Roanoke rail excursion closer to becoming a reality

ROANOKE (WSLS 10) -  The commonwealth's first passenger rail excursion is closer to becoming a reality in the Star City.

The Virginia Transportation Museum recently received a 2.5 mile stretch of track known as the "Roanoke Beltline" as a donation from Norfolk Southern.

Virginia Museum of Transportation's Executive Director Beverly Fitzpatrick said staff has recently finished cleaning up parts of the trail by clearing brush and mowing grass.

Now cleaned up, the potential for the Roanoke Beltline that has sat unused for years can begin to be seen.

"There is really nothing like this in the commonwealth, makes us very pleased it will be in Roanoke," Fitzpatrick said.

It's the number one attraction rail fans have asked for.

After 40 years of dreaming, Fitzpatrick says now that the track is locally owned, the possibilities are endless.

"So much emphasis is on outside now. This parallels the Greenway. We are even talking about getting some pedal powered cars that you could sit on the rails and pedal to Bridge Street and turn around and come back, because that's the kind of thing that people enjoy today," Fitzpatrick said.

While the full passenger rail excursion could still be a few years off, the pedal powered rides could happen sooner. In other areas of the country, Fitzpatrick says this has been extremely profitable.

Since taking over ownership of the rails, Fitspatrick says VMT has also received a donation from AEP's recently closed Glynn Lynn power plant of an engine that could be used for the excursions, as well as passenger cars.

The engine, and cars along with the track will need expensive renovations.

While an exact cost has yet to be determined, and won't be until an evaluation of the rails can be completed, in all the total cost is estimated between $500,000 and $750,000.

"We have to replace a trestle, that's a quarter of a million dollars," Fitzpatrick said.

The trestle is located near the Green Goat restaurant along the Greenway.

" We have to make sure that this is safe. We want to make sure we follow all federal and state guidelines," Fitzpatrick said.

To help with renovation, VMT has begun purchasing used equipment for the job from Norfolk Southern surplus auctions.

Most recently, VMT purchased a used crane that cost $4,000. This will be used to repair the track.

While there is still a long way to go, Fitzpatrick keeps the benefit from the excursion as the light at the end of the tunnel. He says the added attraction could be a major source of revenue for the Roanoke Valley.

"This just adds another little thing that we can do  to get rail fans to stay in Roanoke." Fitzpatrick said. "We call it a triple-legged stool. You have the transportation museum, the Winston O. Link museum and you have a ride. There are no regular rides by rail in Virginia."

The closest similar attraction is Cass Scenic Railroad in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, a state-owned attraction that has thousands of visitors each year.

Fitzpatrick says the biggest hurdle remains cost. VMT will heavily rely on revenue from the 611 excursions. As of now, Norfolk Southern has yet to approve the schedule for next spring.

Fitzpatrick says they hope to know before Christmas.

Recommended Videos