The El Dorado Trail stretches from South Lake Tahoe to the western El Dorado county line and runs along the Sacramento Placerville Train Corridor (SPTC) from Placerville West. This trail is partially developed (witness the newest, very heavily used, section from Forni Road to Missouri Flat Road) and could eventually be a hiking, biking, equestrian connection of South Lake Tahoe to Folsom. From Folsom the American River Parkway connects to Davis and eventually to San Francisco.
The people of El Dorado County purchased the rights to the El Dorado county portion of the SPTC in 1995 under the auspices of the 1983 National Trail System act (better known as the “Rails to Trails” act). This act recognized that the national system of rail corridors was in danger of being abandoned and lost due to a change in transportation efficiencies, and Congress set out to save the corridors by “railbanking” them. The thrust of “railbanking” is simple:
- It allows local jurisdictions to preserve the rail corridors by establishing trails until, and if, active commercial rail use is needed again.
- If commercial rail use becomes viable again, in the future, then the commercial rail companies have the absolute right to lay new track, at their expense, and re-take the corridor.
- It allows the commercial rail companies to leave their existing assets in place (such as trestles and cuts and fills) and not have to return the land to prior status.
- It preempts trail development on the corridors from environmental processes as rails are simply being replaced by trails.
- It maintains the integrity of the corridor land use and prevents adjacent land owners from attempting to take railbanked land (this land use issue was settled in the Preseault case before the US Supreme Court in 1990).
Whether existing track is removed or stays is inconsequential to the National Trail System Act or the right of a rail company to re-take the corridor in the future, as long as the interim use is for trails.
Today, there is controversy over the SPTC. Train advocates have a thousand reasons why you should support their dream of a 25 mile excursion train from Folsom to Missouri Flat Road. And trail advocates have a thousand reasons why you should support their dream of a trail system along the same corridor. The problem is that both trains and trails cannot exist in the same corridor in many places due to crossings, choke points, and significant fills and gulleys. But there is a solution supported by many train and trail people alike: The Shingle Plan compromise
The Shingle Plan Compromise is defined as:
TRAINS on the SPTC with rails in place from just east of Motherlode Drive in Shingle Springs eastward to Missouri Flat Road.
TRAILS on the SPTC with rails removed from just east of Motherlode Drive in Shingle Springs westward to the western El Dorado County line.
ASSETS of rail removal, physical and financial, will be used to construct a hard packed trail surface on the trail portion of the corridor and help establish (up to $300,000) the El Dorado Western Railway demonstration train. Remaining assets will be directed, by the county, for improvements along the El Dorado County portion of the SPTC.
The Shingle Plan Compromise ends 15 years of debate and brings reality to the dreams of both train and trail enthusiasts. El Dorado County will have heritage railroading to go with our new railroad museum and an ideal trail system for hiking, biking and equestrian users. The location of the rail portion will maximize the opportunity for geotourism success within El Dorado County as future Missouri Flat Road development and the existing heartland communities of El Dorado and Shingle Springs will provide a symbiotic relationship with the heritage railroad. And the same geotourism advantage will exist with the trail portion as it will provide a connection to Folsom and the American River parkway and will extend the cross state bike route into El Dorado County. The Shingle Plan Compromise ends the politics and begins reality.
It is time for action.