Sunset Limited and Phoenix

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chertling

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I found this on Wikipedia, so it can't be deemed reliable... but does anyone know whether the statement below is true?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunset_Limited
On June 2, 1996, the Sunset Limited was rerouted to a more southerly route between Tucson, Arizona, and Yuma, Arizona, bypassing Phoenix, Arizona, in order to accommodate the Union Pacific Railroad's desire to abandon a portion of its Phoenix-to-Yuma "West Line". As of early 2006, however, the line had not yet been abandoned, and construction activities suggested that Union Pacific might reopen the line.
Is the "West Line" still in operable condition? Is there any chance of it being returned to operation, thus giving Amtrak the option of returning to Phoenix?
 

the_traveler

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Whatever siding I'm sitting on!
I think it still is in operation, but IIRC the speeds on that stretch were very slow. And the station in Phoenix is now in private hands - and IIRC used as an office.

I personally wouldn't count on it.
 

George Harris

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This discussion comes up every few months. Go back to a thread in mid 2008 titled The Sun Never Sets in Phoenix.

I said this at that time:

Other than the date of change, which I really don't know the rest is somewhat less than accurate, which seems to be the norm for Wiki.

The southern line, which UP calls the Gila subdivision was the original Southern Paciifc mainline. The loop through Phoenix was built much later, in the 1920's I think, and was always at best a secondary main and built primarily so that through passenger trains could serve Phoenix. It ran from Wellton at milepost 770.7 (zero at San Francisco) to Picacho. At Picacho the milepost is 979.7 on the Phoenix line but only 936.7 via the main through Maricopa. Thus, the route is 166.0 miles on the main and 209.0 miles through Phoenix, an additional distance of 43.0 miles. Phoenix yard is at milepost 907.0, so this 209 mile length represents 137.3 miles wst of Phoenix with almost nothing there and 72.7 miles west of Phoenix through Tempe and a few other places.

The Phoenix line was all jointed rail with an automatic block signal system with semaphores. Generally the passenger train speed limit was 60 mph, although some parts east of Phoenix allowed 70 mph. Pictures I have seen of the line west show the rail as being 113 lb, a section unique to the SP and long obsolete and out of production. By the early 90's this line was needing major rail relay, major tie replacement, and signal system upgrades. The decision was make to concetrate on the 70 miles east of Phoenix rather than attempt to keep the entire 209 miles up for 60 mph service.

To the best of my knowledge the track is all still in place, but not all in service, and the signal system is likewise all in place, but likely not functional for most or the line west.

With the same weasel words, here is the current status of the line, going from west to east.

mp 770.7 to 802.8: "Roll Industrial Lead" 20 mph - restricted speed

mp 802.8 to 854.0: Out of service

mp 854.0 to 904.8: 25 mph - may have slow orders to less

mp 904.8 to 905.6: 20 mph

mp 905.6 to 906.7: 15 mph

mp 906.7 to 907.9: 20 mph

mp 907.9 to 913.6: 25 mph

mp 913.6 to 916.5: 20 mph

mp 916.5 to 920.8: 40 mph

mp 920.8 to 922.0: 25 mph

mp 922.0 to 924.2: 40 mph

mp 924.2 to 957.0: 60 mph

mp 957.0 to 963.5: 40 mph

mp 963.5 to 975.6: 60 mph

mp 975.6 to 979.3: 45 mph

mp 979.3 to 979.7: 25 mph

Wild guess: about $200 to $300 million to get the Phoenix line west to the point that it could carry the Sunset at 60 mph or 79 mph. (The difference in cost for getting it in condition for 60 mph and for 79 mph would be next to nothing.) There is no way that it makes sense for Amtrak or the state of Arizona to spend that kind of money for a three times a week train, and for sure it makes no sense for UP to spend it. The additional 43 miles and going through a major urban area is why it also make no sense for UP to increase the Sunset Route capacity by upgrading the Phoenix line for part of a directional running system with the Gila line instead of adding a second main along a line through a mostly unpopulated desert. Now, if it was decided to operate multiple passenger trains per day between Arizona and Los Angeles, that could change the picture.
 

