The Historic Placerville Branch

Discover the rich railroad history of California’s Gold Country

1855 map of the Sacramento Valley Railroad by Theodore Judah

Early History (1852-1888)

The branch’s story begins in the 1850s, when California was in the midst of the Gold Rush.  Construction on the Sacramento Valley Railroad (of 1852) began in Sacramento in February 1855, and the line reached Folsom in January 1856.

The first railroad to be named Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad was incorporated on June 12, 1862, and construction from Folsom towards Placerville began in late 1863. The line reached Latrobe in August 1864, Shingle Springs in June 1865, and finally Placerville on March 29, 1888.

The Southern Pacific Era (1888-1987)

Southern Pacific train at Brela. Photo by Vic Neves.
Southern Pacific train at Brela in 1987. Photo by Vic Neves.

On May 15, 1888, the railroad became part of Southern Pacific Railroad under their non-operating subsidiary, the Northern Railway, in 1888, and then ten years later under the SP on April 14, 1898.

The main sources of traffic were timber from the El Dorado National Forest and locally-grown fruit.  Timber was hauled to Placerville over 65 miles of logging railroads including California Door Company’s narrow gauge Diamond and Caldor Railway and Michigan California Lumber Company’s 8-mile standard gauge Camino, Placerville and Lake Tahoe Railroad.  Fruit grown in surrounding areas was packed and loaded in Placerville.

When the Michigan California Lumber Company closed their mill at Camino in 1986, CP&LT operations ended between Camino and Placerville that June, scrapping of the track began on September 3, and it was complete by December.  With the primary reason for the branch’s existence gone, SP operations between Folsom and Placerville ended in 1987, just one year shy of the line’s 100th anniversary.

Inactive, But Not Abandoned (1987-1995)

Maintenence-of-way work crews clearing brush. Photo by Mark Spellman.
Maintenence-of-way work crews clearing brush. Photo by Mark Spellman.

Many years of inactivity and neglect followed, causing the line to fall into disrepair, including overgrown brush and trees, significant flooding, and several washouts.  But, importantly, the line was never abandoned.

On October 1, 1991, the Sacramento-Placerville Transportation Corridor Joint Powers Authority (SPTC-JPA), made up of the City of Folsom, the County of El Dorado, the County of Sacramento, and Sacramento Regional Transit (RT), was formed for the purpose of acquiring and preserving the Placerville Branch railroad corridor between Sacramento and Diamond Springs as a rail-banked corridor under the Rails to Trails Act.  SPTC-JPA successfully negotiated an agreement with Southern Pacific, and a Notice of Interim Trail Use was subsequently issued by the Surface Transportation Board on July 27, 1995.

The New Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad (2008-Present)

Map of excursion railroad operations on Southern Pacific’s Placerville Branch

In January, 2008, SPTC-JPA issued a Request for Proposal to operate excursion rail service on the line between Folsom and Diamond Springs.  Folsom, El Dorado, and Sacramento Historical Railroad Association, our parent organization, submitted a proposal, was selected as the excursion railroad operator in May, and incorporated a new Placerville & Sacramento Valley Railroad as a separate non-profit corporation to operate the railroad on August 8.

Our volunteers repaired and restored the line and began running trains in fall 2010. In spring 2011, our volunteers repaired a major washout on the railroad seven miles east of Folsom, allowing us to operate passenger trains to the historic community of Latrobe for the first time in more than 50 years.

Today, we operate train and motorcar rides, wine tasting trains, and an annual railroad festival in Folsom.