1996 Olympic Torch Train at Phoenix June 26th, 1996
Consist was 1996& 1896 (SD40-2′s), 208 (Power car), Carbarton (Staff car), Little Rock/Columbia River/Omaha/Green River/Portola (Sleepers), 207 (Power car), Kennefick (Business car), Pony Express (Baggage), Missouri River Eagle (Dome diner), City of Denver & Overland (Diner), City of San Francisco (Dome lounge observation), Columbine (Dome chair), Sun Valley (lounge), Challenger (Dome chair), Feather River (Bus. Car), UPP 1996 (Cauldron car).
Requiem for the Railway June 9th, 1996
Valley’s major metropolitan-area status knocked down a notch by loss of Amtrak Sunset Limited
Reprinted from Tribune Newspapers, 9 June 1996, with permission of the author.
Phoenix – the nation’s seventh most-populous urban area – has returned to its transportation deficiency of the 1880s.
Phoenix – described in 1993 by an international agency as “the best run city in the world” – is now one of the few major metropolitan areas on earth without rail passenger service.
One hundred and nine years of passenger trains stopping in Phoenix ended Sunday night, June 2. Amtrak’s Train No. 1 – the Sunset Limited – headed to its Los Angeles destination over tracks the Southern Pacific Railroad intends to abandon. Amtrak, meanwhile, is transporting patrons from the Phoenix Union Depot at Fourth Avenue and Harrison Street via shuttle bus to Tucson where they can board the Sunset Limited eastbound or westbound three times a week.
A plan by Amtrak to establish a station at Maricopa (south of Phoenix in Pinal County) that would reduce the shuttle time to about 50 minutes relegates Phoenix-area train riders to a status reminiscent of those experienced by travelers in Arizona Territorial days. Before a rail linkage to Phoenix from Maricopa was begun in 1887, passengers were transported by stagecoach to that waystation to board Southern Pacific trains.
On July 3, 1887, the Maricopa and Phoenix Railway started operating over an alighnment that follows today’s State Route 347. That first passenger train, passing through Tempe on its way to Phoenix, was welcomed in a joyous Fourth of July celebration. The new service relieved travelers of the inconvenience of being shuttled to Maricopa.
Presently, outbound Amtrak patrons from Phoenix must board the shuttle at 4:55am on Mondays, Wednesdays or Saturdays to travel eastward, and at 6:25pm to proceed westard from Tucson on Tuesdays, Thursdays, or Sundays. As a train rider who first arrived from Dallas at the Phoenix Union Depot in February 1948 (at which time Southern Pacific and Santa Fe operated four trains daily through the Salt River Valley – including stops at Mesa, Tempe, Glendale and Goodyear), I am disappointed in the lack of interest by community leaders in retaining rail passenger service.
It is ironic that the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors approved a bond issue in 1885 to aid in construction of railroad facilities in 1890 of the first passenger depot in Phoenix at what today is Seventh and Jackson Streets – site of the Bank One Ballpark now under construction. (Last year the supervisors put into effect in April a quarter-cent sales tax increase to pay for the first $235 million of the $330 million baseball stadium. Taxpayers were denied balloting on the tax by the Arizona Legislature’s authorization in 1990 of a stadium district which is under the direction of the county supervisors.)
Southern Pacific is reported to have plans for abandoning the line between the town of Wellton, and the outskirts of Phoenix because the cost of repairing and maintaining that same 90 miles of track is deemed prohibitive. Amtrak’s Sunset Limited – the name of Southern Pacific’s train of the past – served Phoenix over that route on its transcontinental run between Miami and Los Angeles. Estimated cost of upgrading the Phoenix-Wellton segment is $27 million. An additional $2.5 million would be required annually to maintain the track and right-of-way, according to Amtrak and SP officials. Compared to the amount civic and political leaders have committed on behalf of sports enterprises in the Salt River Valley in recent years, this is petty cash.
A metropolis that accepted in 1993 from a German media organization the Carl Bertelsmann Prize as “the best run city in the world” loses its luster when its leaders ignore train travelers. Many persons prefer trains to airplanes and buses, and there are those whose physical conditions prevent travel by air. Few, if any, public officials have spoken about this loss. I would invite comment from the governor, legislators, county supervisors, mayors and council members and congressional delegates relative to the discontinuance of passenger train service to Phoenix.