birdy

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Yeah, like put HSR between the #1 and #5 cities in the U.S. knocking out about 30 737 flights per day.
 

printman2000

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Yeah, like put HSR between the #1 and #5 cities in the U.S. knocking out about 30 737 flights per day.
That would be a mighty long HSR line going from New York City to Phoenix. :rolleyes:

I would guess, though, you are referring to LA and Phoenix. LA would be the #2 if you are referring to population.
 

DaveKCMO

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pretty sure phoenix's union station belongs to KC's own Sprint. i recall reading an article that there was interest in returning it to its former use (for commuter rail?).
 

fredmcain

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What's the latest update on this? Back in March or April Amtrak published a map showing proposed new routes in light blue. The West Phoenix Line was included.

Now that Biden's "infrastructure" bill has passed, the funds might be there to do this. But now all they're talking about is a new service between Tucson and the Salt River Valley. So, what the heck?

I have sent e-mails to both the rail advocacy group "All Aboard Arizona" and the Rail Passenger Association but my e-mails have not been answered.

Anybody on our group have any news about this? Please, please PLEASE! Let's avoid opinions on whether or not Amtrak ought to return to Phoenix. Opinions are fine but I'm looking for news !

Regards,
Fred M. Cain
 

PaTrainFan

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What's the latest update on this? Back in March or April Amtrak published a map showing proposed new routes in light blue. The West Phoenix Line was included.

Now that Biden's "infrastructure" bill has passed, the funds might be there to do this. But now all they're talking about is a new service between Tucson and the Salt River Valley. So, what the heck?

I have sent e-mails to both the rail advocacy group "All Aboard Arizona" and the Rail Passenger Association but my e-mails have not been answered.

Anybody on our group have any news about this? Please, please PLEASE! Let's avoid opinions on whether or not Amtrak ought to return to Phoenix. Opinions are fine but I'm looking for news !

Regards,
Fred M. Cain
WAAAY too early. The bill just passed!
 

jis

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What's the latest update on this? Back in March or April Amtrak published a map showing proposed new routes in light blue. The West Phoenix Line was included.
Don't get too excited. That is a 35 year plan ;)

Now that Biden's "infrastructure" bill has passed, the funds might be there to do this. But now all they're talking about is a new service between Tucson and the Salt River Valley. So, what the heck?

I have sent e-mails to both the rail advocacy group "All Aboard Arizona" and the Rail Passenger Association but my e-mails have not been answered.

Anybody on our group have any news about this? Please, please PLEASE! Let's avoid opinions on whether or not Amtrak ought to return to Phoenix. Opinions are fine but I'm looking for news !
No news so far. AFAIK, even RPA has no news on this specific one other than it is part of the 35 year plan.
 
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NES28

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The FRA SW Regional Plan (2014, available on the FRA website) identified LA-Phoenix as a potential high-speed rail route (with frequent service taking 3.5 hours and probably profitable to operate). It could serve Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley enroute. Presumably, it would parallel I-10 most of the way, bypassing Yuma. West of the Inland Empire it could share track with the now-planned Brightline route and CA HSR ph 2 San Diego route.
 

fredmcain

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Tucson-Phoenix is low hanging fruit. Restoring the line west of Phoenix is a lot of money and effort.
Mike,

Indeed, reviving the line west of Phoenix would cost quite a bit of money but probably not a LOT of money. My hunch has been for years that the UP kinda wants the line revived too but they don't want to foot the entire bill for it.

Reviving the line is really kind of a no-brainer. It shouldn't have to take that long nor be astronomically expensive. The root of the problem may be politics.

