Trail users want railroad to take a hike

El Dorado County rail line at center of use debate
By: Brad Smith, Telegraph Correspondent
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Jackie Neau understands both sides when it comes to the trails-and-rails debate — but she is not happy. “This is why I’m frustrated: We have all of this wonderful land that will would make for beautiful hiking but nothing’s been done,” Neau said. “The people who own the land don’t have a plan for it. Public money was used to purchase that land and when you think about it, the public really hasn’t had the chance to use it or enjoy it.” Neau is referring to the 50-mile-long stretch of rail corridor known as the Placerville Branch, purchased from the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1996 and now owned by the Sacramento-Placerville Transportation Corridor Joint Powers Authority. The rail corridor has become a point of debate between various groups that include hikers, bicyclists, railroad enthusiasts, among others. Some groups would like to see the rails removed and the land made into trails for hikers, bicyclists and even horses. Others want the rails to remain in place and have even welcomed the idea of adding trails alongside the rails, while running historical or excursion lines at the same time. Neau is not opposed to the idea of maintaining lines for historical and recreational value. “There are many places where you have these excursion or heritage lines and I enjoy riding them,” she said. “But, I’ve looked at some of them and the ones that are successful — financially — are those that also maintain freight lines.” Neau, a member of the Friends of the El Dorado Trail, feels that certain sections can be utilqized as heritage or excursion lines while the rqest of the corridor can be tuned into public nature trails for hikers and others. “I feel that you don’t need every inch of the Placerville Branch to be a functioning rail corridor,” she said. “Most excursion lines only use five to ten miles of track. Let the public have the rest, I say.” Neau would like to see some of the old rail corridor used as a linking trail, connecting the American River Trail to South Lake Tahoe. “I want something that entire communities can benefit from,” she said. “You can still have excursion rail lines in some places and I’d love that. At the same time, there will be a lot of wonderful trails for people to take advantage of.” Bill Anderson, president of the Folsom, El Dorado & Sacramento Historical Railroad Association, has a different point of view. “I still believe that we can have an excursion line and trails in the some rail corridor,” he said. “It can work.” Having an operational excursion line is a draw for tourists, he said. “And, having nature trails will be a bigger draw for tourists,” Anderson said. “Hikers and bicyclists can use the train to carry them to various trail routes along the rail corridor. That’s one plan that we’re looking at.” Neau said that if a working compromise is viable, it would be nice. “I just hope that something is worked out soon” she said. “I want to hike some new trails soon.”