May 31, 2011

Whose rails are they? Question clouds future

KEITH BERRY (yellow hat), president of the El Dorado Western Railway Foundation, nudges a new flatcar along the tracks near the Historical Railroad Museum in El Dorado. Berry said the foundation has acquired another "gang car" that holds eight riders and is intended to carry the public on future excursions. Photo courtesy from El Dorado Western Railway Foundation
KEITH BERRY (yellow hat), president of the El Dorado Western Railway Foundation, nudges a new flatcar along the tracks near the Historical Railroad Museum in El Dorado. Berry said the foundation has acquired another "gang car" that holds eight riders and is intended to carry the public on future excursions. Photo courtesy from El Dorado Western Railway Foundation
El Dorado County supervisors directed their staff to determine the “feasibility and legality” of removing the rails from the Sacramento-Placerville Transportation Corridor several weeks ago. Tuesday, however, the issue seemed to become murkier than it was before.
After nearly two hours of testimony and deliberation, the board voted unanimously to direct county staff to create one or more proposals that would answer some of the outstanding questions and suggest a way forward.
Folsom City Councilwoman Kerri Howell told the board that the railroad hardware belongs to the transportation corridor’s governing Joint Powers Authority and not to El Dorado County, although the county is a partner in the JPA. Howell said she was relaying the opinion of the JPA’s legal counsel and that of “many but not all members.” Howell represents Folsom on the JPA board of directors.
The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors designated the transportation corridor’s right of way from Shingle Springs to the county line to be a hiking, biking and equestrian facility earlier this year.
Since that time, there has been pressure by “trails” advocates to dismantle and possibly sell the rails to a salvage company. Revenue from such a transaction could be used to help finance trail construction, and estimates have ranged as high as $5 million according to some published reports. However, none of that information has been formally solicited through a request for proposal or a contract with a salvage company.
Emotions have run high for years among those who want to create a “Class 1″ trail on the railbed and those who hope to retain the historical function of the railroad by operating excursion trains on the original right of way. Often categorized as the “train guys” and the “trails people,” another perspective holds that the right of way is wide enough to satisfy the needs and visions of both camps. The right of way reportedly extends from a minimum of about 60 feet to as much as 200 feet in some spots along the nearly 30 miles between Missouri Flat Road and the county line.
Deputy county counsel Paula Frantz, who specializes in land use law for the county, told the Mountain Democrat Wednesday that a final determination of ownership would likely have to be made by a judge. The original purpose of the JPA was to “acquire and preserve” the right of way known as the Placerville Branch of the Southern Pacific Transportation Co. That acquisition was fully accomplished in 1996.
“Southern Pacific transferred ownership to the JPA, so the JPA owns the underlying land,” Frantz explained. “El Dorado County has an easement, so we control it but can’t alter its function.”
She added that it is far less “cut and dried than it would appear, and there’s money involved in all these things. And like any neighborhood dispute, it’s a question of the interpretation of the ‘sales contract.’ It doesn’t matter what one party or the other’s opinion is.”
Summarizing the board’s action of Tuesday, Frantz said supervisors want to know how much it would cost to pull up the rails and the relative value of the materials.
“If it’s worth it they might pursue it, and the JPA might be fine with that,” she said. “Finding out if it’s even financially feasible is the next step.”
Supervisor John Knight is the board’s representative on the JPA and the lead in moving forward on the issue.
“I don’t dispute that the JPA owns the assets and controls the right of way,” Knight said. “But if there’s enough value in the assets, we can move on this, but we need to find out if it’s feasible — or close it off to all use,” Knight added expressing some frustration. “I need more clarity, but I believe we can legally take the rails.”
Under the auspices of the federal Rails to Trails Act, the right of way may revert to rail use if or when, in the future, the original rail company (the abandoning rail line) determines that commercial railroading is once again viable on that right of way. In that event, the company would be financially liable to re-lay the track and upgrade other infrastructure, Steve Schweigerdt of the Rails to Trails Conservancy explained during the board meeting two weeks ago. The land would not revert to earlier owners or easement holders, he said.
And Tuesday, Board Chairman Ray Nutting noted that it was “Rails to Trails that allowed us to be where we are today. I believe everything about this board is pro-rail, pro-train, and we need to talk about interim uses. Rails to Trails ensures the right to revert to rails if and when the timber industry is ever restored.”
