Sunset Limited and Phoenix

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fredmcain

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I don't think we're quite organized well enough that it's clear which other person to write to for some queries which shouldn't really be going to Jim, which is also a problem.

A lot of time, money, and work went into making the NARP/RPA website fully functional (which it was not under Ross) which has also reaped huge benefits, though perhaps more among younger people than older. I'll be honest: to me NARP didn't look real or relevant when I first joined, due to the ineffective web presence. It does now.
Neroden,

I think your comments on RPA are well taken. I don't know if I was sending e-mails directly to Jim or not but I was using that generic e-mail address posted on the website.

It just seemed to me that it would've been nice had someone taken the time to respond but, oh well such is life, I guess.

The fact is that we seem to have sparked an interest in intercity rail that seems to have things moving in the right direction now, if only we can keep it moving that way.

I can only say that I don't want to get my hopes up too far 'cause I've been let down and disappointed before as I"m sure you have too.

What could go wrong? Well, there could be an historically unprecedented landslide for the Republicans in next year's congressional election and they could well end up rescinding some of the money we were hoping to get. They might even have a "veto proof" majority. But, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Thanks for your input
 
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87YJ

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Casa Grande AZ
Sunset Limited, lets see 6 stops a week..... Oh yea The sunset #1 is running 4 hours late today. Fix this first. Then go to step 2.
 

GoAmtrak

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Great comments! If you are interested in rail passenger service in Arizona and getting the Sunset Limited back to Phoenix, please consider attending in person or via Zoom All Aboard Arizona’s Passenger Rail Summit in Tucson on December 4th. We will be discussing this issue along with an excellent presentation on the West Line/Welton Cutoff. It’s going to be a great program with lots of speakers. You can register on Eventbrite or on the All Aboard Arizona website. Rehabbing the West Line is not a huge expense. Ten years ago, it was evaluated to cost about $4 million for 60 mph. That’s not acceptable for today, and higher speeds would be desirable. It is correct that moving the Sunset off the Sunset Route for those miles would be advantageous to the UP. The corridor plan for the Sun Corridor has a third main from Tucson to Picacho Junction. All of this is very doable. Again, if you want to get the latest on this come to the Summit on 4 December.
Thank you for this information! Is it possible or does it make sense to attend that meeting only for people who reside in Arizona or also for people who reside farther away in the US or even abroad?
 

GoAmtrak

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The state of New Mexico agreed to purchase the line from Lamy to the Colorado state line under a Democratic governor (Bill Richardson), and the subsequent Republican governor (Susana Martinez) reneged on the deal. So that is what happened there. (The agreed purchase price was $5 million. I was furious when Martinez reneged on the deal.)

The advantage to going through Amarillo is... being able to go to Amarillo, which is a large city. Obviously in the days of the ATSF railroad, you had both local and express trains, and the Raton route is arguably better for express trains, but they had trains to Amarillo. We don't today. I have to think that being able to go to Amarillo is of great value.
I didn't know about the purchase negotiations in New Mexico, that's interesting! Between which towns would the new line have gone then, or more exactely, how would the line reach Amarillo from Lamy?

Regarding the Phoenix line: for passengers *going to Phoenix*. since it easily takes an hour to get from Maricopa to Phoenix, it would clearly be faster to go via the Phoenix line. For through passengers expressing past Phoenix, yes, the Maricopa line is faster.

This is one of the odd consequences of the disorderly way in which the rail system in the US was dismantled starting in the 1960s. Whether the faster express route which bypassed intermediate population was kept, or the slower route with more on-line population was kept, was somewhat arbitrary; sometimes both were lost, but it was rare that both were retained.

Obviously having both is desirable, but if I were to prioritize one, I always prioritize the one which serves more people.
I would go for the same here. To get service to as many people as possible, I would opt for a line connecting larger than smaller cities in tendency. Just watch Alberta or Saskatchewan in Canada where almost have the impression the Via Rail line almost tries to avoid larger population centres or doesn't really go Downtown.
 

toddinde

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Sierra Vista, AZ
Thank you for this information! Is it possible or does it make sense to attend that meeting only for people who reside in Arizona or also for people who reside farther away in the US or even abroad?
This is a great meeting for anyone interested in passenger rail in the US. Only two speakers are primarily focused on Arizona. We have Jim Matthew’s, President of RPA, we have Andy Selden, President of Rail Passenger Alliance, Carl Fowler on the transition of trains from the Railroads to Amtrak and VIA. Plus the Arizona stuff. It’s going to be a great program. So yes, definitely lots to appeal to the rail advocate from outside Arizona.
 

toddinde

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Todd,

Well, O.K., I guess I can understand or take this into consideration. If you can, see if you can get me a working P.O. box to renew dues at. (I have no computer at home so I prefer "snail mail").

The letter with my dues that was returned went to Prescott. Is that no longer a working address?

Also, what happened to Roger Clark? Is he still with AAA?
Will do! Roger is most definitely still involved, and has been instrumental in planning the meeting. We just had a long talk last night. He’s doing well. Yes, Alan Mott, our old Treasurer, moved from Prescott, so he was the one that kept the PO Box. I’ll post the new one today. Thanks for your support and understanding.
 

toddinde

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Joined
Apr 23, 2015
Messages
334
Location
Sierra Vista, AZ
Will do! Roger is most definitely still involved, and has been instrumental in planning the meeting. We just had a long talk last night. He’s doing well. Yes, Alan Mott, our old Treasurer, moved from Prescott, so he was the one that kept the PO Box. I’ll post the new one today. Thanks for your support and understanding.
All Aboard Arizona
PO Box 39971
Tucson, AZ 85740-5971
 

Willbridge

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I didn't know about the purchase negotiations in New Mexico, that's interesting! Between which towns would the new line have gone then, or more exactely, how would the line reach Amarillo from Lamy?
There wasn't really a new line. NM was going to purchase the existing line through Lamy and Raton. Amarillo is on the BNSF's preferred freight route.

