Rail seen as way to move water for gas drilling

WHEELING – Watching fleets of tanker trucks transporting water for natural gas fracking throughout the area on a daily basis, Ed Gorczyca believes drillers could move some of this water by rail.

“With all of this gas activity, it makes sense. You could get some of those trucks off the road,” the Wheeling resident said during the Tuesday West Virginia Rail Authority public meeting regarding the state’s 20-year rail transportation plan at Independence Hall.

Though the frigid temperatures kept attendance to a minimum, Gorczyca joined about a dozen others at the meeting to hear the possibilities for railroad growth in West Virginia, while also celebrating a bit of the past.

“There is so much history with the railroad here. I have a picture of President (Dwight D.) Eisenhower campaigning from the back of a train here in Wheeling,” Gorczyca said.

“Then, you have the B&O Building right here,” he added of the classic structure situated along 16th Street that now serves as the main building for West Virginia Northern Community College’s Wheeling campus.

Regarding the potential for increased natural gas activity to coincide with expanded use of railroads, once the $500 million Dominion Resources Natrium processing plant opens, the facility will feature a connection to the CSX Corp. rail line running along the Ohio River. Construction workers have been building this connection to tie the plant to the CSX line, which is part of the historic Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

“Cars would be pulled onto the siding (rail) and be loaded – then taken away when full,” Dominion spokesman Charles Penn said of this rail connection.

According to the presentation provided during the Tuesday meeting, West Virginia now has about 2,200 miles of freight rails in the state, with 84 percent of these operated by CSX or Norfolk Southern. The vast majority of the freight carried along these lines is coal.

The presentation also showed there are two existing passenger Amtrak lines running through the state. One of these stretches across West Virginia from Ohio to Virginia, while the other runs between Virginia and Maryland in the Eastern Panhandle. There are several “proposed for study” passenger lines that could include stops in Wheeling, Weirton, Parkersburg and Huntington.

A draft 20-year plan, which will include input gathered from eight meetings such as Wheeling’s, is expected to be complete in April and available for viewing at www.westvirginiarailplan.com.

Established by the state Legislature in 1975, the authority was formed to oversee railroad transportation and commerce. It became a division of the state Department of Transportation in 1989. Some of the authority’s duties include: keeping an inventory of rail lines; monitoring planned line abandonments; and administering federal grants related to rail transportation.

Those wishing to file written comments can send them to: Cindy Butler, director, West Virginia Rail Authority, 120 Water Plan Drive, Moorefield, WV 26836. Comments should be submitted on or before Feb. 28.