Yacolt is ‘in the dark’ on railroad academy

Training center’s founder still hopes to move to county

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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A California-based railroad academy’s vocal desire to move to Clark County has given way to silence, according to Yacolt Mayor Jeff Carothers, whose town was once considered the favorite to land the school.

Modoc Railroad Academy’s founder David Rangel said Tuesday that his business remains in negotiations with Portland-Vancouver Junction Railroad to sublease part of the 33-mile Chelatchie Prairie Railroad in Clark County, and that Yacolt could still factor into his plans.

Rangel added that his private, nonprofit academy had scraped together the money necessary to make the move possible -- news that surprised Portland-Vancouver Junction Railroad President Eric Temple.

Officials with Modoc Railroad Academy, a school that trains engineers, brakemen and conductors, first announced their desire to relocate from Sacramento, Calif., to Clark County during a Clark County Board of Commissioners meeting in July. Yacolt, a town of 1,566, emerged as the academy’s favored location, but its status became murkier after repeated phone calls to the company resulted in no response, Carothers said.

The school could bring up to 20 new jobs to the area, plus about 80 students per year, Rangel said. The school offers eight-week conductor courses and 20-week engineer courses.

The influx of people would benefit local business if it happened, local officials said.

That is quite a big if, however.

“We’re kind of in the dark as to why they haven’t gotten back in touch with us,” Carothers said. He added, “I don’t know at this point if we’re a site they’re looking at.”

Rangel said there was nothing new to tell Yacolt officials. No timeline exists on when Modoc could move to Clark County.

The academy has raised $250,000 to move from Sacramento to Clark County, Rangel said. However, the places Modoc would like to use are inaccessible without major repairs to bridges and tunnels, he explained.

“Yacolt is still on the burner, but the problem is

accessibility,” Rangel said, explaining that concerns center around bridges’ ability to hold the weight of the trains on repeat visits.

Rangel’s comments that Modoc had the money necessary to move caught Temple off-guard.

“If indeed they have the money, then I can’t think of any other remaining issue to keep them from moving up,” Temple said, adding he did not view bridge and tunnel accessibility as problem areas that would delay the move.

Accessibility issues, Rangel said, had pushed back the school’s decision on what type of locomotives to use. Operation hours would also be nailed down in the future.

These are questions Yacolt residents want answers to, Carothers said.

Clark County railroad coordinator Jon Holladay remained optimistic Modoc would one day call Clark County home.

“I continue to believe they’d be a good fit with the county,” Holladay said.

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