There's an article about it on Page One in the attached newsletter and a map showing both lines on Page Eight. With the map you can also see the potential reroute via Pueblo to tap the Front Range market.
 

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neroden

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There wasn't really a new line. NM was going to purchase the existing line through Lamy and Raton. Amarillo is on the BNSF's preferred freight route.

There's an article about it on Page One in the attached newsletter and a map showing both lines on Page Eight. With the map you can also see the potential reroute via Pueblo to tap the Front Range market.
Just a note that I've dug through the ridership numbers on this section of the route, and there's basically nobody between Lamy (for Santa Fe) and the Kansas state border -- the largest population is the seasonal Boy Scouts and that's dropping -- but there's a lot of people riding the SW Chief from Garden City and Dodge City, so they are definitely important to retain service to. They mostly are headed eastbound.
 

Willbridge

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Just a note that I've dug through the ridership numbers on this section of the route, and there's basically nobody between Lamy (for Santa Fe) and the Kansas state border -- the largest population is the seasonal Boy Scouts and that's dropping -- but there's a lot of people riding the SW Chief from Garden City and Dodge City, so they are definitely important to retain service to. They mostly are headed eastbound.
As has been mentioned before, a route change via Pueblo or a connection from Denver to Train 4 and from Train 3 would change those numbers.
 

neroden

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As has been mentioned before, a route change via Pueblo or a connection from Denver to Train 4 and from Train 3 would change those numbers.
I was not referring to through traffic. I was referring to ons and offs from the stations of Las Vegas NM, Raton NM, Trinidad CO, La Junta CO, and Lamar CO. Those numbers aren't going up, because those cities are drying up and blowing away.

Yes, a connection to Denver or Pueblo would add a lot of ridership.

As has been mentioned before, stopping in downtown Wichita and in Amarillo and in Clovis would also be major sources of ridership.

If we could invest in a full network of services, I'd run at least one Chicago-LA train via Wichita and Amarillo, a Denver-Albuquerque-El Paso train, and a Denver - Kansas City - Chicago train via Garden City and Dodge City, which seems like it meets the traffic flows more realistically.

But then I'd also be running a Denver-Chicago train via Des Moines and the Quad Cities. And I'd be running the LA-Chicago train via Wyoming, which is faster, with a separate Denver-Salt Lake Ski Areas Route train. And I'd be running multiple daily trains from Denver to Fort Collins via Boulder and from Denver to Pueblo.

Unfortunately, development of a Denver-centric network, which is quite obviously needed, has failed to get started for various state-politics-related reasons.

We've been dealing with a starved, skeletal network and there's a tendency to value whichever route randomly happened to survive over the one which didn't. This is called the "endowment effect", I believe.

In some cases it is *blindingly obvious* that a different route is better -- the Des Moines case of the "Rock Island" routing from Omaha to Chicago for the Zephyr is the clearest, in my opinion -- and yet nobody wants to lose the service which currently exists in order to get the better route, which is understandable but sometimes frustrating.

In the cases of both Phoenix and Des Moines, the other reason the better route isn't being used is that it would cost money and no state government has been willing to pay for it. (The existing route is supported by freight.) In the bizarre case of Raton Pass, which is much less valuable than either the Phoenix or Des Moines routes by any rational standard, eventually governments were convinced to put in money, only because it was already being used. This is an example of the endowment effect. (Though it didn't convince Arizona to keep the Phoenix route back when it was in use.)

As a result of the endowment effect, politically we need to be able to expand while retaining service to some of these places even if they are pretty questionable (ridership at the list of stations I named across Raton Pass is dismal and dropping).
 

fredmcain

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Northeastern Indiana
We seem to have wandered off the topic of the Sunset Limited & Phoenix and at the danger of encouraging this, I can add this about the Raton line:

A lot of passengers use Amtrak's long-distance (LD) trains for the scenery. And the scenery is exceptional along the Raton line especially from Trinidad to Lamy.

But, is it financially prudent to maintain this line just for 14 trains a week with sight seers? HMMMN. Let me think about that and get back to you!

I have long suspected that if the money could be found to lengthen sidings on the line, install PTC & CTC, then the BNSF might look at running more freight over the line. More freight could well make the financial circumstances of the line make more sense. The old AT&SF was running some through traffic over the line in the 1990s, essentially using the line as a "pop-off valve". However, some railfans in the know think that BNSF is unlikely to ever do that again.

So, the long-term future of the line is in doubt. If that's the case then I would encourage all those on this list and off to ride it while you still can. My wife and I rode the SW Chief from Chicago to LA and back a few years ago and the Raton line was like a flash back to my rail obsessed childhood. Complete with "searchlight" signals, semaphores, jointed rail and signal code lines. The semaphores may be mostly gone by now, but I'd still ride the line anyways,

Regards,
Fred M. Caiin
 

neroden

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I am not entirely sure why people think "mountains" equal scenery; some of my favorite scenery on the Southwest Chief is actually east of and west of the Raton Pass section... Kansas was a revelation.
 

brianpmcdonnell17

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Just a note that I've dug through the ridership numbers on this section of the route, and there's basically nobody between Lamy (for Santa Fe) and the Kansas state border -- the largest population is the seasonal Boy Scouts and that's dropping -- but there's a lot of people riding the SW Chief from Garden City and Dodge City, so they are definitely important to retain service to. They mostly are headed eastbound.
Where did you get that information? Per the 2019 ridership stats provided by RPA, La Junta, Raton, and Lamy all have higher ridership than either Dodge City or Garden City. