Railway Heritage Tourism Management (minor)

Academic Minor – Add Some Excitement to Your Education!

Does the sight of a steam locomotive underway excite you? Do you enjoy being part of the adventure visitors experience on board historic trains? Do you get satisfaction out of illustrating or telling an exciting story for children, or adults? Then you’ll want to explore the Railway Heritage Tourism Management minor developed by the Center for Railway Tourism in cooperation with the Division of Business and Entrepreneurship. While most students pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in management, the minor is open to all students, including those majoring in history, English, hospitality and tourism management.


Click here for an account of this unique program provided to its members by the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society in its Summer 2020 Quarterly Newsletter.

Our program’s link to the Center enables unique opportunities not found at any other institution in the United States. Classroom and field experiences encourage and enable a career in railway heritage preservation and tourism management. Work experiences through internships include steam locomotive restoration and operation, exhibit and educational programming, accounting for rail heritage non-profits, and marketing strategies for the railway heritage and tourism industry. Occasional one-day externships at heritage sites offer multi-disciplinary exposure to railway heritage preservation. And there is assistance in securing employment in the railway tourism industry upon graduation.


Students also benefit from our location. Elkins, West Virginia is home of the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad. This highly regarded excursion operation draws approximately 45,000 visitors each year. The West Virginia Railroad Museum is devoted to exploring the industry’s impact on the community, the region and the state.

The Allegheny Highlands Trail, a 26-mile hiking and biking route through the surrounding mountains along what was once the Western Maryland Railway’s coal and timber hauling route through the surrounding mountains. Davis & Elkins College is home to the West Virginia & Atlantic (Model) Railroad.

Other significant nearby railway heritage operations include Cass Scenic Railroad, the Durbin Rocket, the Potomac Eagle, the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, the B&O Railroad Museum in Oakland, Maryland, and the 77-mile Greenbrier and 72-mile North Bend rail trails. In all, West Virginia is home to a growing network of 63 rail trails.

Course Descriptions

This curriculum focuses on preparing students, regardless of their major field of study, to pursue a career in railway heritage preservation and tourism management. The can work at a museum or an excursion operation, for a restoration vendor or with a component of a larger, general interest facility. In every instance, the emphasis is on “best practices” and the connection between authentic heritage preservation and tourism as an economic development tool.

Four of the five required courses are offered every two years, with the fifth course, an internship, to be undertaken between the junior and senior year. Most electives are offered once every four years. The practicum can be offered annually, depending on demand, as can the study abroad opportunity.

Railway Heritage (Required): A chronological and thematic overview of the railroad industry in America, with special emphasis on the industry’s impact on the nation’s social and economic history, including the broad potential that heritage has for economic development through tourism.

Heritage Tourism (Required): Introduces heritage preservation and presentation, including museums, other attractions, hotels and restaurants, and tourism services, as a vehicle for both cultural appreciation and economic development.

Heritage Marketing (Required): Examines and applies the principles of marketing within the context of cultural and heritage tourism settings.

Heritage Preservation (Required): Topics include preservation planning, preservation economics, approaches to preservation, archival documentation and preservation technology.

The Railroad in Film (Elective): An interdisciplinary examination of the role of railroads in life and culture as portrayed in film, with emphasis on major studio feature films augmented by historical footage, cartoons, newsreels and entertainment shorts, all selected for their cinematic quality and their relevance to the role being examined by the feature film.

The Railroad in Art, Literature and Music (Elective): An examination of how railroads have influenced, and been portrayed in the creative arts, with examples drawn from fields as diverse as advertising, Broadway productions, propaganda, both literary and popular fiction, and three uniquely American musical forms – traditional, blues and jazz.

Railway Heritage Practicum (Elective): This course will take place at a different railway heritage facility, to be determined each time it is offered. It provides hands-on experience, with participating students being introduced to the qualities needed to operate a railway heritage site or to oversee the preservation of a railway heritage component (i.e., restoration work, exhibit construction, the launch of a marketing initiative, creating an operating schedule or similar).

Railway Heritage Internship (Required): Working with selected railway heritage tourism sites, this field experience will follow and comply with the established procedures and expectations of Davis & Elkins College. An emphasis will be place on finding internship situations that are compatible with the student’s career aspirations and the requirements of his or her major field if it is not management.

Study Abroad (Elective): A three-week tour of selected railway heritage preservation sites in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales to provide insights into what are regarded as the leading such preservation efforts worldwide.

Model Railroading in a Museum Setting (Elective): An overview of the hobby/industry and its history, hands-on experiences, and the educational and promotional importance of model railroads in telling railroading’s story.


For Students Who Minor in Railway Heritage Tourism Management, Internships Offer Important Opportunities to Grow and Learn.