Nutting is the owner of a small timber operation and while he has passionately lamented the loss of rail commerce, he has also championed Rails to Trails legislation as a promise, dim as it may be, for protecting a future for heavy railroading in the county.
El Dorado County Director of Transportation Jim Ware has been tasked with leading the effort to find a “proposal” the board can pursue. In an e-mail Ware sent to the Mountain Democrat Wednesday, Ware clarified his role in the process.
“I see my role as the person that sets up and facilitates the meeting between our county counsel and the SPTC-JPA’s Counsel. The outcome of that meeting should result in a report to our board on counsel’s opinion (position) of the status of ownership as well as what we can and can’t do relative to this matter,” ware wrote.
Determining costs and risks associated with any project related to removing the rails and commencing trail construction are a major part of Ware’s assignment, he said. Risks include the actual constructability of a project as well as financial, legal and technical issues.
“I saw the purpose of yesterday’s meeting as an opportunity to present the implementation plan for this project to the board. The board quickly saw that a key component to this effort would be to secure a proposal(s) to see what the county could expect in the way of costs/revenues to implement their direction,” he concluded.
Ware had emphasized to the board Tuesday that a project manager should be assigned to conduct the day-to-day efforts of pursuing all issues relating to an “actionable” proposal. But he also cautioned that assigning staff to the rails project would necessarily take personnel away from other projects. The board must determine the priorities, he explained.
Under a recent reorganization plan, the county Department of Transportation had to lay off about a dozen engineers and other technical staff.
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Chris DaleyPosted by Chris Daley on May 26 2011. Filed under Featured Stories,FolsomNewsPlacerville. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

  1. To make things even more confusing, the preparation of the roadbed and the original ties were paid for by El Dorado County bonds, approved by the voters.
    • Didn’t the railroad have to pay the money back to the county?
      • No. The county actually defaulted and then got new bonds issued, at a lower rate, to replace them. The City of Placerville kicked in $300,000 and defaulted on them. The bond money went to the railroad.
  2. Funny how the mis-informed BOS are constantly stepping in it! The JPA owns it, not the Kings and Queen BOS as they thought. The pattern of conduct of some of the BOS makes most wish an election was near to replace several of the self proclaimed royalty sitting on thrones of mismangement and poor decisions. How about replacing the rails they ordered torn out, if not the JPA should demand it and then, if not done, file suit!
  3. The estimated salvage value of the removed section of rails is estimated at $470,000 (2,000 tons at $235 per ton) based on 16 mile, published weight of rails per mile, and the estimated salvage value made by Iron Horse in a recent public bid.
    • Dear Chris,
      This Iron Horse I’m assuming it is not a volunteer organization. Was that aprox. 500k for the entire 16mi? Is “estimated salvage value” what they would be expecting to earn as profit or thats what would be returned to the county?
      • The bid made by Iron Horse claimed the salvage value of the Iron at $235 per ton. This would usually mean the selling price of the asset. My understanding of Iron Horse’s proposal to remove the tracks and grade the remaining grade, was to sell the rails for selvage value to pay for their work, and keep the $470K for their service. But this is second-hand, unconfirmed. Maybe someone else that has read the proposal can confirm or correct this.
  4. Normally when people come in and salvage it is to cleanup what is not able to be used anymore. Then they sell it for a profit. The belief that it would fund the construction of a trail is sadly unreasonable. The trail funds should be secured FIRST then remove and begin construction. This is not a major corridor for traffic it travels far out to the locality of Latrobe and cuts back into Folsom crossing major traffic corridors.
    Flaggers have to be used to move rail equipment across once or twice during a weekend are motorists ready to be prepared to deal with potentially massive increases in pedestrian, bicycle and horse traffic at points of crossing?
    Wake up people, money is and has dried up in the state and nation here we are trying to build trails instead of repairing vital commerse infrastructure that is falling apart around us. I’m confident logic shal prevail in the future of the project.
  5. The removal of historic railroad infrastructure by the BOS without knowing the JPA, and not the county, is the owner, should be mind boggling and shocking to all county residents! Talk about a screw up and stupitiy, there needs to be a long overdue reckoning here, these kinds of actions are nothing new for some of the BOS who voted to tear out history which was paid for by county residents many years ago to allow many jobs to be created during many decades of growth, commerce and logging. Hard to believe the senseless actions of the misinformed BOS!
