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Transportation crews work together on rail bike project

CLAY COUNTY, WV – Anyone traveling along Buffalo Creek Road near the J.G. Bradley Campground in Clay County will see that many improvements are being made at the site. Crews from the West Virginia Department of Transportation’s Division of Multimodal Transportation Facilities and Division of Highways’ Central Forces are partnering with the private company, Rail Explorers, to do the necessary work to bring rail bikes to Clay County.
Visitors will be able to rent the pedal-powered rail bikes and ride them along the railroad track, which is owned by the state of West Virginia. The rail bikes can be operated and enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. They have an electric motor to assist riders along inclines and when a break is needed. The rail bikes are expected to bring tourists to Clay County, as they have done in other communities across the United States.
 
“I am very excited to see a first class operation like Rail Explorers coming to West Virginia,” said Cindy Butler, Commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Multimodal Transportation Facilities. “They are already in six other locations in five states. This unique tourist attraction will offer a new way to utilize our state owned railroads and see our beautiful state.”

The West Virginia Division of Multimodal Transportation Facilities has been involved in the project for several years. Crews from the division’s rail section began by clearing trees and brush at the site.
Things really kicked into high gear during the past six months. Multimodal crews cleaned up the tracks and started replacing worn out rail ties. In March, a group of four state workers from Hardy County replaced wooden rail ties and built a new rail spur, which will be the staging area for the rail bikes.
 
“It’s a change of pace for everyone,” said Jamie Cooper, a rail technician with the South Branch Valley Railroad and West Virginia state employee. “We get to experience a new place. Clay County is much different than Hardy County, so we all enjoy it.”
 
However, the Division of Multimodal Transportation Facilities can’t do it alone. As part of the West Virginia Department of Transportation’s “One DOT” approach, four members of the Division of Highway’s Cenforce team worked on the project as well. Cenforce is the state’s heavy maintenance construction group, which has 37 employees.
 
“It works well because Cenforce has equipment we don’t have access to unless we go and rent it,” Cooper said. “And they have manpower which a small agency like us doesn’t have as much of.”
Cenforce team members spent eight days in March building and paving a new parking lot with 36 spaces and adding additional spaces to the existing lodge parking area. 
 
“There was a good bit of debris, there was bridge steel, there was an old railroad track. Pretty major dropoff, it was all a grassy area. No parking, so we stripped everything, backfilled, removed all the debris, brought everything up to grade,” said Larry Day, a Cenforce equipment operator for the past two years.
Many of the Cenforce and Multimodal crew members working at the Clay County site also helped rebuild the Trout Run Bridge for the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad in Pocahontas County and repair a hiking trail that connects Babcock State Park with the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
 
Cenforce crews also reached out to the local Division of Highways office for assistance. “We work with a lot of good people throughout the DOH here in Clay County. These guys have been great to work with. We’ve been able to get stone from up here at the Clay County headquarters and one of their substations out here,” Day said.
 
Day said it’s gratifying to know that they are making a difference. “Oh I love it. I love it. You can see what you’re doing and a lot of people are going to enjoy what we’re doing for years to come,” he said.
 
Under the partnership between Rail Explorers and the state of West Virginia, Rail Explorers will bring in a brand new inventory of rail bikes, build a shed for the rail bikes, update the lodge for ticket sales and concessions, and bring in a restroom trailer system. Rail Explorers will be open by early summer.