CHARLESTON, WV – Five miles out an abandoned railroad line near Cass, a crew of West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT) workers are braving harsh conditions and long commutes to rebuild the Trout Run railroad bridge and reopen the rail line between Cass and Durbin.
“There hasn’t been a train between Cass and Durbin since 1985,” said Cameron Barkley, a WVDOT construction engineer who is one of the crew rebuilding the bridge.
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 WVDOT’s Division of Multimodal Transportation Facilities and the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad, which runs the Cass trains, the West Virginia Division of Highways (WVDOH) is working to build a new bridge and reopen the Cass to Durbin run for tourism.
Members of the work crew are part of WVDOH Central Forces, or Cenforce, a group of workers with specialized skills who can be sent around the state to tackle projects requiring special expertise.
“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.”
For Pennington and other Cenforce workers rebuilding the Trout Run Bridge, it’s a labor of love.
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 feels 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.
The Trout Run Bridge sits about halfway between Cass and Durbin, accessible only by rail. Everything from construction materials to heavy equipment had to be brought in by rail, and it’s a 30-minute ride by rail speeder or rail truck for the workers to get in and get out every day.
Working conditions are rough.
“When it’s 25 degrees at Cass, it’s 15 degrees here,” Pennington said. “We actually plowed ourselves in – our pickups have plows on them – we’d plow our way in to get to work.”
But the hard work and long hours are worth it.
“It’s not too many jobs you have where you see a bald eagle fly by you,” Pennington said.
“Years from now, my kids, my grandkids, their grandkids are going to have the opportunity to ride this valley,” he said. “And they can say my dad or my grandad or my great-grandad helped build this bridge.”