Air academy adds railroad program

Northwest Railroad Institute will prepare students for jobs in freight rail industry

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter



Northwest Railroad Institute

• Program begins: July 15.

• Program length: Six months.

• Tuition: $14,000.

• Where: 2901 E. Mill Plain Blvd.

• Information: 360-695-2500 or 800-868-1816.

• On the Web: Northwest Railroad Institute

The tooting of wood train whistles on Tuesday kicked off the announcement of a new freight railroad operations training program in Vancouver.

Starting July 15, Northwest Railroad Institute, a satellite location of the International Air and Hospitality Academy, will begin its first classes. The six-month program will be the first of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.

"This is really a big deal," said Arch Miller, founder and CEO of the International Air and Hospitality Academy and the new Northwest Railroad Institute.

Similar railroad programs are offered through Modoc Railroad Academy near Sacramento, Calif. and in Marion, Ill. and the National Academy of Railroad Sciences at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan.

Programs will provide training for freight railroad careers including freight conductors, conductor trainees, brakemen, switchmen and yardmen. It will not train engineers or passenger conductors.

The six-month program will consist of nine units including yard switching operations, air brakes and train handling rules and hazardous materials practices and handling. Tuition will be $14,000.

Applications for up to 50 students will be accepted beginning June 15. Students must be at least 18 years old and have earned either a high school diploma or GED.

The institute's backers anticipate demand for trained workers. An estimated 20 to 25 percent of the freight railroad industry's 175,000-strong workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next five years, they said.

Entry-level jobs in the freight railroad industry pay around $40,000. In 2009, the average U.S. railroad employee earned $81,563 in wages and $25,522 in benefits, for total compensation of $107,085, according to the Association of American Railroads.

The school has received approval of the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board and Veterans Affairs and its beneficiaries. It is awaiting approval from the U.S. Department of Education, said Laurel Buchanan, director of admissions.

Classes will be in the organization's renewable energies campus at 200 Grand Blvd. north of the Grand Central Fred Meyer.

"We tried to buy the old Vancouver City Hall building downtown, but we didn't get it," Miller said.

"A diploma from the Northwest Railroad Institute soon will be a ticket for landing an entry-level job in the railroad industry," Terry Keene said. Keene, a member of the school's advisory committee, worked for BNSF Railway for 39 years.

The freight railroad operations program adds to an existing array of programs operated by the air and hospitality academy. Those include training programs for airline, culinary, hotel and restaurant management and wind energy industries.

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4515;;