We’re glad to hear the El Dorado Western Railway Foundation is closer to having a regular engine restored for use on the eight-mile segment the board granted it to use for rail passenger service. With the small A Cars it currently has in operation, the El Dorado Western Railway transported 2,200 people last year between its El Dorado Station and Shingle Springs.
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When the railway group began regrading and relaying ties and track beginning at Missouri Flat, it also provided trail space along the side of the tracks. This work was all done by volunteers. Further improvements will be needed to receive certification from the Federal Railroad Administration for full-sized rail equipment.
Presumably some signals will be reactivated, though; that shouldn’t be an obstacle. Many other such tourist operations stop at road crossings and deploy flaggers on both sides before moving the train across a road.
The suggestion that this improved operation needs an environmental impact report is overkill. At most the work to improve the track and ensure trail use merits a declaration of negative impact.
What will be needed most from the detailed plan the Board of Supervisors required will be how to widen “pinch points” so that there is room for both the railroad and the trail. Other than those points, the right of way is spacious enough to easily accommodate both uses once the underbrush and overcrowded trees are cleared out. The pinch points will also need signalization so trail users will be forewarned that a train is due to arrive and to stay off the tracks. There is also the standard train whistle, something not heard on the tracks since 1986.
A regular-sized tourist train has always been the goal. The volunteers have just taken a long time to rebuild the locomotive and caboose. Presumably there will be some flat cars, such as the Yolo Shortline uses with open-air seating for passengers.
The plan of work detailed by a 3-1 vote of the board is a practical one that allows continued track repair and crew training for FRA certification. The requirement for a detailed plan and cost estimates along with trail improvement funding sounds like something that could more easily be accomplished by the El Dorado County Transportation Commission. That is usually where trail funding and planning begins. What the railway folks can do is provide a gravel or dirt path alongside the rails.
Turning that trail into a paved Class 1 trail will require more funding and more environmental analysis. Eight miles requires a lot of paving. What should be paved first is the rest of the trail from Ray Lawyer Drive to lower Main Street, with a pedestrian crossing on Main Street to the old railroad bridge over Hangtown Creek and then on to Canal Street.