April 06, 2011

Sweeney resigns from rails JPA

Supervisor Jack Sweeney is resigning from the joint powers authority that oversees the railroad right of way acquired from Southern Pacific.
The resignation is on the agenda for the April 5 El Dorado County Board of Supervisors meeting.
About 50 miles of rail right of way is overseen by the JPA that includes, besides El Dorado County, Folsom and Rancho Cordova. It is called the Sacramento-Placerville Joint Powers Authority. It was formed in 1991 to buy 53 miles of the Placerville branch right of way from SP. It completed the purchase in 1996.
Sweeney told the Mountain Democrat Monday that his resignation “stems from the vote they took last Monday. I lost. I’ve been trying since 1988 for multi-use of the right of way.”
The action taken March 28 on a 4-1 vote was to “seriously consider” tearing out the railroad tracks from Shingle Springs to the county line and make it an 16.5-mile-long trail for hiking, biking and horses. For the 8.5 miles from Shingle Springs to Missouri Flat the rails would be kept for possible excursion trains and multi-use trail.
The 4-1 vote was the deciding factor for Sweeney.
“I don’t think it’s fair for someone on the losing end of a 4-1 vote to represent a group somewhere else, so I think I better stop,” Sweeney told the Democrat.
In his formal resignation Sweeney wrote, “I do not believe I understand or believe in the action of our board. Further, I do not believe that I could therefore represent the wishes of our board as expressed through said motion. The board should use this opportunity to appoint a replacement and an alternate representative.”
Last week Mike Kennison of Friends of the El Dorado Trail told the Democrat that building the trail on the existing roadbed would be easier and less expensive than creating a new trail “off the railbed.”
Sweeney, however, noted that the existing trail already built on the rail bed from Missouri Flat to Camino costs $8.5 milion to build.
Referring to a proposal from Iron Horse Preservation Society, touted by some trail supporters, Sweeney noted that all the private company would do is remove the rails and ties and grade the ballast rock. Such a grading is pictured on the company’s Website www.ironhorsepreservation.org/TrackRemoval.html.
Ballast is approximately 3/4-inch to 1 1/2-inch crushed gravel that is used as a bed for the wooden railroad ties and to spread the weight of the rails and the train.
While it serves its purpose for railroads, by itself it is loose and difficult to walk on.
“You ought to see what it does to horses,” said Sweeney, who grew up on a ranch.
Sweeney also warned that removing the rails carries the risk of losing the right of way.
“My bigger concern is long-term. This rail is a different kind of easement,” Sweeney said, noting that most Rails to Trails projects convert what was originally a government land grant to the railroad.
The Sacramento Valley Railroad was built before government land grants that funded the Central Pacific and Union Pacific in the 1860s. The Sacramento Valley Railroad built its first 18 miles from Sacramento to Alder Creek in 1855, reaching Folsom a year later and Latrobe in 1864, four years before the Central Pacific was completed.
Construction of a branch line to Placerville began after El Dorado County voters approved a $200,000 bond at 10 percent interest in September 1863. The city of Placerville pledged $300,000. This money went to purchase stock in the newly incorporated Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad. Construction began right after the bond vote. Two years later the railroad reached Shingle Springs.
The railroad didn’t reach Placerville until 1888. The first passenger train arrived April 9, which is 123 years ago this coming Saturday.
“Most preambles to the right of way say this is for railroad purposes,” Sweeney said. “There’s a warning on our title” to that effect.
Earlier Monday Sweeney said he had planned to make a presentation May 8 about an excursion train proposal.
Folsom has not been notified of El Dorado County’s intent to rip out the tracks from Shingle Springs to the county line, though Sweeney said last week’s vote is the “first stage in notifying the JPA.”
With his resignation someone else will have to make that notification.

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