November 08, 2011

Groups at odds over use of land
Folsom supports preserving rail line as it asks for a denial of track removal
by Eric Laughlin/Telegraph Correspondent
A movement to preserve an 18-mile stretch of railway between Folsom and Shingle Springs for the potential development of an excursion train got a boost last week by way of the Folsom City Council.
In a 4-1 vote, the council approved a motion requesting that the Sacramento-Placerville Transportation Corridor Joint Powers Authority deny a request by El Dorado County to remove tracks from a portion of the corridor.
The vote follows a September finding by the JPA that El Dorado County does not unilaterally have the right to pull up the track to be sold to salvagers.
Trail proponents have argued that removal of the rails from Folsom to Shingle Springs (leaving tracks from there to Placerville for train development), would bring in as much as $1 million, which could pay for a trail on the already graded railway foundation. They have further argued that the private operation of an 18-mile excursion train is not feasible from an economic standpoint.
But the JPA, which comprises several local governments and agencies including El Dorado County and Folsom, concluded the track’s removal could threaten the continuity of the rail corridor.
Folsom Councilwoman Kerri Howell, who also sits on the JPA board, reaffirmed that finding prior to her vote.
“I don’t see anyway that taking 18 miles of rail and tie out of the middle of a railroad does not result in discontinuity,” she said. “What these people are trying to do is take the rail up tomorrow to ensure there’s never a rail. El Dorado County doesn’t have five cents to build three feet of trail, let alone 18 miles.”
Howell went on to cite a finding by the Department of Transportation that the proposed rail removal and sale would actually result in a net loss to the county of $150,000, since by law workers would have to earn prevailing wages.
Council members Steve Miklos, Andy Morin and Ernie Sheldon joined Howell in voting in favor of the measure.
“If the rails are lost, they’re lost forever,” Sheldon said. “They’re not coming back.”
He later suggested that trail and rail enthusiasts work together to meet both of their goals.
“I’m sure we can build that trail and build that train and do it together,” he added.
The lone “no” vote came from Councilman Jeff Starsky, who said he wanted more information and feedback from the city’s cycle enthusiasts.
Mike Kennison, who heads Friends of the El Dorado Trail, said he’s still hopeful that his side will prevail. He also questioned the DOT study cited by Howell.
“There was absolutely no inspection done before making that finding,” he said. “All the DOT did was make two phone calls.”
He went on to say that having both tracks and a trail is not possible, since grading a new trail could cost as much as $20 million.
Philip Rose is president of the Placerville Sacramento Valley Railroad, an organization that has already been running a single car up a portion of the tracks as part of a licensing agreement with the JPA. He said he was pleased with the decision, but at the same time hopeful that the decision will stand and that other member entities will reach the same conclusion.