Model railroad mavens are again running trains at the Napa Valley Expo – though still without the blessing of the fairground’s leaders, whose attempted eviction of the group has sparked a courtroom battle.
The Napa Valley Model Railroad Historical Society reopened its clubhouse and its elaborate miniature train layout earlier this month, according to group president Dan Jonas. After the building on downtown Third Street shut down June 22, the rail society’s website announced it would reopen starting Sept. 7, and the building staged an open house on Saturday.
On Wednesday, Jonas said the train enthusiast group – which has been based since 1970 in a pair of Quonset huts on Expo property – made some minor repairs before the reopening, in response to deficiencies identified during a Cal Fire inspection in January that cited the excessive use of flammable materials and extension cords, as well as inadequate emergency lighting and too-low ceilings at exits.
However, the welcoming of visitors back to the 1/87-scale railroad and diorama has taken place without authorization from the Expo, according to Joe Anderson, chief executive of the fairground.
Anderson added that no settlement has been reached in the rail society’s lawsuit against the Expo filed Dec. 29 in Alameda County Superior Court two days before the group’s lease at the fairground would have expired. Earlier, the Expo’s board of directors had voted in July 2017 not to renew the lease for the model train building, which a proposed redevelopment calls for demolishing to make room for a new pavilion that would host the annual Junior Livestock Auction.
Lawyers for model rail hobbyists have fought the eviction, saying the removal of the trains and backdrops would illegally launch the Expo’s renovation without the environmental reviews required by state law. Meanwhile, the rail group had continued hosting visitors in the first months after filing suit before suddenly closing this summer.
Cal Fire’s Jan. 12 visit to the model train display center was one of two state-sponsored inspections at the Expo. Six days later, a visit ordered by the state Fairs Financing Authority turned up dry rot on the walls and a weak foundation, according to an engineer’s report.