Chehalis-Centralia Railroad and Museum (CCRM) President James Folk has resigned from the organization, citing conflict within the organization’s board of directors that he claimed is impeding CCRM’s ability to recover from its current crisis.
Folk announced his resignation from CCRM, effective immediately, in an email to railroad members on Friday.
“This organization is doomed to fail and I will not be a part of that failure,” wrote Folk in the email, which was provided to The Chronicle.
CCRM suspended all passenger service on March 5 after the organization’s leadership learned they would not be able to renew CCRM’s railroad operating insurance before it expired at 12:01 a.m. on March 6.
CCRM members met last week with the organization’s insurance broker, Tripp Salisbury of Borden Perlman McRAIL, to talk through CCRM’s options moving forward, which included securing premises liability insurance as soon as possible so CCRM could continue some of its operations.
For a long-term solution, the broker advised CCRM to make significant changes to its operation to become more business-oriented.
“This past week has been very difficult for me. I am extremely disappointed with what I have seen and heard from the board of directors. It has become very clear that the majority of you have no interest in listening to any outside guidance or making any changes to resolve our current situation. That coupled with the fact that our vice president and past president are trying to control everything has made it impossible for me to lead effectively,” wrote Folk in his resignation email.
Folk joined CCRM as a board member in January 2020 and was elected president at CCRM’s annual meeting in January 2022.
While the insurance issue took Folk and other CCRM members by surprise, Folk said there were some internal issues within CCRM that were apparent when Folk joined the board of directors.
“That was one of the reasons that I joined the board in the first place. It's been a hard push. I was hoping when I became president that I was finally going to be able to do something and didn't work out,” Folk told The Chronicle on Monday.
Folk did not name the CCRM vice president and former president in his letter. CCRM’s current vice president is Mary Kay Nelson and Folk’s predecessor is Mike Beehler, according to CCRM’s website.
In his resignation letter, Folk stated, “I have been trying for the past few months since I became president to make necessary changes to save our organization but have been fought at every step of the way by these same two people. I am even being fought currently on getting premises liability insurance to cover us as they feel that our broker is untrustworthy and they need to do his job for him. That is simply unacceptable.”
He ended the letter stating he had “no hope” for CCRM to survive.
Folk told The Chronicle on Monday that he stood by what he wrote in his resignation letter.
“I don't see any way for this organization to survive unless these people are willing to change and they're not willing to change so far,” Folk said. “The only way that everyone can survive is if they get a new group of people in to take over the leadership, with business experience and railroad industry experience, to get the railroad back on track, so to speak.”
If CCRM makes significant changes to become more business-oriented, Salisbury advised CCRM members last week that the organization could re-apply for operating insurance in six months.
Otherwise, Salisbury advised CCRM to wait until the insurance market changes before re-applying, which he said could take a year or longer.
Folk said he felt more hopeful about CCRM’s future after the meeting with Salisbury early last week. But by Friday, he said much of that hope had been dashed.
“With the right new leadership, the railroad could be up and running again in a matter of weeks, including repair of the washout damage. Unfortunately, the current leadership would rather wait a year or more and hope that they are able to get operating insurance again without making any of the changes that would allow that to happen. I could not be part of that,” Folk said.
“I care about the railroad a lot. I put a lot of my time and effort into it before I became president. I don't want to see it die, but … it’s looking pretty bleak right now,” he said.
“I’m hopeful that there will be a railroad here, I just don't know what shape that's going to take,” he said. “I don't think it's gone forever. But it might be gone for a while. We'll see.”
The insurance crisis has been trying for all CCRM members, Nelson told The Chronicle on Monday.
“It’s really unfortunate,” she said of Folk’s resignation. “That is not, in my opinion, what he signed on for. We didn’t see this coming. We still appreciate that he stepped up. He was young, and he stepped up. Unfortunately, he didn’t feel he could continue.”
Nelson told The Chronicle that Folk had her full support and support from the board of directors.
“I’m trying to unite the board and the community,” said Nelson, adding that CCRM has received an outpouring of support from the community.
Nelson and CCRM’s board of directors are currently working to “strategically plan their next steps,” she said.