Home News Local News RAIL ACADEMY LOOKS AT WALLOWA COUNTY
RAIL ACADEMY LOOKS AT WALLOWA COUNTY
By Alice Perry Linker
Observer Staff Writer
A two-county railroad authority will soon be making decisions for the railroad line from Elgin to Joseph, and its first order of business may be an agreement to authorize a locomotive engineer training school.
Modoc Railroad Academy, a private non-profit organization, now operates one training program in Sacramento, Calif., for conductors and engineers. Dave Rangel, deputy director of Modoc, said the school is looking for a place to operate a second training program for engineers.
Staffers from the academy visited Wallowa County last week.
"It's safe to say we came away with a very favorable impression of the community and the potential facilities," Rangel said Monday.
Several issues between the school and the two counties need to be settled before a decision is made, he said, but he did not elaborate on the specifics. Union County Commissioner Steve McClure said today that he does not know what the specific issues are, but he reiterated that the counties will not use general fund dollars raised through property taxes to help support the railroad.
The academy is investigating two other places, in Indiana and Tennessee.
"Each site offers different incentives," Rangel said. "Indiana offered a total deed and title to the properties. Tennessee offers a tremendous amount of revenue to operate there."
Rangel said the Wallowa County option is very much in the running, and he said he is interested in a proposal made by Wallowa School District Superintendent Ed Jensen to collaborate with the academy and offer credit classes for high school students.
"That fits our mission," Rangel said. "We're very excited."
He said the academy hopes to make a decision by the end of the calendar year.
Created in 1995, Modoc trains six engineers per seven-month class. A Wallowa County branch would offer classroom and hands-on training for engineers only and would hire about four or five teachers.
Students and instructors from the school would operate both freight and excursion trains along the former Idaho Northern Pacific Railroad, but the school would not be involved in marketing or organizing excursion trains.
"We spend hours now pushing empty cars around for experience," Rangel said. "Students would run the freight; we're looking for activities for students, and with multiple trains we can give students maximum usage."
All trains would be under the supervision of a certified engineer, he said.
The two counties have agreed to purchase the rail line for $6.5 million, with the state agreeing to provide $2 million, and back the additional amount.
Rangel said Monday that he does not expect funding to come directly from the counties. The school operates with tuition dollars and fund-raising activities.
"They would be more in the position to go to agencies or foundations and say, This is what we need to get the thing running,'" he said.
Rangel said he also expects support from a new organization, Friends of the Joseph Railroad.
"If we can pull this off, it will be incredible for everybody," he said. "We can't do this every place, but I'm sure there'll be a lot of other communities interested."
Wallowa County is expected to adopt an ordinance Monday that will create the railroad authority. Union County will have the second reading on an identical ordinance Wednesday.
Union County is looking for county residents to serve on the nine-member authority. Three will be appointed from each