State eyes east Sacramento sites for possible new railyard, maintenance facility

Published: Friday, Jul. 5, 2013 - 4:35 pm | Page 1A

Sacramento has spent decades cleaning up and finding new uses for two historic city railyards. Now the state of California wants to build a new one in the urban core.

State transportation planners are looking at sites in east Sacramento and at Sutter's Landing Regional Park along the American River, as places to build a major new railyard and maintenance facility for Amtrak trains.

Word of the state Department of Transportation's plans spread in the last few days and surprised city officials and developers hoping to build hundreds of homes on the east Sacramento site.

"We just learned about it this week," said Megan Norris, vice president of Riverview Capital Investments. The firm, headed by former state Treasurer Phil Angelides, has been promoting plans to build McKinley Village, a 328-home development, on the vacant swath of land by the Capital City Freeway. The property is commonly known as Centrage, after one of several failed projects there.

Sacramento City Councilman Steve Cohn, whose district contains both areas under consideration, said the revelation that Caltrans was looking at the sites to service Amtrak trains "came as news to me."

He said any plans to put a railyard at Sutter's Landing Park, built atop a former landfill, would be unacceptable. A map of the proposal suggests the railyard could impinge on city parkland. Even if it didn't, Cohn said the city is planning to expand the park by acquiring acreage now in private hands. "We spent a lot of time and effort to convert an industrial facility into a park," he said.

Caltrans spokesman Mark Dinger said the department's plans are preliminary, with the two Sacramento locations being evaluated.

"We are going to be in discussions with the city of Sacramento on the proposed sites," he said. "However, it will be some time before a determination is made."

Caltrans, he said, needs to build a new maintenance facility for Amtrak's Capital Corridor and San Joaquin Corridor trains. The current maintenance facility in Oakland is at or near capacity, he said. "They want to develop another one for future needs."

A Caltrans project description says the Federal Railroad Administration last year awarded it a $168 million grant to buy six locomotives and 42 passenger cars to bolster the two lines, and the Oakland facility will be unable to maintain all the new cars.

A new facility would provide inspections and repair, along with refueling, food restocking and cleaning of the interior and exterior of trains.

A Caltrans rendering of the proposed maintenance facility on the 48-acre McKinley Village site shows 28 tracks with shops to service locomotives and coaches. It includes buildings for contractors and administrators, employee parking and a train wash.

Cohn said he would be open to the facility at the McKinley Village site, where some neighbors oppose the proposed housing development. The area is walled off from existing neighborhoods by a 20-foot elevated rail line and sits beside speeding freeway traffic. Noise mitigation measures might be put in place, and modern rail facilities tend to be cleaner than their 19th and 20th century predecessors, Cohn said.

News that central Sacramento might get a new railyard arrived the same week that state environmental officials approved a toxic cleanup plan for the central shops section of the downtown Sacramento railyard. The area was a locomotive manufacturing and railroad maintenance facility for 130 years, leaving numerous contaminants in the soil. The 240-acre former Southern Pacific railyard is being readied for redevelopment as an extension of downtown with housing, offices and stores, as well as a major railroad technology museum.

At another former railyard in the Curtis Park neighborhood, developer Paul Petrovich spent $30 million cleaning toxics from the soil. He plans to build 268 homes and retail shops on 72 acres near Sacramento City College. Construction is expected to start soon.

To address the prospect of a new railyard, Cohn and city staff members are planning to meet with Caltrans officials Monday to learn more about their plans.

"We know our region better than they do," Cohn said.

McKinley Village developer Norris said she had spoken briefly with Caltrans officials earlier this week. She said she came away with the idea that they preferred the approximately 54-acre site at Sutter's Landing because it is at-grade with the existing rail line.

"If they decide it's going to be our site, we could have to look at it," she said.

The McKinley Village site was once owned by Caltrans but is now controlled by developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos. The former peach orchard has seen a series of development plans defeated by neighborhood opposition.

The failures included a high-rise office, apartment and hotel development plan in the early 1990s called Centrage. Many area residents still know the land by that name.

The current housing plan has already ignited debate about whether it's the best use for the awkward site.

Norris said the property remains zoned industrial and could easily accommodate the rail plan. But the McKinley Village plan for leafy residential streets, with a central park and walking paths is a better option, she said.

"We have every intention to move forward with this project," Norris said. "We think it's a great project and the best fit for the surrounding neighborhood."

Call The Bee's Hudson Sangree, (916) 321-1191. Bee staff writer Tony Bizjak contributed to this report.

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