When time is of the essence, airplanes are the way to go. And I certainly would not want to give up highway driving as a means of travel. But when it comes to getting from one place in a leisurely, comfortable way (not strapped to a seat; having the freedom to move about; to dine and socialize with many interesting travelers), and being conveyed in a fuel-efficient and relatively nonpolluting way, I’ll take the train.
Not, however, from Arizona’s capital city anymore, unless a coalition of business and political leaders devote some of their resources to putting Phoenix back on track.
Radical Concept June 5th, 1996
Visionary leadership can make efficient public transit reality
Reprinted from Tribune Newspapers, 5 June 1996, with permission of the author.
In a recent commentary [Tribune Newspapers, 28 April 1996], the Goldwater Institute’s Eric VonDohlen said he doesn’t think mass transit will work in the Valley because it forces us to radically change the way we live our lives – where we live, where we work, how we design our building, how we spend our time. “If transit requires such wholesale changes,” he said, “it simply isn’t worth it.”
No doubt, an effective public transportation system would create changes in our lives: changes like lowering stress levels for rush-hour commuters; reducing congestion on freeways and major arterials; diminishing the brown cloud that nangs over the Valley; getting a handle on urban sprawl; reducing strain on family budgets by offering alternatives to the automobile.
Radical? Probably. Public transit gets to the root of our tranpsortation problem, and that’s what “radical” means – finding solutions, not just quick fixes. A miltuimodal tranpsortation system that accomodates cyclists, pedestrians and transit users, as well as motorists, would give us choices. By choosing alternatives to the automobile, we help to develop sustainable communities.
Transportation is more than just an economic issue; it’s a social issue, an environmental issue, a quality of life issue. With the potential to impact nearly everyone’s life, every day, tranportation should be a No. 1 priority; but in Arizona we consistently relegate transportation to the back burner.
Our legislators, state officials, and local leaders need to be visionary in their approach to transportation. They must be able to see past the next bend in the freeway.
Too often that’s not the case. When asked about public transit in a television interview, Chuck Coughlin, from the governor’s office, replied, “Let’s lay down cement first (build freeways); we’ll worry about public transportation later.”
In an informatl conversation with a Mesa leadership grup, Arizona Department of Transportation directory Larry Bonine said we will never have an effective public transportation system here in the Valley. “We’re too much in love with our cars,” he said.
These are not the words of visionaries.
Most of our alley communities contribute only meager sums, if any, to public transportation efforts, and attempts to fund public transit at the sate level often do not succeed. The Powerball lottery, for example, was initially designed to fund public transit.
In the final version of the bill, it was decieded that $45 million would be siphoned off the top for the State General Fund; the rest would go to public transit. Here’s the hitch: there is nothing left after the State General Fund gets its share. In this year’s legislative session, HB 2499 proposed to change that priority for Powerball money and put transit back on top in the funding formula. The bill sailed through the House but died in the Senate.
This is not the work of visionaries.
In his commentary, VanDolhen cited an 1996 report by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy entitled Transit in the Valley: Where do we go from here? This publication offers an excellent overview of the Valley’s transportation issues, as well as possible solutions. Van Dohlen’s interpretation of the Morrison report is that it says, “Valley residents should live to serve mass transit.” My interpretation is that there is hope for the future; we can solve our transportation problems.
But it will take a cooperative effort. It requires leaders willing to take risks; it requires communities willing to commit funding; it requires flexible planning and zoning policies that encourage alternative modes of transportation and curb urban sprawl; it takes citizens who are willing to give public transit and other alternative modes a chance.
If we can get the leadership, funding and planning into place, the citizen response will be easy. Choosing the cool comfort of commuter rail over a freeway jam in drive-home traffic won’t be a tough choice to make. Paying more than $5,000 per year to own and operate that commuter car, versus $612 per year to ride the express bus – that, too, is not a difficult decision.
Add to the finanical benefits the incentives and amenities that employers and cities can offer to carpoolers, transit users, cyclists, and pedestrians, and citizens will be eager to try an alternative mode.
To make a multimodal transportation system work probably will require “radical” changes – positive changes that should have been started long ago. These chccanges will translate into economic, social, environmental, and quality of life benefits:
- Transportation options for those who can’t drive a car (young, old, disabled)
- Alternatives for those who choose not to drive a car
- Accessibility to jobs, schools, and shopping for persons who cannot afford a car
- Relief to congested freeways and arterials
- Potential for reducing air pollution
- Slowing urban sprawl
- Creating an awareness that each of us is responsible for making our community a better place to live
Eric VonDohlen says “it simply isn’t worth it.” You decide.Karen Peters