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Feud heats up over historic railroad tracks

County staff directed to look at removal of tracks for trails
By: Eric Laughlin Telegraph correspondent
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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.