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Civil War train idea builds steam

September 01, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

A Strasburg, Va.-based organization wants to combine two of the region's popular hobbies - Civil War history and railroading.

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Shenandoah Rail Initiative Inc. is working on a Civil War train tour that would run between Winchester, Va., and Martinsburg, W.Va., said President Tony Coogan.

"It's a wonderful project and it makes a great deal of sense," he said.

The 41.9-mile rail line traverses an area that's rich in Civil War history.

Coogan admits that the idea is an ambitious one. Although the price has not been determined, it would be in the millions of dollars, he said.

Winchester & Western Railroad has agreed to give access to its track, which runs parallel to Interstate 81 between Williamsport and Winchester, Va.

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The first step would be to upgrade the rail line, which now carries freight, to meet passenger rail safety standards, said railroad President Phil Light. The other major cost would be liability insurance.

"We don't have anything other than an idea at this point," Coogan said.

Coogan has a $640,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation. Before that money can be spent, he must get his group certified as a nonprofit and partner with the Lord Fairfax (Va.) Planning District, which will administer the grant.

Coogan has met with area railroad enthusiasts, including members of the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum and a group that is restoring the railroad Roundhouse in Martinsburg, W.Va.

The Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum, which runs its own scenic rail tours in the fall, is familiar with the hurdles facing Coogan, said museum Vice President Robert Tracey.

Museum board members have agreed to help Coogan in any way they can, he said.

Linking Civil War history with railroads makes sense because many Civil War battlefields were close to the rail lines that carried military supplies, said Martinsburg Roundhouse Authority member Clarence E. "C.E.M." Martin III.

"We think it's a very good idea. It's one way we can potentially use the roundhouse facility once it's restored," he said.

The land between Martinsburg and Winchester changed hands many times during the Civil War, Coogan said.

The Winchester & Western rail line was originally part of the Cumberland Valley Railroad, Light said.

It ended up in the hands of Conrail, which was going to abandon it before the current owners, Unimin Corp. of New Canaan, Conn., purchased it in 1986, he said.

Through the Civil War tours, Coogan hopes that other passengers will be able to use the railroads for transportation.

"My ultimate goal here is to see the return of rail for people who live along this 81 corridor," he said.

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