  6. First off, the section of track in question (county line to Shingle Springs) was built during the US Civil War to give you an idea of how historical it is.
    There are no other railroad tracks left in El Dorado County besides this track which continues to Diamond Springs. If this section is removed, all that will remain is an isolated section of track and an isolated trail (if the funds ever appear).
    If the paved trail costs $1 Million per mile and the salvage value of the tracks is less than $1 Million total before subtracting removal costs, you can see that the Class I bike trail will be very short (less than 1 mile of paved trail and 15 miles of no trail and no track). Realistically, once the tracks are removed, it will never be economically feasible to relay the track (although it could legally be done).
    I really hope that we can all come together on this issue and have trains and trails together. I see no reason why most of our goals cannot be achieved together. We can stop wasting time and money on studies and disagreement.
    I love mountain biking and I love trains. Why can’t we have both?
    Tell your county supervisor.
  7. So Railfan is in favor of the JPA, another government agency, that consists of 5 members, only 1 that comes from El Dorado County, having jurisdiction over our county. Talk about screwed up! I am not in favor of any government agency not in our county, telling us what to do!
  8. Alarcon, lets see the bid you are refering to? IH has made no bid for the El Dorado Trail salvage Job. You must be referring to another project.
    • Hi Mike, no not an El Dorado County bid. Source: Iron Horse Preservation Society FAQ, Frequently Asked Questions About Creating an Interim, Low-Cost Rail Trail. “3. How does Iron Horse make money? Iron Horse sells the iron rails for salvage value, which at a typical value of $235/ton more than covers the cost of the removal.”
  9. Alex and County, I can bring you up to speed. The initial trail will be a free gravel trail. 2 inches of gravel conpacted into the rail bed. We can do this in two phases and the second would be to find money to pave a class one bike trail. So to pave on the rail bed would not be 1 million per mile. Our experience in EDC is 500k per mile on the rail bed. If the salvage company can get the bed close to a paving condition, just paving can be between 100k and 250k per mile.
  10. Alex, relay the track for what reason? If you are talking about future commercial freight, you need to think about the low possibility of this. And if UP wants to reactivate, they have to pay to relay the track. They would also have to install crossings at all roads at 2 to 6 million per. That is 35 crossings. They would have to sue RT to get the ‘right of way’ back, win and reimburse RT, and they build the track into Folsom. And all this would be done for a bulky, extremely high value commodity that is discovered in EDC, that can not be profitably put on a truck? Alex any response?
    You need to get real, with the train. Why would a small group of train guys be given 25 miles of track, that will burden the trail with 30 million in trail cost? The majority of EDC does not own a speeder! Share it Alex, take some track for yorself and your friends and let the rest of EDC have a free gravel trail to Folsom.
    • What I was stating above was that in the event of track removal, I believe that although legally the tracks could be rebuilt, the economic incentive will never be present to do so.
      In the unlikely event that the Union Pacific Railroad wanted to run freight trains again, they could just tie into the light rail (RT) tracks and run at night while the RT is not operating (federal rules would allow that but that’s a non-issue).
    • Mike how do you guys plan on dealing with those 35 crossings yourselves with such high speeds of traffic on those roads?
      I dont see how you seem so negative to those train guys thats their interest along with many others and bikes are yours.
      Reality is you DONT have the money in hand for the project. You are under the assumption that some day you will have the cash in hand to do the project.
      You already agreed to build the trail along side of the track up further on the line why not start there and prove that you can aquire the funds for the project. Most of the bike trail was built with a boom in our economy, now we are in a much different financial position.
    • The US government has the authority to take back any and all railbes and remove any trails or whatever is needed to move heavy equipment in case of a national emergency so why destroy the tracks when the trails can be put to the right and left of the tracks in a well defined easement. too bad some people are so short sited and cannot think about the future for their county it’s children and future residents.
  11. Trails for Health
    This line was found ineligible for the historic register.
    Despite your opinions, 10,000 miles of tracks have been removed, while the corridors have been preserved for future trains. You don’t even know what that future train will look like, or that these rails will be useful to them. Look at light rail – cement ties. Look at high speed rail – not even compatible with the old rails. The whole purpose of rails to trails is to bring interim trails until the next real trains are needed. Period.
