High Ball to Tucson on Amtrak’s TALGO May 15th, 2000
by Art Gatts
Reprinted with his permission and edited by William Lindley, October 2006
“I took a trip on a train,” says an old song, and some 200, including Sun Lakes’ Gareth Thorne, did just that on May 5 when the Arizona Rail Passenger Association, the Arizona Department of Transportation, and Amtrak coordinated their efforts for a TALGO run to Tucson. Getting this train to run required hours and hours of meetings, a public hearing for U.S. Congressional approval and agreements from various entities along the way.
An Amtrak TALGO or similar train would be a start to connecting Phoenix with Tucson, Yuma, and Nogales, said Arizona Rail Passenger Association President William Lindley. “We need transportation that moves more people, joining commuter trains and light rail trains in our metropolitan areas, and bringing connections to California and the East.”
“Board the train at Bank One Ballpark,” [now Chase Field - Ed.] said the invitation, “at 10:30am, depart at 10:45.” At 10:45, that first highball sounded and the TALGO was on its way. After a stop in Coolidge, where some passengers left and others boarded, the train pulled into Tucson at 1:35pm.
“Big deal,” many wil say. “We can drive it that fast.”
If you don’t count the time to get to I-10 from your home, through the city traffic and vehicle accidents and street closures.
But via rail, it is a stress-free, relaxing journey in air-conditioned, spacious comfort with plenty of leg room, plus television, reclining seats with an audio system, plugins for laptop computers, easy access to the bar (called the Bistro Car) and a sumptuous dining car. There is also a baggage car and crew accomodations.
At 2pm, the TAGLO glided out of Tucson.
There is no “turnaround” for the TALGO. With two engines [or one engine and a cab-control car] the train simply runs the other direction. Seats on swivels are just turned around.
Back to BOB at 4:45 in time for a reception at Leinenkugel’s Ballyard Brewery for most, and an Arizona Diamondbacks game for many.
“We were going 79mph after hitting the main line,” said R.C. Noderer, an ARPA member who could answer any question about railroads in general or the TALGO in particular. That’s the “speed limit” because of trac conditions, which could be improved for a Phoenix-Tucson “Corridor Limited.”
On the passenger list was Betsey Bayless, Secretary of State who rode from Phoenix to Coolidge. She experienced the “bad” part of the trip, where tracks are not up to the higher mainline standards, and where some are still of the jointed (not welded) variety. Once the train joined the main line near Picacho Peak, it was smoother and faster, with not a moment of strain.
Train service for Phoenix included the Sunset Limited and Golden State Limited, with trains calling at the downtown Union Station until 1996, when Amtrak pulled the passenger plug. Only freight trains operate between Phoenix and Tucson now, although Amtrak still serves passengers in other parts of the state.
“Passenger trains should return to national prominence” said Lindley. The popularity of the Grand Canyon Railway and the Verde Canyon Railroad proves ARPA’s point.
TALGO trains successfully serve the Cascades corridor in the Pacific Northwest, 466 miles from Oregon to Vancouver, BC, said Gareth Thorne of Sun Lakes, an ARPA director who has ridden trains all over the world. Extensive improvements to track, grade crossing, and safety systems are planned for the Cascades to further increase speed there.
With line improvements, the Phoenix-Tucson run could eventually travel at 125 miles and hour, shortening the 111-mile trip.
“We can fly faster,” say some dissidents. Right; plus spending time getting to the airport (earlier and earlier, they ask), waiting, waiting at the runway, waiting to unload, waiting for baggage. You pass Sky Harbor and see those planes on the TALGO.
The first 45 minutes of our ride was getting through East Valley towns… seeing cars, trucks, and motor homes on the road. Except we had no stop signs.
The train’s usual complement has eight cars for 244 passengers. Some cars hold 36, some 26, and some 17 with space for wheelchairs; there is a lounge/diner, the bistro car, and the engines in front and back. The engines are computer-controlled, no smoke, low emissions.