Regards,
Fred M. Cain
 

west point

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Let whom ever update the line west of Phoenix. Then if UP uses it for any reason UP will have to pay a mileage and tonnage charge for each car and loco.
 

fredmcain

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Let whom ever update the line west of Phoenix. Then if UP uses it for any reason UP will have to pay a mileage and tonnage charge for each car and loco.
West Point,

Not sure if the UP would agree to that. After all, they OWN the line so they can call the shots right now. Now, they could SELL the line either to some jurisdiction under the Arizona DOT or possibly directly to Amtrak, but I haven't been able to find any news on that at all.

I actually sent an e-mail to the UP about the line about a year or two ago. I was surprised that they responded at all but respond they did. Their response was as clear as mud.

It went something like, "We have no plans to return the Wellton branch to service but neither do we have any plans of abandon it. We intend to keep the line for possible future developments". Not sure what they have in mind but they must have something in mind. Whatever it is, they won't tell us. It seems like they want to keep the option open for repairing and reviving the line but have no intentions of doing that in the near term.

Regards,
Fred M. Cain
 

CCC1007

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West Point,

Not sure if the UP would agree to that. After all, they OWN the line so they can call the shots right now. Now, they could SELL the line either to some jurisdiction under the Arizona DOT or possibly directly to Amtrak, but I haven't been able to find any news on that at all.

I actually sent an e-mail to the UP about the line about a year or two ago. I was surprised that they responded at all but respond they did. Their response was as clear as mud.

It went something like, "We have no plans to return the Wellton branch to service but neither do we have any plans of abandon it. We intend to keep the line for possible future developments". Not sure what they have in mind but they must have something in mind. Whatever it is, they won't tell us. It seems like they want to keep the option open for repairing and reviving the line but have no intentions of doing that in the near term.

Regards,
Fred M. Cain
Sounds like the Helena Subdivision of the BNSF Railway...
 

George Harris

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There is a way to get UP to pay for the benefit from getting the use of the line back. Simply put, Whoever foots the cost of the upgrade does so without buying it but with a contract with UP for them to pay a pay per ton fee. This would be somewhat similar in concept to the old railroad practice for installing a turnout for an industry track. The industry paid for it on the front end and a reduction in charge for shipping by the railroad given until the cost was covered.

By the way, the reinstatement to service would not be cheap. You would be talking a 100% renewal of rail, ties, and about 12 inches of new ballast for the track, plus a complete new signal system, plus probably quite a bit of bridge work, although given the terrain the bridge work would probably not be that great.

Again, this whole scenario makes no sense for a three times per week train. If we get to multiple trains per day Phoenix to LA that would change the picture, but in that case costs for reinstating this line would be small potatoes compared to the total.
 

me_little_me

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Let whom ever update the line west of Phoenix. Then if UP uses it for any reason UP will have to pay a mileage and tonnage charge for each car and loco.
Since UP owns it, someone would have to buy it. Since it is in bad shape and needs rebuilding, taking it by eminent domain should result in pay much less for it than if UP were using it. Of course their lawyers would say it's worth a lot more - then discard the taking and bill them higher taxes.
 

fredmcain

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<SNIP>

Again, this whole scenario makes no sense for a three times per week train. If we get to multiple trains per day Phoenix to LA that would change the picture, but in that case costs for reinstating this line would be small potatoes compared to the total.
George,

You are mostly correct in that upgrading the line to modern (i.e. 79MPH) standards would not be cost effective for a thrice weekly train. In fact, if the Sunset would run daily, such an investment would still be somewhat questionable.

However, my theory is and always has been, that the Sunset would not be the only train on the line. My hunch is that the UP would like to have the route revived in order to provide expedited freight service between the greater Phoenix area and the west coast.

The distance between Phoenix and L.A. is such that rail has only a minimal advantage (at best) over trucking. However, that all-rail advantage greatly increases with distance especially between SeaTac and Phoenix.

There has been some inconclusive evidence that the UP had begun reopening the line back around 2013, I think it was. The work began in Phoenix and they worked their way west replacing SP's old signals and made some track improvements as well. They worked all the way west to around Arlington where the work was abruptly stopped for some reason. I have no idea why.

