Sweeping across the valley, a thin layer of fog reflects the first rays of a summer morning. The clear waters of the Cheat River splash against the rocky riverbed – joining in harmony with an orchestra of birds and morning wildlife. There are no roads or people for miles. Dawn transitions to day and there’s no sign of human life anywhere. This is unspoiled mountain beauty.
As the morning progresses, the fog lifts, and the shadows evaporate. The river rapids of the Cheat splash up against the riverbank and the subtle purr of a diesel locomotive intensifies. Birds scatter and soon, a locomotive rolls into a sweeping S-like curve. Children and adults have their faces peering outside of the vintage railroad car windows, and a quick toot of the whistle echoes off the narrow valley as the train eases to a stop. A step box emerges from a railroad passenger car and down steps a train conductor. Passengers disembark; cameras in hand – admiring the unspoiled wilderness surrounding them. The drone of river rapids nearby masks the sounds of the now-idling locomotive.
This is the Cheat Mountain Salamander train and it’s just one of the MountainRail Adventures offered by the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad. It’s named after the threatened woodland salamander exclusive to the Cheat Mountain region of West Virginia’s high mountain country in Randolph and Pocahontas counties. It’s a fascinating region that yields beautiful wilderness and to experience it in its entirety; one should travel by rail.
Tourist trains, like the Cheat Mountain Salamander use tracks previously used by freight railroads. Now, railroad owners John and Kathy Smith operate tourist trains on these West Virginia-owned tracks through some of the state’s most rural country. Each April through November, tourist trains operate from Elkins, Cass, and Durbin to a variety of different destinations. Some trains are themed specifically for couples, entertaining and dining, while others appeal directly to children with holiday events and other kid-themed programs. For all, it’s an experience that brings a lifetime of memories. And there’s nothing else like it. These steel rails and historic trains through the West Virginia’s forests bring tourists from not only West Virginia, but internationally.
Trains consist of climate-controlled passenger cars such as those found on the New Tygart Flyer and Cheat Mountain Salamander in Elkins, or open cars where passengers can experience a passing breeze and all of the sounds and experiences associated with steam locomotives on the Cass Scenic Railroad in Pocahontas County. For the adventurous type, many trot over to the community of Durbin to experience railroading on the Greenbrier River. A renovated caboose, equipped with all of the amenities found in a hotel, can be rented out for overnight as part of the railroad’s ‘Castaway Caboose.’
One of the unique aspects of the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad’s MountainRail Adventures is that the experience goes beyond a train ride. The scenic adventures connect with nature and the surrounding landscape to create for a surreal atmosphere. These high mountain country tourist trains are widely acclaimed and have gained notoriety beyond the borders of our country.
Tens of thousands of visitors travel to the highlands each year to experience these journeys for themselves. Each season brings different experiences, sights, and memories, and the specially themed trains often allow visitors the opportunity to learn more about the history of the region and be a part of the local culture. It’s an experience that not many get to experience, but it’s a experience that helps make West Virginia Wild & Wonderful. Come and be a part of it.