Railroad academy looks into Yacolt

Traffic concerns make B.G. less appealing

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

The town of Yacolt could soon be the new home of a private, nonprofit railroad academy, if the founder of the California company gets his wish.

Modoc Railroad Academy founder David Rangel spoke before the Clark County Commissioners this month about his desire to bring his business to Battle Ground. Since then, he has all but ruled out Clark County’s third-largest city because of the adverse traffic effects the railroad would have on residents there.

Yacolt, a town of 1,566, has moved past Battle Ground as Rangel’s destination of choice for his vocational school, which trains engineers, brakemen and conductors. Still, the Clark County commissioners will have to weigh in on the plan. There is no timetable on when they might do so. Rangel is seeking a 20-year contract with the county.

“It is my impression Modoc is putting all its energy into moving to Clark County,” said Jon Holladay, the county’s railroad coordinator. He noted that the company is trying to determine how to pay for the move.

Based out of Sacramento, Calif., Modoc Railroad Academy currently has seven instructors and 24 students at any one time. Students take eight-week conductor courses or 20-week engineer courses.

Rangel believes his organization will see substantial growth in the next few years due to new federal guidelines requiring railroad employees to attend formal training every two to three years. While larger railroad companies can train employees in-house, smaller companies will need to look outside, and that’s where Modoc Railroad Academy comes in.

“We’re on the cusp of incredible opportunities for job creation, job development and employment for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people,” Rangel said. He said his company has spent the past four years seeking a new location.

Rangel indicated Thursday that he has considered locations in “eight or nine” states. Clark County “represents the best we’ve found,” he said.

Yacolt Mayor James Weldon supported Rangel’s desire to relocate to Clark County. Weldon expressed the belief the academy would not interfere with the local railroad and would be a boost for the town’s economy. He hoped the business would be moved in by March.

“It will be a super-good thing for our community,” Weldon said.

“What we represent to Yacolt and East Clark County is green, clean industry,” Rangel added. His company strives to take into account how it will affect noise, safety and other quality-of-life concerns in its new locale, he explained.

Battle Ground City Manager John Williams expressed surprise Yacolt had moved past his city as Modoc’s front-runner.

“I have not heard that,” he said, noting that Battle Ground officials met with the Clark County officials last week about the prospect of Modoc moving to Battle Ground.

Should Modoc relocate to Clark County, there would be positive implications for both Battle Ground and Yacolt, Holladay said.

“No matter where it goes, the economic impact will be a positive one felt by both communities,” Holladay said, noting that students in Yacolt would still buy food, gas and other items in Battle Ground.

Holladay noted that Yacolt is attractive to Modoc because it has more “physical space, in terms of railroad,” said the county’s railroad coordinator. It remains to be seen how many miles of railroad the academy will use.

Clark County has 33 miles of publicly-owned railroad — the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad. The first 17 miles are leased to a freight operator, Columbia Basin Railroad, which does not operate beyond Battle Ground, Holladay said. Beyond that section, the county subleases to Excursion Train Group, which often uses the rails on the weekend.

Yacolt would likely use the six or so miles on the north end of the railroad on Monday through Friday, Holladay said.

In addition to the support of Holladay and Weldon, Rangel appears to also have U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s backing. The Camas Republican’s office reached out to the California businessman to find out more about his plans and his operation.

“From what they shared, Congresswoman Herrera Beutler is excited about the possibility of more jobs and economic activity in the region,” wrote Casey Bowman, the congresswoman’s spokesman.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; twitter.com/col_smallcities; facebook.com/raylegend; ray.legendre@columbian.com.