will continue throughout the coming year, Slavic said. Another round of public meetings will be conducted when a draft of the plan has been completed, he said. The plan is to be finalized by December 2013.

Other public meetings in the current series will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on the following dates: Jan. 8, 2013, at the Williamson Fire Department; Jan. 9, Ripley City Hall; Jan. 15, Elkins Train Depot; Jan. 16, Fairmont State College; Jan. 22,  Independence Hall in Wheeling, and Jan. 29 at the County Office/Dunn Building in Martinsburg.

Those wishing to file written comments may send them to Cindy Butler, Director, West Virginia State Rail Authority, 120 Water Plan Drive, Moorefield, W.Va., on or before Jan. 30, 2013.