  12. Night Train! That sounds cool. What they going to be hauling in the dead of night! I think those ties go bad over time. Will they last another 30 years and be sound when the Night Train runs? I like the “Night Train” thing!
  13. Alex, we have a Mt bike ride on June 12th. Starts in SS and heads down the trail as far as you want to push it. I will leave a truck at Deer Creek and drive back. Get the bike our and come for a ride. We can talk trains and trails for a few hours and burn some calories as we go. I ‘ll give you are ride back if you want one. Check it out on fb or contact me on fb.
  14. Mike,
    Along with my earlier post I’m not bashing your position. Actuall I believe your position would be stonger. If you were to use the plan you have now, but without pulling rail in segment 1 and you build along side the proposed section to Shingle Springs depot. You would have solid proof that you are able to secure funding for the most expensive portion of the trail and tie into a major transportation section. After that you start heading into very rural parts of the line.
    I think the problem many of us outside of the bike community and not part of the train groups is your placing the buggy before the horse by cuting out a section of the line. What it appears to many as a posturing by the bike group to undercut the rail line integrity.
    So ideally you created a much larger conflict with yourselves because the El Dorado Western will most likely be able to get up and going because they are a sponsored organization by the county where as FEDS is based on private membership.
    See with any politics you have only appeared to show what you can “take” by adhering to your simple plan for segment 2 for rails with trail and placing your effort into that you will prove your sucess.
    As I have followed this argument over the going on 20years now trails folks have always shot themselves in the foot by choosing to fight the hardest battles first. You will never be able to take all of the corridor.
    It was very wise to divide up these segments and create a master plan but just like Paul Ryan with his bill in the House you created a huge arguement trying to tear out the track below shingle before the trail even reached that location.
  15. Thanks for “bringing us up to speed”, Mike, but I still have a few questions.
    Since Joe Hattrup, the Chief Operating Officer of Iron Horse has told me personally that he “absolutely cannot do the work at prevailing wage” it would be a “deal killer”, and Supervisors Knight and Nutting have said that this is clearly a “public works project” and would have to be bid at prevailing wage or they would “both end up in jail”, what scenario do you see allowing your plan to remain “free”? Since the Supervisor’s comments were made March 3rd in a subcommittee meeting you and I both attended, I would think you would have had plenty of time to consider this, and would be eager to share your solution with the community.
    Will your group be taking full legal and financial responsibility for maintenance of the trails only portions of the corridor?
    What equipment/resources do you currently have in place?
    Do you have a fully developed financial plan that will pass muster with the county? I believe that was one of the conditions identified by the Supervisors back in March, was it not?
    Will you be paying back the $400,000 recently allocated by the county to repair the trail east of Placerville, so the county can apply those funds to other, more critical transportation infrastructure?
    The recommendation of the Supervisors in March was that the RFP specify that “the construction of the trail shall be at no cost to the County of El Dorado”, and that it shall include “having the completed rail bed ready for the installation of a Class 1 Bike Path.” In your comment, you express the hope that the salvage contractor can get the trail “close to a paving condition”. Can you give us your opinion as to how much “wiggle room” the Supes will give you on this point?
    I await your replies with bated breath!
  16. Jackie,
    I can find no evidence that any aplication was ever made at the state or federal level to list this line on a historic register. Is it possible that this was under consideration as a possible way to preserve the corridor, but was set aside when they decided to railbank? If you recall, there was much talk in the beginning about keeping the line active as an independent short line, and placement on the historic register at that time could have been seen as problematic.
    I have also spoken to several people who would have been involved with that kind of action, and have not found anyone who supports your claim. Can you give me a name of who I might contact?
  17. Jim, I am done with your arguments. We both sound like broken records. You can’t do this and we can do something better. I think the public deserves a stop to it and a compromise. I make comments here to educated individuals about the issues and I think I am fair, and only bring information that is valid and correct. My comments to Alex and County are the best information I have and I use descriptors like “close to” and give ranges for cost or just scale a number back to be conservative and try not to overstate issues. If I am told my numbers are wrong and someone can give me a better estimate, I will listen. I have done this with the White rock crossing numbers. You can question everything I say, that’s your right. I would like to help build a trail from Shingle Springs to Folsom and you don’t agree. I have said this to you several time, that there are many things we can agree on, and there are some we will just never agree on. So that is what the Shingle Plan is about, a compromise to stop the argument! And I know you don’t agree with that either!
