The world moves pretty fast these days, but a trip to a place with a slower pace isn’t too far away.
“It’s like stepping back in time,” Bobby Devor said. “My dad used to always talk about taking the train, but by the time I was grown cars were king.”
In the throes of West Virginia winter, Bobby and his wife Ellen were looking out of the window of the Elkins Winter Special, a four-hour round trip down the historic Tygart River Valley train line starting at the Elkins Depot following the river to Tygart Junction.
“We’ve ridden the train at Cass, but this was something new this year,” Ellen said. “It’s nice, I feel like I’m not in a hurry to get anywhere and that’s not something I get too often.”
The Winter Special is pulled by one of several restored diesel locomotives in the fleet owned by the Durbin & Greenbriar Valley Railroad, a company with several focuses, chief among them is the preservation of West Virginia’s railroads and rail machinery.
To raise the funds to pursue their goal, the company operates tourist rail attractions under the moniker Mountain Rail West Virginia as well as freight transportation.
DGVR operates the New Tygart Flyer springtime tour and recently acquired the operation at Cass Scenic Railroad.
But during the winter months, the company offers the Elkins Winter Special that runs snow or shine along the Tygart River.
Special tickets for the Parlor Car can be bought for an upcharge for a seat in a restored Pullman luxury observation car built in 1926, which includes cash bar service and a personal guide on the train.
While less expensive, the regular tickets for the train ride offer the same views as the Parlor Car. These tickets include a sandwich bar, drinks and cookies on the train.
The ride the Devors took in January was picturesque, with a light dusting of snow on the ground and just enough falling from the sky to make the scene cozy.
“I mean, I couldn’t ask for a better day for this,” Ellen said. “Just look at it outside.”
The train line the Winter Special follows was originally built to transport all manner of freight, mainly coal and limestone. It passes through the historic coal town of Junior then Bellington, where DGVR’s diesel engine repair shop is located.
Then it heads down the river to Tygart Junction, where the Buckhannon River meets the Tygart Valley River. Just south of Philippi the train reverses direction and heads back toward Elkins.
The Winter Special chugs along the tracks until March 18. Once its run is concluded, The New Tygart Flyer will be DGVR’s main attraction for the spring.
Starting in April, the 42-mile roundtrip by train runs from Elkins Depot to High Falls on Shavers Fork River. Once May arrives, Cass Scenic Railroad will kick off with trips via steam engines up the mountain to Bald Knob.
Cass is scheduled to open this year May 20. For more info on DGVR, visit www.mountainrailwv.com.
The Potomac Eagle
In the eastern panhandle is West Virginia’s second scenic railroad company, The Potomac Eagle.
The Potomac runs several excursions along the South Branch Valley Railroad, which follows the south branch of the Potomac River between Romney and Petersburg, West Virginia.
The entire line itself spans a 52.4-mile route from Petersburg to Green Spring where it links to the CSX mainline that connects Cumberland, Maryland to Martinsburg.
The Potomac’s holiday specials are closed for the year, operating only in December, but their spring trips are ready to open this March.
The Trough Trip is the most popular trip in the catalogue and takes riders through one of West Virginia’s “Grand Little Canyons.” The canyon got its name from George Washington, who dubbed it “The Trough” during a surveying trip in 1748.
It’s a three-hour roundtrip from Wappocomo Station north of Romney to the stop in Sycamore Bridge and back.
The Potomac also offers a sunset dinner trip through the trough on the same route as the first, but this ride takes place as the sun is setting over the canyon.
The Green Spring Special is a short trip from Wappocomo Station up to Green Springs that lasts only 1.5 hours and is the perfect length for little ones who have trouble sitting still.
At the other end of the spectrum, the All Day Trip to Petersburg is an eight-hour excursion starting at 10 a.m. at Wappocomo Station and traveling down through the trough into Moorefield and on to Petersburg with a two-hour layover for shopping and exploring.
At 3 p.m., the train is loaded and returns to Wappocomo Station by 6 p.m..
For more information and scheduling, visit www.potomaceagle.com.
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