May 31, 2011

Group plans excursion trains

ROAD FLAGGER Phillip Rose watches for traffic as the Skagit crosses White Rock Road. Rose is president of the Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad Association. Photo by Bob Payen
ROAD FLAGGER Phillip Rose watches for traffic as the Skagit crosses White Rock Road. Rose is president of the Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad Association. Photo by Bob Payen
The sun is shining, the El Dorado Hills are still green and there are cows taking a morning constitutional on them. Looking to the left out the front window of the Skagit, a restored rail motor car from 1936, riders on the Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad (P&SVRR) can see a landscape unchanged since the 1800s— maybe even longer than that.
Among the day’s passengers are Ted and Cleo Liddle, both 87, and volunteers with the Folsom, El Dorado & Sacramento Historical Railroad Association. Ted helped to restore the Skagit and is one of today’s flaggers, getting out at road crossings and making sure it is safe for the Skagit to scoot across the public road.
It’s a bumpy ride, but oddly soothing—this three-mile jaunt from Hampton Station in Folsom to Latrobe Road. John Atkinson, another passenger, is a railroad volunteer who maintains a rail line in Stockton. He helped fix the washout on this line which is where the Skagit will stop today. Flooding in the late 1990s and again in the 2000s washed out 50-60 percent of the rail near Latrobe Road. John Haverty of Haverty Construction in El Dorado Hills jumpstarted a movement to put in culverts for drainage, lay track, set plates and pour in ballast to repair the line.
“It’s a maintenance problem — just moving some dirt,” Haverty explained to El Dorado County DOT officials who eventually allowed the volunteers to proceed.
“We were quoted $100,000 to do this, ” said Philip Rose, president of the P&SVRR and another passenger,” but we did it with volunteer labor. This is massive progress.”
Railroad volunteers from as far away as San Diego  repaired the washout and laid the rails by hand  just a month ago, extending the line a little further. That’s the goal here — extending the line, a little at a time and funding it with excursion rides instead of government money. That’s the way it was built over a hundred years ago — a little at a time, from Folsom to Latrobe, Latrobe to Shingle Springs, Shingle Springs to Placerville.
The line, an extension of the Sacramento Valley Railroad, the first railroad west of the Rockies built in 1856 by Theodore Judah, was completed from Folsom to Latrobe in 1862 and extended to Shingle Springs in 1865. Built by hand, using black powder in the years before dynamite, the line served the mining, agricultural and timber industries in El Dorado County and the Central Valley. By 1888 the line was extended all the way to Placerville where it served for another 90 years, carrying  fruit and timber from El Dorado County to all parts of the nation.
Heritage vs. grants
Funding bit by bit, not with government grants, but by generating money through excursion rides and special events is a proven method, according to Rose.
“During two days of runs in Shingle Springs, we took in $2,000,” said Rose.”We’re offering weekend excursions now and we’re going to be offering a monthly excursion for Latrobe Breakfast Specials later in the summer.”
Rose has experience with this type of funding with heritage railroads in the U.K. — using excursions and special events to fund extensions of the line, building depots and then extending on from the depots as funds accumulate. The rail is actually in better shape the farther up the line it goes, so not as much expense, according to Rose. Up the line would be to Shingle Springs and the town of  El Dorado where the track still remains in place. Beyond, it has been removed to allow for trails.
At the  White Rock Road crossing, the Skagit stops and flaggers descend. Cars go past, passengers gawking in amazement. Some of them wave. The Skagit continues safely across, birds and bunnies pacing the car as it winds up to the trestle over Deer Creek. It stops there so passengers can get out and stare down at the water below. The trestle adds a little frisson of danger to the ride, but the passenger are safe. Up around the bend, there are volunteers waiting for the Skagit at the end of the line — the repaired washout. After a lunch provided by the volunteers (special to this trip), our motorman and conductor, Eric Olds, vice president of the P&SVRR, backs the Skagit home to Folsom.
The P&SVRR envisions excursions that could start and end in a variety of places, with passengers picking up the train in Latrobe and riding to Shingle Springs, or picking up in Shingle and going to El Dorado, linking up with the El Dorado Historical Railway Museum and the narrow gauge demonstration train or today’s excursion from Folsom to Latrobe. It’s a long-range plan, but it’s moving forward with support of the Joint Powers Authority for the Sacramento Placerville Transportation Corridor, despite opposition from trail enthusiasts who want to remove the rail and use the rail bed for trail building.
The see-saw of balance between the two potential users of the corridor has caused opposition instead of cooperation. The railroad volunteers who have spent almost two decades restoring rolling stock and maintaining the rail line think rails and trails can co-exist; the trail enthusiasts don’t agree.
As the Skagit rolls back to Folsom, passing again the grassland sparkled with wildflowers, the site of a former sawmill that is now equipment storage for Doug Veerkamp Engineering, farmhouses, windmills, the white rocks of White Rock and an aerodome for remote controlled airplanes, the passage is slow enough to feel connected to the countryside and to see almost everything in it, unlike the cars speeding by on nearby Highway 50. It’s a little window into history, one hard to achieve in any other way.
For information and the schedule for excursions on the Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad, visit
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Wendy SchultzPosted by Wendy Schultz on May 26 2011. Filed under El Dorado HillsFeatured StoriesFolsomNews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