  18. County, that is what we have had for 15 years. The dirt trail has always been there. I am a Mt Biker so I am good. Most trail users will use the improved trail, gravel or paved. The reason we like the the rail bed is that it is graded and very inexpensive compared to the off the rail bed options. About a 30+ million dollar difference. The question you have to ask is,”how many miles or rolling train do we need to preserve history”, and how much more cost are you willing to add to trail development. Some will say they want 25 miles and some will say 3. Some will say I do not care about the trail and some think that trail will bring in huge economic benefits. How do we decide this? We have been at this for 15 years? How about a compromise? The Shingle Compromise, gives some to both and we stop this discussion and move on to building something great for EDC.
  19. Trails for Health
    Jim, do your own homework. It’s in print.
  20. Jim and Mike,
    What I am saying to I guess is both of you guys put your bucks where your mouths are. Jim run your railroad from folsom to latrobe and Mike you guys build your trail with rail to shingle springs to accomodate the el dorado guys. If either of you fail then the argument is over if rail fails to be financially viable then they get pulled and trail built. If trail cant come up with money then the rail continues to remain.
    The problem with that is both of you guys dont want each other to exist on segment 1 from what it seems.
  21. The “Shingle Compromise” is of course, just the name of the shop – like 24 hour cleaning – it actually takes 3 days to clean a shirt and the ‘compomise is trails folk to trails folk – it has nothing whatsoever to do with any rail interests.
    Of course the worst part is the misinformation about the current state – for example “the train folks are trying to take our trail” Surely it is the other way around – the corridor has been a railroad for nearly 150 years – it continues to be a railroad. It is great that other uses can be included in the railroad corridor – I am beginning to wonder why, all of a sudden it is so important to remove rail.
    Is there something we don’t know?
    Sometimes thou does’t protest too much……
  22. county asset Phillip and you guys want it all. What is your compromise? Or do you want to chat for the next 15 years. Yes we want a section? Do we deserve something or should it all be yours?
  23. Better idea County, you run the train from Shingle up and we build the trail Shingle Down. We can do it at no cost to the county and have a compacted gravel trail for free. There will be track available to give to the train seciton, to help with there effort. The connection is a big deal for the El Dorado Trail and would be regionally significant. A train run from Shinlge up would be nine miles of track to call there own. They have nothing now and seem to feel they have it all.
  24. Phillip I think you and I both know that both sides have a good portion of mis information floating around out there.
    Mike I just want you guys to build a trail that is fully connected I dont want rail pulled by guys who are in it to make some money and left with some paved trail here and gravel trail in one section and dirt in another.
    This project needs to start at one end and be completed to class 1 standard mile per mile why not apply for the grants in smaller segments and start up where you already agree to run next to the train? Please address that question because I keep asking it in different forms but I cant seem to get a straight answer. If you have a reason you dont want it done that way then just say that then. It just doesnt make sense to me and with 13 years of a development background I don’t see how it flows together to create a continuous class 1 trail!
  25. County, you need to find $50 million. It is that simple. We are going to start in the trail section and the train guys should be in the train section. Why aren’t the Folsom Train guys running steam engines? Why did it take them several years to fix the washout? You want it all done in one project? Go get 50 million. We will start the work on the trail section, the same as the Train guys will start on the train seciton. We can first build a gravel trail for free. They will run Speeders and sell tickets for many years before they will be able to get a big train and cars the look like anything we expect as a Excursion Train. We will then attempt to raise money to pave the trail. The last part to build and consider is the Shingle up or Train section. County, you need to come to one of our meetings and explain you reasoning, as it is very hard to see your point. Call me if you want to have a real discussion. I know you won’t as most like to post and hide. Be brave, give me a call and lets talk about the whole issue. My number is out there. I deal with people in person, or on the phone. If you want to debate this, lets do it. Call me
  26. County, we only agree to run trains and trails together Shingle up, because we get Shingle Down. You do get that, don’t you?