An internship is a structured, for-credit, multi-week field experience at a participating railway heritage venue that will immerse you in one or more aspects of railway heritage preservation and tourism.

Supervised by the College’s Office of Career Services & Student Employment, in cooperation with the internship sponsor and the student’s course instructor, each experience will consist of:

A pre-arranged schedule of learning experiences to cover a twelve-week period or its equivalent.
A journal, to be kept by the student, consisting of daily entries commenting on the experience and describing accomplishments.
A written evaluation of the intern’s work by the sponsoring organization, including, where appropriate, a letter of recommendation for prospective employers.
A student-developed action plan to address a specific issue at the sponsor’s site, to be graded and evaluated by the student’s course instructor.
The internship will not only further equip a participant for a position in the industry, it will test and confirm the student’s genuine interest in the field, and contribute to a strong resume when the student begins seeking employment in the field.

Current internships include year-long opportunities to oversee not-for-profit accounting principles and tax reporting procedures, or to create and implement traditional and social media marketing strategies; and summer-long work restoring, maintaining and operating an array of historic steam and diesel locomotives. Offers for other opportunities await qualified students.  

That could be you.

Organizations seeking to employ the services of a Davis & Elkins College/Center for Railway Tourism intern should know there is wide latitude in designing the internship experience. Contact the Davis & Elkins College Director of Career Services Chris Jones or Center for Railway Tourism Director Jim Porterfield for more information.

Other Considerations

Students can immerse themselves in a field offering a rewarding career made up of history, education, management, economic development and community service with the exciting world of railroading. Graduating with a minor in railway heritage tourism management, students are qualified for consideration in museum and excursion operations and marketing, rail heritage preservation and presentation, archive cataloging and protection, and facilities planning. Graduates will have the skills necessary to staff and direct the many sites that make up what is one of the largest heritage preservation subject areas in North America.

For students of Davis & Elkins College the Center provides:

  • classroom and field experience to encourage and enable a career in railway heritage preservation and tourism management;
  • work experience through year-long and seasonal placements as interns in the railway heritage and tourism industry, either paid or unpaid at the student’s discretion;
  • one-day externships wherein one or more participants experience a site visit exposing them to the various operations typically found in a railway heritage museum and/or excursion facility;
  • multi-disciplinary exposure to the many forms railway heritage preservation and tourism takes, with emphasis on the field’s potential appeal to various student and visitor interests;
  • assistance in finding and succeeding at permanent employment in the railway heritage tourism industry upon graduation, including mentoring and building a support network within the industry; and
  • the opportunity to develop model railroading skills and experience by participating in the construction of the West Virginia & Atlantic Railroad, an HO-scale layout portraying the historic role of the state’s railroads in moving natural resources to market.

These services and opportunities are available to all minors, regardless of their Davis & Elkins College major, who have an interest in Railway Heritage Tourism Management. Email Jim Porterfield, director of the Center for Railway Tourism, at porterfieldj@dewv.edu, or call 304-637-1307 or 814-574-5586 for more information.

Public Programs

Davis & Elkins College, in Elkins, West Virginia, is at the center of a number of exciting railway heritage and tourism sites. These include the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad, a premier excursion operation; Cass Scenic Railroad, a page-out-of-time treasure portraying the logging industry of a century ago; the Durbin Rocket and its Castaway Caboose program; the Potomac Eagle excursion; and a number of nationally prominent rail trails, such as the Allegheny Highlands Trail, the Greenbrier Trail and the North Bend Trail.

The founders of the College, Henry Gassaway Davis and Stephen B. Elkins, were railroad builders, creating what became the Western Maryland Railway, and later, the West Virginia Coal & Coke Railroad. Both had operations in Elkins. The campus is dotted with a number of buildings they built for what was their summer headquarters.  These include two mansions, known as Graceland and Halliehurst, the Gatehouse, and The Icehouse, all of which are part of a National Historic Landmark District, and continue in use.

To take advantage of these resources, as well as the facilities on campus, the Center offers a number of programs for the railroad heritage and tourism industry and the public throughout the year. These include:

  • The West Virginia Railway Heritage Initiative, a conference meant to increase awareness of the important historic and national role railroads play in the nation’s history.
  • The Railroad in Film, an undergraduate course celebrating the portrayal of railroading in feature films, documentaries, rail fan films and social media outlets.  The course is offered in the evening to enable residents of the surrounding community to participate as well.
  • As home to the American Society of Railway Artists (ASRA), a growing array of exhibits and activities celebrate the role of art in capturing and presenting railroad activity.
  • Other initiatives include Reading ‘n Railroading, a literacy and activities-based program for elementary school-age children; the West Virginia & Atlantic Railroad, an HO-scale layout being built on campus; and a custom license plate initiative devoted to railroad heritage as its theme.
Sounds of Railroading Conference and Concert

Consider this . . .