The efforts of ARPA, Amtrak, and Mary Peters, director of ADOT, were instrumental in today’s run. “We are not just focused on concrete and freeways for transportation,” said Peters. “We need options and support the idea of exploring alternative forms of transportation, including passenger rail service.”
ADOT had trucks and staff stationed as crossing guards for the special train. Without ADOT, the trip would not have been possible.
“This line is going to be a reality,” said Amtrak West President Gil Mallery.
The trip was part of the weekend “Transpo 2000″ event, which ADOT and ARPA sponsored. The event began May 4 when the TALGO brought passengers from Wickenburg to Phoenix [on the BNSF line]. On May 6, twenty five hundred persons came to see displays from transit, government, and private exhibitors at Union Station, and to walk through the TALGO.
“Board!” is still a grand sound. And the TALGO is a grand, elegant way to travel.
Scottsdale, Tempe to study light rail May 15th, 2000
by Chip Scutari, The Arizona Republic 15 May 2000, page B1.
“The Scottsdale City Council [tonight] is expected to approve… a 12-month study… [of] light rail from northern Scottsdale into downtown Tempe and Phoenix, following Tempe’s approval last Thursday.”
TALGO in Arizona: Photos May 11th, 2000
TALGO: ADOT Press Release May 11th, 2000
“Track to the future? Amtrakâ€™s “Talgo” train lets Arizonans get look at modern passenger rail service.”
One of Amtrakâ€™s newest trains paid a visit to Arizona on the weekend of May 5-6, giving residents a glimpse at the possible future of inter-city passenger rail service in the state.
The “Talgo” train, featuring high speed capability, panoramic windows, reclining seats, dining and snack cars as well as 17-inch television monitors, took guests on a round trip (Friday, May 5) between Phoenix and Tucson. Amtrak currently operates the Talgo train in the Pacific Northwest.
“We’ve worked with Amtrak and the Arizona Rail Passenger Association (ARPA) to bring the Talgo here because we wanted to give people a chance to see a modern train up close,” said ADOT Director Mary Peters.
The Talgo train also was on public display during the Transpo 2000 Fair held Saturday (May 6) at Union Station in downtown Phoenix. The train was the main attraction among a variety of transportation exhibits.
“We know the travel corridor between our major metropolitan areas is going to get more crowded in the coming decades,” said Peters. “Although weâ€™re studying putting more lanes on Interstate 10, we want to explore alternatives to car travel. That includes passenger rail.”
ADOT has studied the concept of revenue rail passenger service between the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas. In 1997, with the backing of then-Governor Fife Symington, ADOT and its consultant, Kimley-Horn and Associates, conducted a High Speed Rail Feasibility Study for the Phoenix-Tucson corridor.
The study found that in the near future, providing passenger rail service as a companion to automobile travel between Phoenix and Tucson is feasible. The study findings further recommended that in the initial stage, minor upgrades be made to the existing Union Pacific track and an easily attained conventional diesel-electric locomotive be used with push-pull style passenger cars. An ultimate system, a high speed electric trainset similar to the new Amtrak Acela Express in the Northeast U.S., could be implemented in stages as ridership grows.
The next step for the state in pursuing a potential plan for passenger rail between Phoenix and Tucson would be a more detailed engineering study, known as a Design Concept Report (DCR).
Peters said public support would play a role in any decision to proceed with a detailed study that would more accurately define train system costs.
The Talgo, a Euro-style train built by Talgo, Inc., is able to maintain speeds through curves. The train is designed to travel safely at speeds exceeding 125 miles per hour. Due to track restrictions, the Talgo currently travels at a maximum speed of 79 miles per hour on its Amtrak Cascades run from Oregon to Vancouver, B.C. Track systems in Arizona do not yet support high speed rail travel.
For more information contact:
ADOT Community Relations Office
Sleek Talgo train needs rail improvements May 9th, 2000
Bob Petrie, The Arizona Republic 9 May 2000, page B2.
QUOTE: Phoenix-Tucson “is a natural travel corridor. It’s cheaper to build rails than freeways… As traffic congestion builds on the roads, trains can zip right on through. The Talgo can be a wonderful ride. It just needs to be put on the right track.”