The Collis P. Huntington Rail Road Historical Society Inc. (CPHRRHS), the nonprofit organization running the annual New River excursion train, is being forced to close as a result of actions and increased costs by Amtrak. As a result, the nation’s last mainline passenger excursion will not run this year.
For 52 years, the New River Train has run trips between the West Virginia cities of Huntington and Hinton for two weekends in October. In March of 2018, Amtrak imposed new restrictions which eliminated special trains like the New River train and removed Huntington as a station where private cars could access regularly scheduled Amtrak passenger trains.
As the result of intervention by West Virginia’s senators, the passenger rail company agreed to allow the 2018 special train to run but increased the cost by $120,000 and imposed additional costly restrictions. Despite selling all the seats for the two October weekends at an increased price, the New River train operated at a $180,000 loss. In addition, other regularly scheduled trips to Washington and New York had to be cancelled since the CPHRRHS cars could no longer originate from Huntington.
Chris Lockwood, the organization’s general manager, says a 9.6 percent hike for this year’s train coupled with Amtrak’s ability to implement new prices and policies with only 60 days’ notice makes it financially impractical to plan and market the train for 2019.
The financial loss meant the two employees were laid off and the chapter’s offices closed. Convention and Visitors Bureau President Tyson Compton says it will have a significant tourism impact in the area. “The New River Train is nationally known and helps shed positive light on West Virginia and everything we have to offer.”
The two weekends bring nearly 5,000 visitors into Huntington with an economic impact of $2.3 million dollars for the city and $5 million to the state of West Virginia. In addition, Railroad Days in Hinton, which benefits that area’s nonprofit organizations, relies on the passengers from the train.
Special trains like New River and the movement of private cars behind regularly scheduled Amtrak trains brought about $10 million dollars a year into the federally subsidized passenger railroad. In the last 9 months Amtrak officials report they have seen a decrease of 23% from private cars.