  1. Quote: “The railroad volunteers who have spent almost two decades restoring rolling stock and maintaining the rail line think rails and trails can co-exist; the trail enthusiasts don’t agree.”
    I for one think that rails and trails can co-exist. Are there any other “trail enthusiasts” like me that agree? I think there must be some. If we just agree to keep all the tracks in and build trails alongside the tracks then the train group is happy and many or most trail folks are happy. The corridor can then serve multiple groups of people while preserving its historic nature.
    This would seem to be the best “compromise” (better than the Shingle Springs compromise) since there is hardly any compromising at all – keep the tracks and have a trail the whole way beside them! So simple.
  2. Trails for Health
    If it’s so simple, why isn’t it done? It’s been 15 years. At an earlier BOS meeting, the transportation department said it would cost 3 times as much to build off the railbed. So if it’s $500,000 to build on the railbed, it’s $1.5 million to build off the railbed. That does not include the increased cost of challenging topographical areas. So if we are talking 25 miles, we’re talking an extra $25 million to have an excursion train. I don’t want to pay that. The shorter excursion train is just fine. With the Shingle Plan, both have an actual chance of happening.

    • That's a great question. I think it could be because at various times certain groups may have wanted the corridor to themselves. I think it would be wrong for a train group to say they don't want to share any part of the right of way with a trail. I also think it would be equally wrong for a trail group to say they don't want to share any part of the right of way with a train. If one option is more expensive to accomplish, that should not justify sacrificing another group's project.
      How can the trail group tell the train group that they can't use existing tracks from Shingle Springs to the county line and that they can only use from Shingle Springs to El Dorado, then say that they want to share the right of way from Shingle Springs to El Dorado? That seems hypocritical to me. Why not share all of it since it belongs to both groups equally.
      So is there really money for either option (on railbed vs. off railbed)? How much would it cost for the on railbed (cheaper) option for the 25 miles?
      Why not start off by developing the trail from El Dorado to Shingle Springs first? That would give you a contiguous trail. Just a thought.
  3. There is a very good chance that the Excursion trains fail. They have failed over and over again across the country, most do. The trains that have a chance to just break even, are running on an existing commercial lines or are backed by big government money. So why give all this valueable asset to a train that most likely fails. Runnng those little cars is never going to be good for the county, and a trail would be great for the county. A compromise seems like a win-win for the county, the train and the trail.
  4. Trails for Health
    The trail is a public facility. The train is a private business, non-profit, but business nonetheless. I don’t believe you can say they have equal rights to it. What would happen if we started to say all non-profit businesses have equal rights to public land?
    History is being preserved in our train park with our el dorado train. There is no need to ask the taxpayers to pay more for a trail. We’ve waited 15 years for the trail. Time for both!
  5. Alex, 25 miles at 1.5 million per mile is 37 million. Compared to a free, gravel trail for 17 miles. I think you need to consider the importance of a trail connection for EDC or a long train run that will most likely fail. I will give you an example. The V&T in Carson and Virginia City started with 3 miles and was successful. The government got involve and built out another 12 or 15 miles and thought they would get 60,000 to 90,000 riders a year on the long run. They got 12,500!! The long run was the more expensive ride and took more time and they have a hard time filling those trains. That might change, but they are running in the red for hundreds of thousands of dollars. To be fair, government money is not going to be used here so the operation is on the backs of the train guys and that is going to be tough for them. So do they really need 25 miles to attempt a business model that fails most of the time? It is a hard sell for me because I am the person that would take my family on the train once and never ride again.
    • I can see your point and I think your concern that the train could not be successful is valid. I don’t think any group should be allowed to just do whatever they want without thinking it through. In this case the tracks are also still in place which also makes the situation very different (zero railroad construction costs). But you still pose a good question.
      I think that the Folsom train group is wanting to start smaller and expand, it’s just not at the location that some would like it to be. They say they want to go from Folsom to Latrobe and expand at a sustainable rate toward Shingle Springs. Fortunately, they don’t seem to be dreaming as much as the V&T. I rode the Christmas train in Shingle Springs and a lot of people showed up to ride also. If we had a homeboy like Harry Reid and could secure 60 million in funds, we could build a totally awesome trail next to the whole length of the tracks. Maybe when the economy picks up more state/federal grants could be available…
      I think the problem for the Folsom group is relocating to Shingle Springs and having no track west of that into Folsom would be detrimental to the success of the operation because potential visitors from Sacramento or other areas would have to drive further up the hill to ride the train. In a way it dooms the ridership before running their first train.
