Comment on Closing of Phoenix Station October 12th, 2001
In 1996, Amtrak pulled its trains from Phoenix and Tempe, and replaced them with a bus. Now the last shreds of convenience — a downtown station and that connecting bus to Tucson — are being pulled as well.
Phoenix is being completely abandoned by Amtrak, will be replaced by a stop at a wide spot in the road at Maricopa, some thirty miles south of town – fifty or more miles from some of the most populous areas of the Valley.
Tourists who get off Amtrak’s three-times weekly (down from four times weekly earlier this year) Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle at Maricopa will find themselves at a depot outfitted with a beautifully refurbished streamliner railcar but without any way to get to Phoenix. There will be no bus, no taxi, and no rental car.
Those tourists will literally be stranded in the desert.
Would Amtrak close New York’s Pennsylvania Station and require New Yorkers to drive to a “new” stop in a New Jersey field? This is how they are treating America’s sixth largest city.
In 1970, Southern Pacific downgraded its daily “Sunset” to tri-weekly in a relatively successful effort to drive off any remaining travelers. For years, Amtrak promised to restore Phoenix’s train to daily — something which might actually be useful for travelers going to Los Angeles or Tucson. Now that Amtrak has abandoned its modest “Network Growth Strategy” announced last year, and any hope of its expanding its far-too-small fleet of passenger cars, there seems little hope of Phoenix getting any intercity trains any time soon.
Yet the events of September 11 showed the folly of putting all our transportation eggs in the airline basket. Phoenix and all of Arizona would benefit socially and economically from proper passenger train service.
Drive down I-10 or US 60 any time of day and they are filled with cars. Yet the parallel railroad tracks sit there unused except for a few freight trains. Meanwhile, cities across the country are using their railroad lines for commuter trains. Cities like Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego, and Dallas have commuter rail — operating on regular railroad tracks, unlike light rail which operates in the street — and all are scrambling to keep up with higher-than-expected ridership.
Between Phoenix and Tucson, I-10 is to be widened, and that means years of construction delays. With longer check-in times and vastly fewer short-distance flights, Phoenix-Tucson air travel is already a thing of the past. Again, the parallel railroad line sits ready, an eight-lane highway just waiting to be used.
The Union Pacific Railroad wants to abandon the “West Line” connecting Phoenix to Yuma. Perhaps they haven’t looked at the highways to see all the trucks going that way. Without that option, Phoenix is connected to Southern California only by road and air — and airline travel will now always be far more inconvenient. Can Arizona afford to cut its industrial and commercial lines to California and its ports? And can we afford to put all our travelers on the already overcrowded roads? No.
California has invested in passenger trains. Yes, Amtrak runs them, but only under contract from the State. Hundreds of thousands of people ride trains every day in California — a seeming impossibility in a place where people like nowhere else are married to their automobiles. Yet California realized that roads and airplanes alone wouldn’t address its needs. And we don’t need billion-dollar bullet trains. Today’s modern intercity trains between Tucson, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and San Diego would be filled with travelers and business people if they were convenient and frequent.
Arizona needs to get moving with commuter rail in metro Phoenix, with regional rail to Tucson, and needs to repeat California’s intercity rail successes, before we choke on our own traffic jams.
Our state’s economy depends on it.
And we certainly can’t depend on Amtrak for much help.
Arizona Rail Passenger Association