For more than a decade now, the Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad (PSVR) has provided a number of excursions on the rails that span south of Highway 50. Now, members of the local non-profit are worried about their future as they await renewal of their operating license. 

The PSVR rail excursions for the public take place on portions of the historic Southern Pacific Railroad’s “Placerville Branch.” The segment is described by the PSVR as, “a scenic gem that has wound through Sacramento and El Dorado Counties for over 160 years.” The excursions are in addition to a number of shorter rail events that take place in the heart of the city as well, such as the annual Pumpkin Patch Flyer train, Santa’s Whistle Stop, and others, all of which are operational fundraisers for the 501 (c)3 non-profit organization. 


On January 23, the PSVR expects to stand before Folsom City Council in regards to renewal of its operating license. The present license agreement that applies to the southern tracks used for the excursion tracks is is between the PSVR, the Sacramento Placerville Transportation Corridor Joint Powers Authority (JPA), the public entity which owns the tracks and is made of member agencies including the City of Folsom, Sacramento County, El Dorado County and Regional Transit. 

“PSVR has enjoyed steadfast support from the community over the years, from our incorporation as a Non-Profit in 2008, to the acquisition of an operational steam locomotive in 2020, and of course the tremendous financial support we received during the COVID Pandemic,” said Jim Harville, President of the PSVR as he reached out to the public this past week in a plea for community support. “So it is with a heavy heart that I report that City of Folsom is now considering a proposal by staff that will put significant additional burdens on our operations and is guaranteed to result in the eventual failure of this historically and culturally valuable program.”


As they issued their public ask for support, the PSVR also launched a campaign on its website and across social media. The announcements quickly drew concerns and comments from the public, sharing their likeness for the various events such as the holiday rail car rides and others as well as despair that such events could come to an end in the future. 

Folsom City Councilmember Sarah Aquino, who was just named Vice Mayor Tuesday night, is known for being accessible to the public and joining in the conversations regarding city matters as they arise on social media. This week was no exception as Aquino offered some clarification on the license renewal, sharing that it is in place for the rails traveling south of Folsom and does not affect the season events, such as the different holiday rides, that take place in the heart of the city. 

The PSVR rail excursions for the public take place on portions of the historic Southern Pacific Railroad’s “Placerville Branch.” (above).
Jim Harville (top photo) is the President of the PSVR and is asking for the community support as they faced challenges ahead. (PC: PSVR)

“The reason PSVR has historically had a license agreement with the JPA is because their excursion train, when leaving from the Hampton Inn Station, runs through three jurisdictions – Folsom, Sacramento County, and El Dorado County,” Aquino shared. “The El Dorado Western Railroad, which only runs in El Dorado County, doesn’t require a license agreement with the JPA. A license agreement with the JPA also isn’t required for PSVR to operate solely within Folsom city limits, such as when they run their holiday trains on the section of track near CalFit.”


Aquino is the City of Folsom’s representative on the current JPA Board of Directors.  As she reached out to discuss the topic with residents, she also shared her support for preserving the local rail history and the need for “creativity” among all involved ahead for a plan that works for all aspects. 

“I am supportive of preserving and celebrating Folsom’s railroad history in a way that makes sense and is realistic,” she shared. “As you probably know, a four lane expressway called the Capital Southeast Connector is planned to connect El Dorado County to Elk Grove. One of the sections that’s in Folsom has already been completed. The big questions that are prompting these discussions are as follows: Is it feasible to get an excursion train safely across/under/over the Connector when it’s fully built out? 


Does spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on a grade separation (preferred by the CPUC) make fiscal sense? If not, is an at-grade crossing possible (requires CPUC approval)? If an at-grade crossing is acceptable to the CPUC, are the various public and private entities prepared to accept liability for having an at-grade crossing in the middle of a four lane expressway? Are there other options that would allow PSVRR to continue its excursion train without crossing the Connector such as running only north or south of it?”

Chris Thull is the Development Director of the PSVR and is working closely with Harville to preserve the future of their organization, especially determining the financial impact such a change would have on their organization, should they have to move all excursion operations to the south side of White Rock Road. 