Another puzzle is that the UP has maintained and even improved the automatic block signal system from Phoenix to Arlington. This makes NO sense for the very limited local freight traffic on the line.

So, a certain amount of this is a mystery. However, I'll stick with my original theory. The UP wants the line reopened but does not want to foot the entire bill. That's the only explanation I can think of. If the UP were open the line, moving the Sunset Ltd back to Phoenix would be fairly simple. The few residents of Maricopa would very likely b____ about losing their station stop but I can't see that as a deal killer.

I did, however, receive a B.S. response back from the Arizona DOT yesterday. They stated the same thing that some of you on this list have said. It's too soon to know where Biden's infrastructure money is going to be used.

Regards,
Fred M. Cain
 

Willbridge

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The UP is sitting on other semi-abandoned segments besides Phoenix-West. As long as they are paying dividends that's not a problem if another entity wants to negotiate with them. The danger is if they run into some financial problem and/or get a president who wants to show Wall Street some radical action. Then these residual pieces will be disposed of while local and state governments dither.
 

George Harris

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The distance between Phoenix and L.A. is such that rail has only a minimal advantage (at best) over trucking. However, that all-rail advantage greatly increases with distance especially between SeaTac and Phoenix.

There has been some inconclusive evidence that the UP had begun reopening the line back around 2013, I think it was. The work began in Phoenix and they worked their way west replacing SP's old signals and made some track improvements as well. They worked all the way west to around Arlington where the work was abruptly stopped for some reason. I have no idea why.

Another puzzle is that the UP has maintained and even improved the automatic block signal system from Phoenix to Arlington. This makes NO sense for the very limited local freight traffic on the line.
"Improving the signal system"!! That truly is a surprise. Only reason I can think of to keep it at all is to avoid jumping through the legal hoops necessary to turn it off. The additional distance required to go to go from LA to Picacho and then back to Phoenix would not be a deal breaker competitively with trucks. We are looking at relative costs, not competitive times. Fuel saving would probably not make a sufficient cost issue unless the traffic volume is extremely high, and given switching times , you are not going to be time-competitive with trucking either way.
 

George Harris

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Mileage locations for information:
Source of mileage information, 2007 UPRR employee timetable, publicly accessible.
Assuming passenger stations unchanged from SP locations.
Gila Subdivision
732.7 Yuma Passenger Station (from 1956 SP ETT)
770.0 Wellton Jct (from 1956 SP ETT)
770.8 Wellton (end double track in 2007 ETT)
897.7 Maricopa (east end siding - do not know station precise location of station)
936.7 Picacho
983.9 Tucson Passenger Station (from 1956 SP ETT)
986.6 Tucson Yard

Phoenix Subdivision
770.8 Wellton - this first part is called the Roll Industrial Lead - 20 mph, ABS in service with ignore it note
780.9 Roll
793.0 Growler - appears to be end of in-service track
802.8 "End main track" from Phoenix direction, but with note
Main Track out of service between MP 854.0 and MP 802.8
860.8 Arlington
906.0 Phoenix Passenger Station (from 1956 SP ETT)
907.0 Phoenix Yard
962.4 Coolidge (begin CTC)
979.7 Picacho - meet Gila Subdivision MP 936.7

There were some milepost equations on both lines, but none appeared to be large, so I did not attempt to work through the resultant revised length of line. The main point remains that the Gila line is 43 miles shorter than the route through Phoenix.
 
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jruff001

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I did, however, receive a B.S. response back from the Arizona DOT yesterday. They stated the same thing that some of you on this list have said. It's too soon to know where Biden's infrastructure money is going to be used.
Why is that a BS response? The law was only signed two days ago.
 

neroden

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The main problem in Arizona has been that the state government has never been in the hands of intercity passenger rail supporters. If that changes, many things become possible.
 
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