Tuesday’s meeting concludes with first preliminary budget workshop

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It was just last week that many learned of, and expressed concern about the questionable future of Folsom’s small scale railroad that has long been a part of Lions Park and the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary. After Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, it was quite clear that just about everyone involved wants to see the Folsom Valley Railroad to remain in the city, from city leaders to potential local buyers that have come forth with interest in keeping the attraction here in the city it has been part of since 1970.

As it was reported in a Folsom Times article last Thursday, for over three decades, local resident Terry Gold has owned, operated and maintained the Folsom Valley Railroad. With retirement and a residential relocation in sight for Gold, the future of the iconic ride remaining in Folsom was uncertain with a potential buyer wanting to swoop it up and move it to Utah while Gold reached out to the city to give them the opportunity to keep it in Folsom, one way or another, which revolved around a purchase price of $375,000.

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As part of the proposal, Gold provided 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.

Due to the unique nature of the operation, prior to Tuesday’s meeting, 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. 

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Additionally, in the assessment, RMI Railworks noted 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. 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.

“Folsom Valley Railway has become a landmark amenity for Folsom City Lions Park and the City of Folsom,” stated the staff report for Tuesday night’s meeting. “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,” read a portion of the analysis on the operation and the original request for direction from council.

Tuesday night, Folsom City Council reviewed those options regarding keeping the train, however, when Gold spoke at the podium, it was learned that there was no longer a sole potential buyer, but others that have since come forth with the intent to keep the operation in the city, should they reach a purchase agreement with Gold.

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“This wasn’t the case before but now it is and I have potential local buyers, in fact three of them now, that have an interest in keeping the train in Folsom,” said Gold. “They have experience with scale trains and steam engines, even at Disneyland.

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

Following his brief time at the podium to report the new options that have surfaced, Gold was thanked by members of council for the many decades he has owned and operated the train that has become iconic in the city.  Nearly every council member used the term “childhood memories,” when they described what the amusement has provided over the years, with their own children and thousands of others. 

One potential buyer is the Prudhomme family, that brought three generations to speak to council Tuesday night. The family of speakers was led by Catherine Prudhomme who expressed the family’s interest in purchasing it from Gold as well as their passion to keep it active for generations to come. 

“It is my pleasure to stand before you deeply rooted in the history of the sacred city, continuing to support and foster its railroad ties, pun unintended, “ said Prudhomme. “We stand before you tonight, presenting our commitment to partner with the City of Folsom to carry our irreplaceable tradition the Sacramento Valley Railway provides.” 

According to the Prudhomme’s, in preliminary talks Gold, the longtime operator has agreed to work with them and fully train them on the operation for six months, should a purchase agreement be reached. 

Kyle Winberg was another speaker on Tuesday night. Winberg has operated the local train for Gold on many occasions and knows it well. He has had interest in buying it since 2016 and has talked with Gold about it, however, he shared that the assets and their condition didn’t warrant the price of $375,000 that the out of state buyer has reportedly offered. 

As the topic turned back to members of the council, it was unanimous that they were in support of allowing Gold to entertain the offers of the new local buyers, rather than looking at ways for it to become owned and operated by the city.

“I think the city needs to get out of the way and let the free market do its work here,” said Councilmember Anna Rohrbough.

Folsom Vice Mayor Sarah Aquino shared similar thoughts as Rorhbough.

“We appreciate Mr. Gold giving the first right of refusal to a local group so that we can keep the train in Folsom and now there is really no role for the city here at this time. Once that’s done, then we could get involved in terms of an agreement to operate it.”

Council member Rosario Rodriguez agreed with the prospect of a private buyer and a partnership with the city. She also added that should such an arrangement not work out, they may want to review options in which a business or company could sponsor the operation of the train, should the city decide to get involved if negotiations with private parties should fall through. 

Terry Gold’s humble beginnings and the Folsom Valley Railway

Growing up near Los Angeles, Gold was interested in trains, a passion he shares today with thousands of visitors to the small-scale attraction at Folsom’s Lions Park.

When he was older, Gold took a job at Magic Mountain running the steam engine. While he loved operating the train, Gold said, he looked for other options because he wanted a better salary and the location was far from his house. Soon after leaving Magic Mountain, Gold accepted a job at Disneyland running attractions and operations.

“Disneyland was the best job I have ever had. Disneyland is what got me into a theme park mentality and just loving theme parks,” Gold said. “I loved that job. However, it was extremely hard to get on full time because no one wants to quit. I tried my hardest to get on full time but it never worked out.”

While at Disneyland, Gold held other jobs and was working 70 to 80 hours a week to make ends meet. He saved as much money as he could to buy an airplane. After years of saving and finally buying his airplane, Gold was still very interested in operating trains and flew to Tilden Regional Park to inquire more about the train rides they offer.

After seeing how much money a train operator could make, Gold looked for a train that he could operate. He quickly found the Folsom Valley Railway for sale, along with a railway in Carson City, Nevada. 

“Originally, I was planning to buy the train in Carson City since it was the same type of train that I operated at Magic Mountain. It wasn’t until someone from Carson City convinced me to not buy it since there is little tourism there,” Gold said, “So I bought the Folsom Valley Railway.”

The Folsom Valley Railway was built in 1970 by the Sherman Brothers. From there, it was bought and operated by Mylon Thorley. Gold bought the Folsom Valley Railway from Thorley in June 1990 and officially took possession of the train on Jan. 1, 1991. 

Budget talks wrap up Tuesday’s meeting

It other business on Tuesday, Folsom City Council hosted its first public budget workshop Tuesday as it works to tackle its deficit issues ahead.  The workshop was a preliminary effort to review budget challenges ahead and was not an action item on the agenda, but informational.

During the final agenda item, council members reviewed and listened to a number of presentations of department priorities the city is faced with and a lack of funds to fully fund as desired.  

“We’re working with a medium-size pizza here, and we need a large or extra-large pizza,” noted Folsom Vice Mayor Sarah Aquino as council discussed the task at hand.“Every single department has very legitimate needs.”

As city staff works to draft the 2024-25 budget, talks of a sales tax bump have been taking place to address the shortfalls, not only are city leaders looking at a possible tax initiative on the 2024 ballot, an ongoing citizens campaign is taking to place in an effort to get the proposed hike on the ballot. 

The City of Folsom projects a $4.6 million deficit by 2029, based on current accounting. That deficit comes even as the city is doing more with less in the way of staff and resources over the last several years. 

“All departments are doing more with less,” said Folsom City Manager Elaine Andersen during her report in Tuesday’s meeting. “We have staff shortages in nearly every general fund department, even as our population and community expectations continue to rise.”


Public safety is one of the biggest concerns ahead and the Folsom Police and Fire departments continue to be understaffed while there is a growing need in the city, especially with increased crime where organized retail theft has risen by more than four times today. 

Folsom City Council will review the most recent quarterly financial report at its meeting on March 12 and continue budget conversations. There will be additional public budget workshops on June 11 and June 25, which will follow the presentation of operating budget drafts in May. 

Above photo: Terry Gold pictured aboard the diesel powered version of the Folsom Valley Railway. Photo: City of Folsom Parks and Recreation Department.

Bill Sullivan
Author: Bill Sullivan