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.


Joe Hattrup
Chief Operation Officer
501 (c) (3) not-for-profit Corporation

This company, who claims to be a rail preservation company, has offered to pull the rail for El Dorado County.  How can you call yourself a preservation non profit for railroads when your main line of business is to rip out track?  The JPA studied the current condition of the line and claimed that it is in surprisingly good condition.  There is plenty of room in the corridor to create trails adjacent to the track.  Also, the sale of the rail would net around $750,000 total, which would never be enough to pave and create a class one path.  The P&SVRR has established an excursion railroad that will run from Folsom/Highway 50 to Shingle Springs.  The funds have been coming in for the current projects and they have a large volunteer base plus quite a bit of equipment to run.  The group has been installing ties and repairing the line for their start in the fall.  

Feud heats up over historic railroad tracks

County staff directed to look at removal of tracks for trails
By Eric Laughlin Telegraph correspondent
An effort by railroad enthusiasts to preserve a 146- year-old section of rail line from Folsom to Shingle Springs reached a bit of a road block last week.
In a 4-1 vote by the El Dorado County Supervisors, county staff was directed to explore the feasibility and legality of removing the tracks to pave the way for a biking and equestrian trail. The board’s vote also established biking and hiking as the “priority” use on the 17.5 mile stretch of railway between the county line and Mother Lode Road.
A so-called “Shingle Compromise” would give railroad proponents the remainder of track from Shingle Springs to Missouri Flat Road in Placerville, a span of some 8.5 miles.
Trail proponents are hopeful that the Folsom-Shingle Springs trail would eventually be constructed as a Class 1 trail like what currently exists in the Placerville area. They argue that a basic trail can be constructed along that corridor at no cost to the county, since labor to build the pathway would be paid for by salvaging the steel.
“It worked out to be a great compromise for the train guys,” said Mike Kenison, who sits on the board of the Friends of El Dorado Trail. “They’re losing the 17 miles from Folsom, but they’re also getting a spot they can call their own, which is what they’ve wanted for 15 years.”
But Philip Rose begs to differ. He serves as president of the Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad and has spearheaded an effort to restore the tracks to begin running an excursion train from Folsom to Placerville as early as next summer. He said such a project will bring tourism dollars to the county, while the trail will cost it $200,000 annually to maintain.
“You can put in the best trail in the world, but it will never make money,” Rose said. “Having a train will not only attract visitors but showcase some of the best views in this area, views most people wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.”
Rose also criticized the trail folk’s costly goal of building a Class 1 trail, saying it would take about 50 years.
But Kenison and other trail supporters said they’ve waited long enough for the land to be converted to trails under the federal rails-to-trails program. He said Rose and other railroad enthusiasts simply don’t have the money to build an excursion train.
“It’s a very expensive venture and the county has already said they’re not going to put any money into it,” Kenison said.
But Rose countered that only recently has the project gathered steam from the Joint Powers Authority and from non-profit organizations that include the Folsom/Sacramento Historical Railroad Association.
Many in the community have suggested both sides reach a complete compromise and build a trail adjacent to tracks, since there’s plenty of width to do so.
But Kenison said such a proposal would be incredibly expensive, costing as much as $30 million for the 17.5 mile stretch.
The board will next take up the issue on May 17, when county staff is set to return with its analysis.

EDC BOS Reverses Historic Rails Policy


Board of Supervisors Approve Conditional Removal of Oldest Railway West of Mississippi to Make way for New Trails.
El Dorado County Supervisors reversed a historical policy on "Priority for Rails" after five months of deliberations and lobbying by both Trail and Rail advocates. Historically, El Dorado County has given priority to Rails over Trails since the 1880’s, and even as an excursion Train is becoming established, a majority of the Board has decided it is time for change in that policy. On Monday, the Board voted 4 to 1 to change policy with Supervisor Jack Sweeney holding out to preserve the historic rails. Although it is possible to save the rails for a train and build trails adjacent to the rails within the existing easements, it would take much longer to build the trails as money is short for non-essential government services. In order to facilitate a faster build out of the trail system, it is proposed that money will come from the dismantling and sale of the rails and ties as salvage. 
Supervisors Knight and Nutting recommending the Board consider the El Dorado Trail Subcommittee recommendations and adopt the following: 
1) Approve those segments of the trail that have been designated as: 
  • Segment 1 (Western county line to the West end of Motherlode Drive) - A priority use for hiking, biking and equestrian; 
  • Segment 2 (West end of Motherlode Drive to the Missouri Flat road) - A segment designated for joint use which will include railroad usage along with trail uses; and 
  • Segment 3 (Missouri Flat Road to Placerville) – An existing trail made of Class 1 Bike Path, bike lanes and bike route. 
2) Instruct staff to prepare a request for proposal for the construction of a multiuse trail from the western El Dorado County line east to where the railroad tracks intersect the western end of Motherlode Drive (Segment 1). The construction of the trail shall be at no cost to the County of El Dorado. The proposal shall include, but not be limited to, having the completed rail bed ready for the installation of a Class I Bike Path, proper insurance, complete cost breakdown and salvage value and approval by County of El Dorado County Counsel; and 
3) Prior to the removal of any track, there shall be a plan in place to maintain the entire trail free of all vegetation and trash. This plan shall include hours needed to keep the entire trail in useable condition and a financial plan to cover any and all costs. 
Supervisor Santiago acknowledged that she iss a strong Trail advocate but also expressed interest in preserving the rails. She was interested in the concept that the rails could be encased and the trail built upon the existing rail grade without removal of the tracks. She asked that an addition was added to the motion instructing that alternatives to the removal be examined. 
Supervisor Sweeney noted that the cost of the 8 miles of new trail from Placerville to Missouri Flat road was over $8,000,000, or a million dollars a mile. By reducing the Rail portion of the corridor by 2/3rds and increasing the Trail portion by 2/3rds, it adds 16 miles to the 8 mile Class 1 Bike Path, bike lanes, and bike route existing within that corridor today. Although the Board did approve the removal and sale for savage value, it is with conditions. Those conditions are burdensome and whether the conditions can be met is yet to be seen. 
Additionally, there are a number of outstanding legal questions that cannot be answered until an actual proposal is brought forward. Another outstanding question is whether the rails and ties belong to the Sacramento-Placerville Transportation Corridor Joint Powers Authority and their position on selling them to fund building of the trails. 
The county staff will return with research on the legal issues, feasibility, and any alternatives to pulling the tracks for the Board to consider at the second meeting in May.