Valley of the Sun Loses Its Sunset April 25th, 1996
– Bill Lindley, Editor
ARPA has received from Amtrak a preliminary schedule for the Sunset Limited. Here are the notes which accompany the times [my emphasis added -- Ed.]:
Details of New Schedule
“Operates SuTuFr from Miami. Operates 1 hour later from Miami. Running time increased 15 minutes Miami to Jacksonville. Station time at Jacksonville increased 5 minutes. Running time increased 11 minutes Jacksonville to Pensacola – reduced 11 minutes Pensacola to New Orleans.
“Station time at New Orleans increased 70 minutes. Running time increased 13 minutes New Orleans to Houston. Station time at Houston increased 5 minutes. Running time reduced 3 minutes… to San Antonio. Station time at San Antonio increased 30 minutes.
“Running time reduced 5 minutes San Antonio to El Paso… increased 27 minutes El Paso to Tucson. Station time at Tucson increased 8 minutes.
“Train rerouted between Tucson and Yuma via Gila Line bypassing Coolidge, Tempe and Phoenix. Stop at Maricopa, AZ to commence sometime in August 1996. Running time reduced 3 hours 20 minutes Tucson to Los Angeles.”
What About Bus Service?
We do not know at this time whether there will be a Thruway bus from Phoenix, Tempe, or Coolidge, or what the details of that would be, although it is likely some sort of bus service may be provided from Phoenix to the stop at Tucson. A notice at the Phoenix station indicates that location will continue to be staffed for the time being.
Possible Ridership Impact
What will be the impact of this on the ridership of the train? Let’s look at some numbers.
Passenger Train Journal ridership figures for the past couple years show the Sunset Limited averaging about 15,000 passengers a month.Â ARPA has quoted the figure 30,000 for annual on/off at Phoenix and Tempe, which would account for 15,000 passengers per year.Â This leads to the conclusion that 1/12 of all passengers are traveling to or from Phoenix or Tempe.
Now note that the PTJ figures are for New Orleans to Los Angeles.Â If we consider only those passengers on the train west of El Paso, and assume that about half the passengers on the entire route ride west of there, the Phoenix and Tempe figures would be more like 1/6 of all passengers on the train.
If we look at the ridership from another angle, we can see how this works.Â The 15,000 passengers per year would account for about 50 passengers per train (six trains a week, fifty two weeks a year).Â If the Superliner train carries 300 passengers, then these 50 passengers would, again, account for one sixth of that.
And if half of the persons traveling to Phoenix are coming from the West (Yuma, Indio, and Los Angeles) it is questionable how many would ride the train to Tucson and take a two-hour bus ride back to Phoenix.
With the Sunset Limited undeniably leaving Phoenix, has the Arizona Rail Passenger Association lost its purpose?Â Hardly.
First, ARPA must push for regional rail.Â Continued worsening of the pollution problem in Phoenix, and this state’s unrelenting population growth, are finally putting a focus on rail transportation.Â This is the time for a renewed effort to establish regional rail.
Second, we must work to ensure that the Phoenix West Line is not abandoned.Â We believe the loss of these eighty-six miles of railroad line would be a blow to not only to Phoenix but also to the state of Arizona and the entire Southwest.Â This line is an important link between the nation’s second largest city and its seventh largest city.Â The nation’s fastest growing region should not lose this piece of its infrastructure.
Third, we should continue to seek new options for long-distance passenger train service in Arizona, and continue to seek enhancement of those services still present. There have been several suggestions for possible new services; and while not every proposal will be acted upon, no action takes place unless something is first proposed.Â ARPA can provide motivation and information which might make some of the plans reality.