Plans for luxury train in White Sulphur Springs lose steam
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Greenbrier Presidential Express luxury train isn't moving anytime soon.
Jim Justice, owner of The Greenbrier Resort, announced plans last year for the $15 million train, which would operate between Washington, D.C., and White Sulphur Springs.
Plans call for the train's 15 cars to include a VIP suite car with private rooms, parlor cars, dining cars, an open-air car and a massive steam locomotive painted green and gold.
About $10 million has been spent, but right now the train is going nowhere, Justice said Wednesday.
"We were moving along great as far as refurbishing and all that," he said. "Then we ran into governmental regulations and all on how you're going to run the train. I really didn't expect that. I'm not a train expert. I thought we were pretty well covered. It's drug on and on and on.
"It's government regulations on how you're going to run it and how you're going to insure it," he said. "Beyond that, I can't give you a lot more detail.
"We have all kinds of stuff purchased, ready to go in," he said. "The chairs, upholstery, a lot of woodwork. Of course we have all of the undercarriages completely redone to government specs. The steam engine is sitting at Clifton Forge (Va.), completely done.
"It's been on hold now for probably the better part of 2 1/2 months," he said. "We've really slowed down."
One hurdle described early on for the project was capacity constraints on the Buckingham Branch railroad, which runs as a single-track in Virginia. CSX uses the line to shuttle empty coal cars, and Amtrak uses the route for its Cardinal passenger train. Another potential problem might involve railroad policies against the use of steam locomotives.
Asked if the culprit is CSX or Amtrak or some other entity, Justice said, "It is surely not CSX. They're great to work with. They've been perfect. I think it would be unfair for me to say it's Amtrak. The culprit really falls back on me."
Later he said, "It is something the railroads are surely not wanting to run because it has some issues with them."
"I think we just probably didn't know the magnitude of the hoops you have to go through," he said. "I'm blaming myself. I wouldn't have known that (the time and complexity in gaining government approvals) in a million years. I'm not a railroad guy, not a train guy. I felt like we had those bases covered but we don't. So we're kind of in a lot of limbo right now.
"You think something will take three months and it turns into three years. We thought there would be no possibility it would take more than three months. We have such a network of regulations. Many are good but a lot of them, you're chasing your tail."
Justice had planned for the massive steam engine to be parked on a siding next to the train station at the resort in time for the Greenbrier Classic Golf Tournament last month. But it didn't happen.
"I have so much to do," he said. "I'm ashamed of myself. I haven't talked to (project partners) Ross (Rowland) and Paul (Nichini) for 45 to 60 days. I'm sad about the project because it is just going nowhere right now. We've put a lot of heart and soul and money in it and gosh knows if we could finish it up it would be just beautiful."
Asked when the train might run, Justice said it will be four months after all of the regulatory requirements are met.
Contact writer George Hohmann at email@example.com or 304-348-4836.