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History of the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad

img-history1 Vancouver businessman L.M. Hidden and other local investors began building the Vancouver, Klickitat and Yakima Railroad in 1888. The original goal was to connect Vancouver to the transcontinental railroad in Yakima by way of the Klickitat Pass. However, by the time the line reached Yacolt in the late 1800s, the country was in an economic depression and money ran out for further expansion.

Through the 1940s, the railroad was used by several different logging operators to transport logs and other wood products from the forests in northern Clark County to Vancouver and Portland. Starting in the early 1900s, the Northern Pacific Railway also provided passenger service between Vancouver and the small communities along the line.

Prior to the addition of passenger coaches to the train, people often rode wherever space was available -- in the caboose, on freight cars and even on the engine. In 1948, the International Paper Company extended the railroad into Chelatchie Prairie and used the line almost exclusively until 1981, when it was sold. The new owners changed the line’s name to the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad, and operated a seasonal excursion train and limited freight service. However, the reduced need for rail service and increasing operational costs forced the new owners to file for abandonment in 1984.


A New Life

Clark County purchased the line in 1986 for commercial, tourism and recreation purposes, and became one of the first local governments to own a railroad in the United States. Since then, the county has undertaken an on-going effort to modernize the railroad and turn it into a force for economic development and job creation within the county.

Clark County leases the rail line between Vancouver and Battle Ground to the Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad, and leases the section between Heisson and Chelatchie Prairie to a seasonal excursion train operator, BYCX. Over the years, volunteers have spent thousands of hours maintaining the tracks between Moulton Falls and Chelatchie Prairie to help keep the excursion train running.