For more than three decades, local resident Terry Gold has operated and maintained the small scale Folsom Valley Railroad that is an iconic part of Folsom’s Lions Park.  With retirement and a residential relocation in sight for Gold, the future of the iconic ride in Lions Park could now be in the hands of Folsom City Council.  

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This Tuesday, Folsom City Council is scheduled to discuss options to further direct city staff from on the feasibility of possibly purchasing the operation to keep it in the city in some form or fashion, or allowing a current prospective buyer to acquire it that wishes to move it out of state. 

Lions Park has been home to the small scale railway since 1970. Terry and Geri Gold, who do business as the Folsom Valley Railway and Golden Spike Entertainment, acquired the train concession from its previous owner in the early 1990s and have operated here as a concessionaire ever since. 

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The Gold’s own and operate the complete railway and all of its equipment and structures, with the exception of its boarding platform that is owned by the city. The current concessionaire agreement in place for the railway operations expires in December of this year and it marks the first time that Gold will not be seeking renewal as he plans to retire and relocate out of the area.

With his plans of departure, Gold planned to sell the complete operation, including the live steam train, a diesel electric engine, its tracks gondolas and barns. With a prospective buyer that has an interest in purchasing all of the operations assets and relocating to a location in Utah, Gold is extending the City of Folsom the opportunity to purchase it and keep it in the city for a price of $375,000 according to the Folsom City Council agenda and staff report for its Tuesday, Feb 13 meeting.  The sale price would not include an operator for the train, a role Gold has filled on his own through the many years. 

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As part of the proposal, Gold is providing the city with the flexibility to opt for a payment plan. According to the staff report, this arrangement, would include an initial down payment of $75,000 in 2024, followed by six (6) annual payments of $50,000 each subsequent year until the total amount is settled in 2030. Mr. Gold ensures that this payment plan will not incur any interest fees, according to the report. 

The City of Folsom Parks and Recreation Department has done an analysis on the topic, which City Council will review and discuss in Tuesday’s meeting. 

“Folsom Valley Railway has become a landmark amenity for Folsom City Lions Park and the City of Folsom. The concessionaire pays the City of Folsom a monthly land use rental fee of $1,800 per month. According to the concessionaire, the train operation is profitable, with roughly 40,000 riders per year, and generates rough net revenues between $100,000-$1 14,000 per year,” reads a portion of the analysis from the staff report. 

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Due to the unique nature of the operation, the city solicited an independent assessment of the Folsom Valley Railway by RMI Railworks. In the assessment of the existing railway and equipment, RMI Railworks, values the present worth of the rail and equipment at $275,000. “It is important to note that this assessment excludes an evaluation of the business records, the business name, and gross ridership,” notes the report. 

Additionally, in the assessment, RMI Railworks notes that the overall condition of the rolling stock (riding cars and caboose) is in acceptable condition, but the majority will require some wheel replacements moving forward. It was also noted that the track is in acceptable condition and is safe for present operational condition, but some areas will need repair in the future. 

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According to the report, the offered price to the city has not been further negotiated. In consulting with different vendors, preliminary estimates suggest that procuring a new railway and tracks for the area, if the city desired to do so, would likely range between $500,000-$575,000.

As the topic hits Tuesday’s City Council Agenda, staff is requesting direction from the City Council as to what options they would like the department to pursue or present addition options to consider. The department has put together three proposed options that are as follows: 

Option 1: Further evaluate options for purchase and operate the railway. This option would allow the city to have direct control over ticket prices and generate additional revenue, with the potential for higher profitability. A percentage of the net revenue generated would be used to offset the deferred maintenance of the train and facilities and assets within the Department. 

Additionally, that report notes that in consulting with other zoos and parks with train operations, the majority have employees who are skilled engineers or trained operators running the train, and maintenance staff proficient in maintaining the engine and tracks (Attachment 4). 

To ensure efficient and safe train operations, the Parks and Recreation Department would adopt a similar model, requiring the development and allocation of two new full-time train engineer or train operator positions filled by individuals capable of running and maintaining the train and tracks.

The department noted that there are no funds allocated for the purchase of a scale live-steam train, or new train engineer/operator positions in the FY 2023-24 adopted budget.

Option 2: Further evaluate options to purchase the Folsom Vallev Railway and solicit a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the train operations and maintenance. Similar to the first option, this approach maintains the City’s oversight over the operation without necessitating the creation of new in-house positions. By partnering with an established entity, the City can harness the expertise and resources of external professionals to ensure efficient and successful train operations. This approach mitigates the need for extensive training and recruitment efforts within the Department and streamlines the operational aspect.  The department noted in this option that there are no funds allocated for the purchase of a scale live-steam train in the FY 2023-24 adopted budget. 

Option 3: Decline the purchase and further evaluate options to solicit a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a new scale train and railway. This would allow the City to explore other potential entities interested in operating their own Scale Train. However, soliciting an RFP does not guarantee suitable responses, which could potentially lead to a vacant site for an unknown duration, and potentially decreased attendance at the City of Folsom Zoo Sanctuary, the department noted along with the fact that there is no guarantee of suitable responses to the RFP, which could potentially lead to a vacant site for an unknown duration. 

Option 4: Decline the purchase and further evaluate options to convert the site to another use: A potential option includes converting the roughly 4,000 ft of tracks to a walking path. This option is low maintenance, but it does require an up-front cost and does not generate any additional revenue for the city. Additionally, it could potentially have a negative impact on attendance at the City of Folsom Zoo Sanctuary, and special events held at the City of Folsom Zoo Sanctuary and Folsom City Lions Park.

Alternatively, the city could explore acquiring a different type of train that doesn’t rely on tracks similar to the train in use at the Sacramento Zoo or the Roseville Fountains. Although this choice involves an upfront cost with initial estimates for an electric, trackless train range between $30,000-$75,000 not including and regular maintenance and inspections, it eliminates the need for extensive operator training, special licensing, and ongoing track upkeep. 

After direction is received from the City Council on the proposed options or others, city staff plans to further research and perform the necessary analysis to execute the direction accordingly. 

The Sacramento Valley Railroad topic is the second to last item on Tuesdays agenda. Those wishing to view the entire agenda can do so by viewing it on the city’s website or by CLICKING HERE.  Tuesday’s meeting starts at 6:30 at Folsom City Hall, 50 Natoma Street.