The Chelatchie Prairie Railroad is about to get an update thanks to $4.7 million from Washington transportation funds. Rehabilitation of the line will be broken into three phases, the first of which is scheduled to start this fall.
The short-line railroad runs 33 miles from Vancouver to Chelatchie, splitting from the BNSF Railway’s main line near the north end of Fruit Valley Road. It once served a now-abandoned plywood and sawmill.
Clark County owns the line but leases portions of it to two operators. On the north end, the Battle Ground, Yacolt and Chelatchie Prairie Railroad Association volunteer group, known as BYCX, operates passenger trains from May to December, including a Christmas-themed train and one with a robbery reenactment.
However, the first $1.5 million will be used to improve the railroad connecting Vancouver to Battle Ground. That 14-mile stretch is used by the Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad to move freight and is in better condition.
The money will be spent on replacing rotted or deteriorated ties and tracks, and installing new ballast, which are the rocks and rubble under the tracks, ensuring that water will properly drain.
“In order for the line to be used into the future, you have to do this maintenance,” said Kevin Tyler, lands manager for Clark County Public Works.
Phase 1 work is expected to take roughly eight weeks.
The second phase calls for spending $2.7 million on the 12 miles of track from Battle Ground to Yacolt. The money will be spent on bridge repairs in addition to tie and ballast replacements. This portion of the line is relatively inactive because some of the bridges are unsafe.
Although the railroad past Battle Ground is not currently leased to a commercial freight operator, fixing the line and ensuring that it can carry items like hazardous materials allows for similar operations like the Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad to operate on that portion of the railroad, Tyler said.
The third, $500,000 phase of the project covers the seven miles from Yacolt to Chelatchie and will be focused on ballast rehabilitation.
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