“The excursion trains are a major part of our organization and our future,” Thull said in a recent phone call with Folsom Times. “The events we have in the city like the pumpkin patch and others are not something that wouldn’t support us into the future on their own and requiring excursion riders to come all the way out past White Rock is just not something we see working well, it’s just so far away from everything else.”  Thull noted that Aquino has been working closely with them headed into this and her engagement is much appreciated by the organization. 

While the possible move southward is their biggest concern ahead, Harville and the management of PSVR have identified what they call “critical points that are essential to not only the success of the program, but to the very survival of the railroad.”

The points they say are relevant to the City of Folsom’s involved read as follows in their plea for community support:

1)  CROSSING GATES: The new housing development south of Highway 50 has created four new grade crossings. The California Public Utilities Commission ordered installation of gates and lights at these crossings and the City committed to this in 2015.  Legally, this is an obligation of the developing party and was to be completed during the original construction in 2017.  At some point the City decided to not install the crossing gates.  Bowing to the political realities, PSVR has proposed solutions which would reduce the cost and complexity of this project, but those solutions have been rejected by City staff.

2)  HAMPTON STATION: From the beginning, the primary boarding point for PSVR has been behind the Hampton Inn, adjacent to Highway 50.  Since construction began in the new development, PSVR has been under significant pressure by staff to move our operation out to White Rock Road, beyond the city limits.  This is untenable for reasons far beyond the logistic challenges this would create.

When the SPTC-JPA was formed in 1993 to purchase the Placerville Branch from Southern Pacific Railroad, it was to manifest an “All for One, and One for All!” philosophy to protect the integrity and continuity of the rail line, for the benefit of future generations.  By banding together, the member agencies ensured that the property would not get broken up piecemeal when Southern Pacific pulled out.  In 2018, consistent with this policy, every member of the JPA voted in favor of our operating license.  If City of Folsom chooses to subtract a mile and a half from our approved operating zone, PSVR will have no defense against the next project adjacent to the railroad, and will eventually be erased from the community. 

3)  7 YEAR RENEWAL TERM: Given the tremendous investment of time and dollars that have gone into developing this program, PSVR can no longer function with a 5 Year planning horizon.  No project of similar scope can survive if it is subjected to existential threats every 5 years.  It is the objective of PSVR to extend our operating license through December of 2030, renewing in 10 Year increments thereafter. 

As she spent a great deal of time engaging with the public across social media and with the members of the PSVR, Aquino noted the topic was going to need much discussion ahead and welcomed input from the community as well. 

“We are planning to have these discussions at a future city council meeting before making a recommendation to the JPA about whether a new license agreement with PSVRR is needed,” she said. “Again, they don’t need a license agreement to run their trains solely in Folsom or solely in El Dorado County. I welcome any suggestions or creative ideas about how best to celebrate, honor, and preserve Folsom’s rich railroad history.”

While Aquino asks for community input ahead, Harville and the PSVR are asking for the community’s support as well. 

“In keeping with our non-profit, educational status, PSVR volunteers have pledged their blood, sweat and tears to develop and protect this cultural amenity not simply for a period of time, but in perpetuity for the benefit of generations to come,” write Harville. “We now need the community to come forward once again in support of this valuable program.”

The PSVR has added a special section on its website at in regards to their challenges ahead and ways in which the community can help show their support now as well as by engaging in the future meetings and discussions regarding their needs and renewal. 

“We need the public to speak out to the Folsom City Council, encouraging them to re-embrace the idea of a World Class Railroad Attraction in our community, and to address head on the political challenges which stand in the way of our success,” Harville wrote. “The team at PSVR is grateful to you, the riding public, for many sold out events such as Mother’s Day Brunch, Pumpkin Patch Flyer, Santa’s Whistlestop Adventure, Iron and Wine Sundowner dinner trains, and many others.  

Bill Sullivan
Author: Bill Sullivan

Bill Sullivan has over 25 years of professional journalism and content creation experience in which he has earned 37 professional awards. He is the co-founder/publisher of Folsom Times an All Town Media LLC product.