PASSENGER RAIL LINES
The history of rail in Charleston starts with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, which was mostly created by Collis P. Huntington, a New York rail magnate involved in the Transcontinental Railroad, first brought significant rail infrastructure to West Virginia following the Civil War.
Though freight rail has passed through the state for some time, the Cardinal line did not technically begin operation until the formation of Amtrak in 1971. The route combined a couple of private lines, including some on the C&O and Pennsylvania, to connect Cincinnati all the way to Washington, with Charleston being a stop along the way. The Cardinal line suffered a variety of problems, including the sub-par equipment that was grandfathered into the line from private companies. Issues of track and car maintenance became so dire that the line was briefly abandoned in 1981, but powerful West Virginia senator Robert Byrd successfully brought it back shortly thereafter. Today, it shares a route with the Hoosier State line on its western end, and it currently stops short of its eastern terminus in New York to allow for construction and improvements to continue in the Northeast Corridor.
The West Virginia State Rail Authority also runs some legacy passenger lines elsewhere in the state, mostly used for scenic tourist routes. Other private lines, such as the New Leaf River Train, serve a similar function. However, the most important rail line in the state remains the Cardinal.
On June 6, the Charleston station followed almost a dozen other stations along the Cardinal route and lost its full-time staffers in favor of station “caretakers” that will provide passengers with assistance during specific hours. Many people fear destaffing the station will cause a further degradation of service in Charleston which, by extension, could be used to justify further cutbacks in service. Already, the line only runs thrice-weekly, which makes it difficult for commuters to rely on. This represents a swift pivot in attitude towards the line, which only a few years ago was being considered for daily service.