“Given the refusal of railroads to die quietly…it seems appropriate to trace the history of our best-known folksongs about trains and railroads and place the subject in its sociocultural context.”

Norm Cohen, Author
Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong

The 2016 Sounds of Railroading Conference and Concert takes Norm Cohen up on his challenge. Focusing this year exclusively on traditional music, it offers you an opportunity to interact with:

  • eight acclaimed and accomplished musicians known for their traditional railroad songs both general and subject-specific;
  • four national authorities, each a specialist on aspects of traditional railroad music – Norm Cohen among them;
  • an audience likely to be peppered with those anxious – and welcome – to join in; and
  • a setting in a former railroad town in the heart of Appalachia.


 . . or this. . .

“Traditional music is an expression of values, and those values are revealed in songs, instrumentation, recitation and folklore. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the many roles railroads, trains and trainmen take in much of traditional music.”

Gerry Milnes, Folklorist, Musician, Author
Play of a Fiddle: Traditional Music, Dance, and Folklore in West Virginia (Book)
Hell Up Coal Holler (CD)

Folklore as artistic communication. Railroad lore as an expression of a people’s values. Music as a pleasing sound that produces an effect on the listener. These themes are at the heart of this first Sounds of Railroading Conference and Concert. Presentations offer commentary, music, memorabilia, media and more, and address:

  • railroad music as a traditional music genre;
  • the triumphs and hazards of working for the railroad, from running a locomotive to aligning and spiking down the rail;
  • the origins and interpretations of train wrecks, train robberies and other captivating adventures railroaders endure in music; and
  • hobo traditions and railroad music, including the train hopping hobo experiences of one of the event’s musicians.

The Saturday night concert then brings it all together for more than two hours of celebration of this uniquely American form of artistic, expressive, pleasing story-telling. Here’s a sample of what you’re in for, performed by William Sherman Holstine, who is providing both examples during the conference and playing at the concert!

Join us . . .
Throughout the weekend we’ll take in a number of related rail heritage activities, including:

a Friday evening dinner train run to scenic High Falls, where music is likely to break out;
a classic movie, “Emperor of the North,” that captures the setting and the experiences that are the backbone of the program;
dinner Saturday evening in historic Graceland, railroad-builder Henry Gassaway Davis’ mansion, that features an authentic historic dining car menu; and
numerous opportunities to interact with the musicians and content specialists assembled for this event.

Listen . . .
to the Sounds of Railroading Conference, June 3-5, 2016, at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia.
at a stand-alone concert, Saturday, June 4, 2016, from 7-10 p.m. at the Randolph County Community Arts Center (conference registration includes admission to this event).


  • Conference attendees are entitled to a special rate of $65 (plus tax) per night for two nights at the Iron Road Inn (357 Beverly Pike, Elkins, W.Va.), just three miles from campus. Call 304-637-1888 and ask for the rate reserved to the Sounds of Railroading Conference and Concert.
  • An annotated bibliography of sources for additional information about the relationship between traditional music and railroading is being developed for distribution to conference attendees.
  • A list, no doubt only partial, of railway heritage sites that includes music events in 2016 is available on the Railroad Music Events page.
  • A long and especially close connection between railroading and two other forms of uniquely American music – jazz and the blues – also exists. To address them, the Sounds of Railroading Conference and Concert is going on the road. In 2017, it’s off to Chicago, where we will explore jazz with host Paul Wertico, 7-time Grammy Award winning jazz percussionist and associate professor of jazz studies at Roosevelt University. It might even be accompanied by an optional private rail car excursion to New Orleans. In 2018, the conference and concert are planned for Memphis and the blues, and may include field trips to the Mississippi Delta and Mississippi Blues Trail.

The Center for Railway Tourism is located at:

Robert C. Byrd Center for Hospitality & Tourism
Davis & Elkins College
100 Campus Drive
Elkins, WV 26241

James D. Porterfield, Director
Phone:  814-574-5586

Support the Center

To learn how you can support the work of the Center for Railway Tourism, whether as a sponsor, a benchmarking committee member, a subscriber, or donor, please contact:

James D. Porterfield, Director
Center for Railway Tourism
Davis & Elkins College
202 Robert C. Byrd Center for Hospitality & Tourism
100 Campus Drive
Elkins, WV  26241
Phone:  814-574-5586

To support the Center with a donation by check, make it payable to Davis & Elkins College, write Center for Railway Tourism in the memo line, and mail it to:

Development Office
Davis & Elkins College
100 Campus Drive
Elkins, WV  26241

You can also make your contribution online.

Train station

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