Railroad academy eyes relocation to B.G.

Training school currently located in Calif.

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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A private, nonprofit railroad academy might relocate from California to Battle Ground to take advantage of the county’s short-line railroad, Clark County commissioners learned Wednesday.

Commissioners were having a work session with railroad coordinator Jon Holladay on the 33-mile Chelatchie Prairie Railroad when Holladay introduced David Rangel, founder of the Modoc Railroad Academy.

Rangel said the vocational school, which trains engineers, brakemen and conductors, has grown too big at its current location outside of Sacramento.

“We are an elephant in a closet,” Rangel said.

He said the school has seven instructors and 24 students at any one time; students take eight-week conductor courses or 20-week engineer courses.

Rangel said since students come from all over the country, the school can be located anywhere.

He said he’s looked at open short-line railroads in other states but likes the urban amenities and the proximity to Portland International Airport.

Rangel said he’s been looking for classroom space in Battle Ground and he would also need to find student housing.

He’d be willing to build student housing, if necessary.

Currently, there’s commercial use of the railroad west of Battle Ground. Eric Temple, the main user, supports the school using the eastern portion of the line, Holladay said.

An excursion train also uses the line.

Commissioner Steve Stuart said he was concerned about the school using the line that runs through Battle Ground, but Holladay said the school would use the portion of the line that runs northeast of Battle Ground up to Chelatchie Prairie.

“We want to be the best neighbor,” said Rangel, who’s interested in signing a 20-year contract with the county for use of the line.

Holladay said the county could charge a “modest fee” to the school for using the line, and put the revenue into maintenance.

Another bonus could be that students could help maintain the tracks.

“It will not be a big revenue generator but brings new use to our railroad,” Holladay said.

After the work session, Rangel said he has quit entertaining offers from other cities, but if it doesn’t work out in Clark County he’ll move his school to another location in Washington.

He said he didn’t want to disclose the other locale, but emphasized that Battle Ground has the amenities — laundromats, grocery stores, restaurants — that students need.

He said his school has a 100-percent job placement rate and his school is sold out through February 2012.

With a high percentage of train employees reaching retirement age, “we put people to work,” Rangel said.

“Amtrak has called us looking for engineers. We have none,” he said.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.