  6. Trails for Health,
    It was not the Transportation Department that gave the Supes those numbers, it was Dan Bolster of the Transportation Commission. This would be the same Dan Bolster who sat next to me at a subcommittee meeting on March 3rd of this year. When I started to discuss the economic and industrial contributions the railroad had made to El Dorado County over the years, Dan couldn’t contain himself and blurted out “Robber Barons!!!”…….
    ….Please forgive me if I suspect a little bias in the projections he submitted to the Supervisors!
    This was also the same Dan Bolster who led the recent 2011 Great Bike Ride I participated in on May 24th. Resplendent in spandex, and riding a bike worth several months sallary for many El Dorado County residents, Dan was the epitome of a hard core cyclist.
    Do you have ANY numbers from someone who is NOT a passionate cyclist with a vision for the perfect bike trail, and an axe to grind for the Capitalist, Imperialist Pigs who built this country?
  7. Mike! How are you doing!
    Let’s start with your “Free” gravel trail. This plan hinges on a salvage company being able to remove the track, ties, and other debris, as well as grade the surface smooth, even adding gravel where neccessary, for no more than the salvage/resale value of the materials. I have spoken to Joe Hattrup, Chief Operating Officer of the salvage company listed on your website, and we both agree this value is no more than fifty thousand dollars per mile. Joe was also adamant that he could not bid on this project if it was a prevailing wage job, saying that would be a “deal killer”. My research has identified other projects that his company declined to bid on for that very reason.
    If El Dorado County actually owned the rail infrastructure, they might find a way around prevailing wage law, but they do not. The JPA has the sole right to sell or transfer corridor assets, and even has an obligation to process transfer requests by the member agencies, but they do NOT have to bend over backwards to find a loophole in California Labor Law!
  8. Next let’s take your example of the V&T. We also use the V&T as an example of how NOT to build a railroad!
    First, they took a successful, family owned railroad and dumped 50 MILLION DOLLARS of taxpayer money into it, setting standards and conditions that were NOT required or recommended by industry experts, and then governed the process with a complex beaurocracy right as our economy suffered the worst collapse since the great depression.
    Sort of sounds like the $400,000 repair just authorized by the Supervisors to fix the Camino washout, a repair that could have been avoided if the county had the money to maintain the trails we already have (or if the trails groups had actually taken the responsibility for maintaining the trails after they were built…. )
    Funny that you did not use one of the many successful railroads in this country (and around the world) that use a business plan that is actually similar to ours…..
  9. 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!
    • Hey Mike I just want to thank you for the information you have shared. Even though I do not agree with you on every point, I am grateful for the discussion!
  10. What are the precentage of excursion train operations that are successful and that operate on a track that is not supported by a commercial rail line or govenment money? How many survive and how many have died? I know you want to go round and round on this, but the dead lines and Excursion train list is very long. Ok, now I am done with you!
    • I think that’s a great question which would require a lot of analysis but I think it would be fair and accurate to say that many are successful and there are quite a few that fail. There are so many factors.
      One thing in the favor of the train’s potential success is that the track is in very good condition. With the exception of a few repairs here and there I haven’t seen anything too major that couldn’t be resolved.
  11. Not a hard question at all Alex. The chance of sucess is really tough for trains and 25 miles makes it harder, not easier.
  12. OK now that I see this debate raging here also… I am asking the same as Alex which he said “Why not start off by developing the trail from El Dorado to Shingle Springs first? That would give you a contiguous trail. Just a thought.”
    Thats what I want to know. Why not start construction today on segment 2? Both the rail and trail groups support that plan on that section so move forward with the project.
  13. Ok, county I will say it here again. We agree with train runs from Shingle up, becasue we get shingle down. Do you understand?? Simple.
  14. Come on Mike its not your place to decide if its going to be a train on the line or not ITS A RAILROAD.
  15. Is it yours David? We are passed the all for us stage. But you call it a rail road and want it all for yourself. The only company that can call it a RR is UP. They do not want it or want to be any part of the speeder runs. Call a real RR and ask what they think of the financail possibilities for the Folsom Train guys. You will not like their anwer. The for profit guys are going and now you have trail users and fun train Chu Chu guys. A railroad is for moving big heavy stuff to market and that is not a speeder run. No David, the railroad and the for profit professional have been gone for 30 years. I will give you train enthusiasts, but the rail road is gone. David, comromise and give some to both groups or are you more important than the trail is?

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