WHEELING - Local residents can help shape the state of West Virginia's 20-year rail transportation plan during a public meeting today.
The workshop, slated for 5:30-7:30 p.m. at West Virginia Independence Hall, 1528 Market St., Wheeling, will be hosted by West Virginia Rail Authority officials. They will conduct a formal presentation at 6 p.m. People desiring to file written comments may 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.
Butler said the state received federal funding to help develop a rail plan, something that is required by the federal government if West Virginia wants to apply for future rail-related funding. The purpose of the plan is to determine the future of the state's freight and passenger rail system.
"We want comments and we want the public to be a part of this," she said.
A draft 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 westvirginiarailplan.com. Then, eight more meetings will be held at other locations across the state to allow for more input before a final plan is adopted.
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.
The authority also owns two railroads: the 52.4-mile South Branch Valley Railroad, and the 132.1-mile West Virginia Central Railroad. Other responsibilities include: promoting rail tourism; participating in a commuter rail service to Washington, D.C. by maintaining two stations in the Eastern Panhandle, while a third is leased for commuters' use; and keeping a "rail bank" of abandoned lines that may be used in the future but can be used as recreation trails in the interim.