This is the second in a two-part series of blogs on Senator Robert C. Byrd and Congressman Harley O. Staggers' efforts to save passenger rail service in West Virginia in the 1970s. To read the part one, click here.
In our last Post from the Archives, we examined the short-lived West Virginian rail line operated by Amtrak in West Virginia’s north-central region from 1971 to 1973. This week, we will explore two additional rail lines championed by Senator Robert C. Byrd in the attempt to save passenger rail access in West Virginia.
Just one year after Amtrak announced that it would suspend service on the West Virginian line, West Virginia’s congressional delegation turned their attention to preserving passenger rail service in the southern region of the state. The mountainous terrain of this region made it even more isolated than northern or eastern West Virginia, strengthening the case for maintaining access to passenger service via the railroad lines which had bisected this area for over a century. Two main lines historically served this region: the Chesapeake and Ohio to the north and the Norfolk and Western to the south.
Meanwhile, Amtrak was researching the possibility of creating a more cohesive route that would incorporate several early lines created after the establishment of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation in 1971. Some of these routes were designed as trials, such as the West Virginian and the Mountaineer, each meeting various degrees of success or failure. In seeking more stable operation of its passenger rail service, Amtrak laid the groundwork for a more permanent route that would in time become known as The Cardinal.
After two years of operation, low ridership and loss of revenue pushed Amtrak to suspend service on its Mountaineer line. Within a few months of the closure, service began on the new Cardinal line, utilizing the tracks of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad which traversed central West Virginia, making stops at eight locations in the state including the capital city of Charleston. The overall Cardinal line connected Washington DC with Chicago.
Four years into the operation of the Cardinal line, Amtrak was again considering elimination of passenger rail service in West Virginia. Plagued by deteriorating infrastructure, the line was closed in late-1981. Senator Byrd learned of the plans to halt Cardinal line service in August and immediately initiated an effort to keep the line operating. On September 18, 1981, Senator Byrd along with Senator Jennings Randolph, as well as Senators Wendell Ford and Walter Huddleston of Kentucky and Senators John Glenn and Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio wrote to Senator Mark Andrews, Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation seeking the approval of funds for Amtrak to include the Cardinal. Twelve days later, the Cardinal line was suspended.