  27. No there is no debate you just answered alex and my question. All we wanted to know is why not start building class 1 trail on section 2 now and what you saying is you dont have the money. Ok I can accept that, just sounds like your giving us the run around. I prefer not to throw my name out there because you guys at the Train group and those with the Trail are always trying to pull people into your courts I’m sticking to team Logic.
  28. No money now for trails or trains! Very basic, you should have just called me and we could have got by step one in the debate, several posts ago. Trails may get money in the future, and trains never will, they are on there own. Support the Shingle Plan and you get a free trail that connects to Folsom and the American River Parkway, and that is a big deal for the trail. The trains get Shingle up, for 9 miles and that is more than they need. Work with the Folsom Train guys to stop the compromise and you get what we have now, train promises we have heard for 15 years and no train. If you believe that they can and will use the complete 25 miles, then you believe something that has not happening with rails, in most cases. Most runs today are short, 5 miles or less, or are backed by a commercial railroad or big government money. We are not backed by a commercial railroad, and will not get government money for trains.
    We will always have a natural trail for Mt bikers and equestrians, but this is a smaller group of trail users. A larger group of users, want a class I trail. So support the Folsom Train guys and nothing changes and you can live with the Excursion Train possibilities! A bet that for-profit rail companies are not making because they are gone. What we have in Folsom is enthusiast that do not care if they make money, or care that their business plan has holes like Swiss cheese, and do not care if it takes them another 15 years and do not care that the majority of Eldo County would like both a trail and train.
    I believe we should care and not have to wait another 15 years for a free trail, or a corridor that would create a trail connection that would have regional and national significance. But I am a cyclist and a hiker and the train guys say the train will be more significant. So do we continue to fight Alex and County? Or do we settle and go for the Shingle Compromise and give some to both?
  29. well Mike, I say lets let the train guys make a go of it first. After all the tracks are there, and in place. Its such a natural fit. If that idea should fail to develop as planned then lets look at the trail idea at that time. Trails are great, but the tracks are in and paid for. I feel that the train folks should have first dibs.
  30. Sorry it took so long to get back to you, Mike! Spent the weekend running excursions at the Ione Rail Fair, speaking to hundreds of railroad enthusiasts, many of them El Dorado County residents.
    I am disappointed that you think so poorly of our business plan and organizational model. Our business plan, as well as the final draft of the 5 year operating license, has been vetted by CPAs, bankers, and attorneys, and has come away with fairly high marks. On the other hand, your “Shingle Plan” has recently been sent back to committee…… again!
    I wonder if there might be a small amount of bias in your assessment?
    You seem to be working overtime to portray the railroad volunteers as delusional on the one hand, and selfish on the other. The reality is that the various railroad groups FULLY support trail development in the corridor and cooperation with ALL trail users, just NOT if it means the destruction of the railroad.
    The Rails AND Trails segment of the community feels that your cost assessments are based on full retail, public works development of your trail system, something we reject as inefficient and wasteful of taxpayer dollars. Take, for example, a tale of two washouts. One, near Latrobe, repaired by the railroad groups for about $10,000. Another, east of Placerville, that is going to cost the county around $400,000 to repair. Even if you extrapolate the Latrobe repair to include hiking, equestrian, and class 1 trail, our model is still about four times more efficient!
    The Rails AND Trails segment of the community feels that you purposely disregard the progress made by the rail groups over the years. Mike, look out your own back door at the overgrown “gap” section, and tell me our maintenance of the rest of the corridor has not made a difference over the years. The Shay Locomotive in Placerville is nearing completion, not possible if “nothing” had been done the last sixteen years. The restoration of the 45 Ton Whitcomb Locomotive has taken two years so far, and is on track to be completed this summer. The Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad has gone from RFP to ready-to-launch in a little less than 3 years, right in the middle of a global economic meltdown!
    The Rails AND Trails segment of the community feels that you grossly exagerate the financial and engineering challenges of creating a trail system parallel to the tracks, and that you dismiss the value to the region of having both.
    Mike, you admitted to me at one of our “coffee summits” that you could not afford to give the railroad even a limited trial period, because you knew the community would not let you remove the tracks after that point, even if the railroad was failing! Please stop denigrating the motives of our volunteers, their professional and technical expertise, or their love for El Dorado County in the pursuit of your own goals.