State backs off plans for trains through South Land Park

State parks officials say they are dropping a controversial plan to run tourist trains through South Land Park and on down to Hood but remain interested in extending the existing Old Sacramento excursion train to the Sacramento Zoo.

The state Department of Parks and Recreation will hold a community meeting Tuesday to solicit opinions on the excursion train before making a recommendation to the state Park and Recreation Commission in May.

Zoo officials have expressed interest in extending the tourist train to the zoo from its current end point a quarter-mile away along the Sacramento River, saying it could relieve the parking crunch near the zoo in Land Park and attract more visitors, who could take the train from Old Sacramento rather than driving. Numerous South Land Park residents, however, have said they do not want the trains to head any farther south on the old rail line that runs behind backyards.

Some speakers at a recent forum also questioned the appropriateness of running trains to the zoo, where they would pass near houses as they angle over Interstate 5 toward the back side of the facility.

Aaron Robertson, chief deputy director of state parks department, said the department has made no official decision, and staff has not yet formalized what recommendation it will make to its parks commission, but he said the agency has dropped its interest in using the 4-mile portion of the rail line, owned by Sacramento Regional Transit, that runs from Sutterville Road to near the Sacramento city limits.

Initially, parks officials were considering operating a tourist train in the Hood area, from about Pocket Road to Hood Franklin Road, and shuttling those trains through South Land Park on maintenance runs to Old Sacramento.

“We are moving forward with more conservative options,” Robertson said Thursday.

He said parks officials are still interested at some point in offering visitors a chance to experience the agricultural land and wildlife refuge around Hood, a few miles south of Sacramento, and haven’t entirely abandoned the idea of running an excursion train some day in that area. But they’ve decided such a train could not use the tracks through South Land Park, which run behind many houses and are used as a walking path.

Robertson said the department remains actively interested, however, in the zoo extension. “We have a strong leaning for that right now,” Robertson said, but added the department doesn’t have an “exact plan” yet.

“We thought it would be appropriate to listen to the community one more time,” he said.

Tuesday’s meeting will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Stanford Gallery, 111 I St., officials said. The excursion train plans are part of a proposed Old Sacramento State Historic Park General Plan, a 20-year vision for improving the park that includes a new rail technology museum and new Gold Rush and post-Gold Rush interpretive areas.

Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents Land Park and much of South Land Park, said he believes extending the Old Sacramento excursion train to the zoo could be a positive, but he cautioned state officials to make sure they have fully gauged community sentiment before they make a recommendation to the parks commission.

“The train is a good idea, but unless the state has done the appropriate outreach and understood the concerns of the neighbors, it’s still premature for them to approve the project,” he said.

“I think it can be a valuable amenity to relieve congestion in Land Park, reduce traffic and parking congestion, and it’s a reminder of the history of Sacramento,” he said of the stretch of rail ending at the zoo. “It can be a positive part of the community. We just have to make sure folks have a chance to weigh in.”