State Parks Funding

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, Tuolumne County

Maintenance backlog: $5.8 million

In a Jamestown park that showcases the mighty power of locomotives, a single light fixture could have caused a disaster.

The light sits outside the much- visited roundhouse at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. An inspection found that wiring to the fixture was not properly grounded, allowing current to travel along various metal parts to the turntable that guides engines and cars into the maintenance bays, according to electrician Steve Spath.

"It was a visitor safety issue because the kids go for a ride on (the train)," Spath said. The repair, he said, "was critical. It had to be done."

Railtown, along the still-operating Sierra Railroad between Tuolumne and Stanislaus counties, has struggled for funding since the state acquired it in 1982.

The electrical fix was part of a $50,000 roundhouse rewiring effort, a project the safety risk shoved to the top of a nearly $6 million list of Railtown repairs.

About 30 freight and passenger cars await restoration. Drainage must be improved around several buildings to keep stormwater from undermining the foundations. A system for separating waste oil from water is needed so that the water can go into the town sewers, rather than being hauled off by a hazardous waste handler.

"We try to make surgical decisions about where the money goes," said George Sapp, restoration lead worker at Railtown. "Of course, there's never enough."

– John Holland