CASS, W.Va. — State Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette wants to quell any rumors that Cass Scenic Railroad in Pocahontas County is on the auction block.
“We wouldn’t sell the rail under any condition!”
There have been posts on Facebook that the railroad portion could be sold while the state would maintain the park. Burdette stressed those are just rumors.
He said his office is in the preliminary stages of considering other options for the future of Cass.
“The challenge we have had is that it looses a substantial amount of money every year. It loses in the neighborhood of $1.4 million every year it operates,” according to Burdette.
A recent federal audit of Cass shows the need for substantial maintenance, in the next few years. It adds up to $1.4 million for repairs to the tracks and another $700,000 for the park. That’s a steep price for state government when budget cuts are already underway on essential services.
Burdette said they’d like to see the park bring in a bit more money.
“Not so much profitable but at least make it so we can guarantee our citizens and our friends that it’s going to be there for a long, long time,” explained the commerce secretary.
The state is looking at partnering with the Durbin-Greenbrier Valley Railroad, a privately owned company that offers rail excursions at several sites across West Virginia.
“The most significant difference that we’ve looked at is simply a vendor contract to operate the railroad itself, not the park or anything about it,” said Burdette. “There’s no bids out. There’s no RFQ. There’s no offer to sell. In fact we’re not going to sell Cass Railroad!”
Burdette said if the state can team up with a private company it could cut costs. However, he stressed, even talks are in the very early stages.
“We’re just trying to explore our options to make sure we’re good stewards of the taxpayers’ money and at the same time we retain a first class attraction at Cass,” said Burdette.
The town of Cass was brought into the state park system in 1961 when the legislature appropriated money for the purchase. The first sightseeing tours began in the summer of 1963. Over the past 50 years millions of visitors have taken the train to Whitaker Station and further up the mountain to Bald Knob.