Print | Back to e-WV The West Virginia Encyclopedia



Concerned with the elimination of passenger service by private railroad companies, Congress in 1970 passed the National Passenger Railroad Act. The act created Amtrak, a semi-public passenger rail service. Originally operating over 24,000 miles of track, Amtrak trains served most major cities via specific routes that varied frequently depending on track conditions. Amtrak operates its trains over the tracks of the major railroad companies. Initially plagued by antiquated equipment and poor service, Amtrak improved its trains after the mid-1970s. Ridership increased, although the question of Amtrak’s survival remained a recurrent issue into the 21st century.

Amtrak operates two trains through West Virginia, both traveling from Washington to Chicago by different routes. The Cardinal operates via the old Chesapeake & Ohio line from Covington, Virginia, through Charleston to Huntington, and the Capitol Limited follows the old Baltimore & Ohio through Harpers Ferry and Martinsburg in northeastern West Virginia. The Capitol Limited was a continuation into the Amtrak era of a well-known B&O train. The Cardinal was a totally new train, although it initially followed the route and schedule of the New York Central’s James Whitcomb Riley, which operated from Cincinnati to Chicago prior to 1971.

Previously two other Amtrak trains served West Virginia, the Blue Ridge from Washington to Parkersburg and the Hilltopper over the Norfolk & Western main line from Petersburg, Virginia, to Catlettsburg, Kentucky. Saddled with inconvenient schedules and poor performance, neither train lasted long.

Written by Robert L. Frey


  1. Edmonson, Harold A. Journey to Amtrak. Milwaukee: Kalmbach Pub., 1972.