CHARLETSON, W.Va. — West Virginia Secretary of Transportation and Commissioner of Highways Jimmy Wriston, P.E., joined local dignitaries on the first official trip over the reopened Trout Run Bridge on Friday, May 12, 2023, when Shay 5, the locomotive, burst through a golden ribbon on the new span. Completion of the bridge reopens the excursion line from Cass Scenic Railroad to the town of Durbin, which had been closed since the bridge washed out in 1985.“Nothing was easy here,” said Wriston to the crowd on Friday. “Not one thing was easy, but you did it. You did it because you have will, you did it because you believe in the vision that we have, and you did this because you’re West Virginians and have West Virginia values.”
When floodwaters swept the tracks from the old hand-stacked stone railroad bridge in 1985, it shut down a rail line that had been open since the early 1900s, and was a regular run on Cass Scenic Railroad since the railroad opened in 1963. In cooperation with the West Virginia Department of Transportation’s (WVDOT) Division of Multimodal Transportation Facilities and the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad, which runs the Cass trains, the West Virginia Division of Highways (WVDOH) piled on to build a new bridge and reopen the Cass to Durbin run for tourism.“That’s what we do in this state. When we have a tough job to do, we roll up our sleeves and do it. That’s what happened and that’s what this bridge represents,” said Wriston.
Multimodal Transportation Facilities Commissioner Cindy Butler said, “Finally! The multi-year labor of love to restore the track from Durbin to Cass is finally complete. This 15-mile section of track was washed out during the 1985 flood and laid dormant ever since.” “A Truer example of a Public Private Partnership won’t be seen in a long time,” Butler said. “This 15-mile section of track with this beautiful ballast deck bridge, is a star for West Virginia and should be a showpiece for our WVDOT employees and the DGVR employees for many years to come. “To say I am proud of everyone that played a part in the completion of this line, is an understatement. It is a true testament of the talent we have within our state.”
Members of the work crew were part of WVDOH Central Forces, or Cenforce, a group of workers with specialized skills who are sent around the state to tackle projects requiring special expertise. All were presented with certificates of recognition from Gov. Jim Justice. “You name it, we do it,” said Greg Pennington, a supervisor on the Cass project. “We step in and knock it out of the park.”Originally intending to build only the bridge abutments in 2019 and 2020, Cenforce came back in 2022 to build the bridge itself. Conditions at the work site were harsh, with crews having to bring all materials by rail five miles up the rail line. Twelve or 14-hour work days were common as dedicated Central Forces work crews toiled in rain and snow. For Pennington and other Cenforce workers who rebuilt the Trout Run Bridge, it was a labor of love.
Cameron Barkley is one of two men on the Cass crew with direct ties to the railroad and to the area. Barkley’s father worked as a train engineer running Shay locomotives on Cass scenic railroad, and Barkley grew up on the Cass to Durbin run.“He’s one of the old-timers that knows about the railroad and a lot about the Shay engines,” Barkley said. “People seek him all over the place to speak about Cass.”Pennington felt personally responsible to help reopen the Cass to Durbin run.“I think we owe it to the state and to the nation to open this back up so people can see the beauty of the river and this valley,” Pennington said.A Shay locomotive from Cass made a test run over the new bridge in early February 2023. With warmer weather arriving, Cass is ready to start running excursion trains over the reopened rail line.“This bridge is an amazing accomplishment,” said Wriston. “These guys in these yellow shirts, they have memories they’ll be telling their great grandchildren about. This was the project for them.”