State parks officials postpone decision on controversial Land Park tourist train

Published: Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014 - 12:05 am

Faced with complaints from Land Park residents, California State Parks officials on Friday postponed consideration of a plan to run trains through that neighborhood as part of an expanded Old Sacramento tourist train program.

State officials say they still hope to extend their current excursion rides a quarter mile farther south to the Sacramento Zoo so that people can come and go to the park and zoo from Old Sacramento via train rather than deal with that area’s parking issues. The proposal has the support of zoo officials, but drew opposition from some residents who say trains are incompatible with the area’s established neighborhoods.

Parks officials also want to add a second – and more controversial – excursion train that would run through farmland and a wildlife refuge south of the city from about Pocket Road to Hood Franklin Road. That excursion train would require periodic transport of trains on tracks through residential areas of Land Park and South Land Park, although those trains would not be carrying passengers, parks officials said.

Several dozen Land Park residents told the state parks commission during a hearing Friday that they oppose the plan because trains would travel in an old rail right-of-way a few feet from numerous backyards, sounding horns at intersections, and running near schools, parks and libraries.

“It puts our children at risk,” said Chip O’Neill of the South Land Park Neighborhood Association.

That right-of-way is used by residents as an area to stroll. Several said they’d rather see it turned into a bike and pedestrian trail.

A number of people who live adjacent to the old rail line testified they did not receive adequate notice of the plan, and some said they didn’t get any notice at all. State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg on Thursday had requested parks officials hold off on any decision and hold more community meetings to air the issue first.

The parks commission postponed a vote on the plan Friday after State Parks Director Anthony Jackson recommended taking more time to hold more community meetings. Jackson said he was concerned by the number of people who said the plan caught them by surprise.

“I will review our methods of public notification,” he said.

State Parks officials said they do not know how many more meetings they will have, or when the meeting or meetings would take place.

The excursion train plans are part of a proposed general plan for Old Sacramento State Historic Park. The plan, which describes changes park officials want to make over the next 20-plus years, includes a new railroad technology museum to be housed in two old Southern Pacific locomotive shops in the railyard just north of Old Sacramento. Officials also want to dig up Gold Rush artifacts that are buried in the grassy slope area near the railroad museum. The goal, they said, is to have a multi-level exhibit there that highlights two major historic periods at the site – a lower level depicting the 1849 initial Gold Rush era and an upper level showcasing the emergence of railroads in the 1860s and 1870s.

State officials say they do not have funds to expand the historic park, including the new museum and the excursion train extensions, but want to have plans in place so that they can do the necessary fundraising.

Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059.

Read more articles by Tony Bizjak

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