“Hattie B” Commuter Train Helps 1980 Flood Situation June 20th, 1980
Photo copyright Â© Verne G. Niner, 2001
In aftermath of the floods of 1980, when the popular “Hattie B.” was almost the only way to get from Mesa and Tempe to Phoenix. The Hattie B. service, named after the wife of then-Governor Bruce Babbitt, lasted just a few weeks until the highway bridges were reopened. Many wanted the service to continue, and there were even proposals to operate the service privately. A lack of interest on the part of the cities and the Highway Department were widely seen as the reason none of the proposals proceeded.
From the June 1980 TRAINS:
When record rainfall in mid-February 1980 made the normally dry Salt River in Phoenix, Ariz., a raging torrent, it washed all but three of the many river crossings, cutting the capital (a city where “mass transit” means more than two people per automobile) in half. The two major highway bridges open experienced 10-mile-long traffic jams, and commuters were spending 8 hours a day in line – so transportation officials went to work.
In an unusual example of speedy cooperation between bureaucracies, Arizona DOT and Amtrak arranged for an emergency commuter-train service, and on February 24 a train of two F40 diesels, five Amcoaches, and a Southern Pacific business car (parked in Phoenix for train-crew accommodation) arrived.
The train shuttled continuously, 5:30 am – 10 pm, Monday through Friday, over SP between Union Station in Phoenix and the SP station in Mesa, 15 miles east. Two intermediate stops – at a shopping center and a major factory – were established. To everyone’s surprise, the service became the “Sardine Express” as commuters quickly quit their autos; the train carried 24,788 passengers in the first week (or 12 trainloads a day). A sixth coach became necessary, and requests were heard to continue to service after the crisis.
With the reopening of a highway bridge, however, the service ended on March 7. Because the train was an emergency measure, it received state and Federal funds, and the one-way fare was just $1; the train lost $30,000 per week. But if nothing else, the “Sardine Express” awakened an auto-oriented city to the possibility of implementing rail commuter service in the future.
– Verne G. Niner
Black-and-White photos courtesy ADOT
Available from the Arizona Department of Transportation, Report T132-80-3, 1980: “How Do You Spell Commuter Relief?” One of eight reports detailing the impact of the 1980 Flood on transportation in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area.Introduction:
Chaos has a way of fomenting extraordinary response. When it became painfully obvious in mid-February that vehicular traffic far exceeded the capacity of the bridges remaining intact over the flooded Salt River, the Arizona Department of Transportation undertook a rather unique mission:
Operate buses and a train.
This account — detailing activities associated with the commuter train — is unique also. A routine governmental report, replete with executive summary, it is not. This narrative contains some statistics and recommendations. But that standard requirement to any bureaucratic to me is merely incidental to the paragraphs which are intended to relate, as adequately as possible, the monumental efforts that were exerted in providing this singular service for the public…
The commuter train which traveled between Mesa and Phoenix on 10 days between Feb. 25 and Mar. 7, 1980, was the first such operation in Arizona.
To attempt to name all the agencies and individuals who contributed to the success of this service would be folly. Without ignoring anyone or any organization which had a part of making the train “go,” this is to express sincerest appreciation to those involved.
– William A. Ordway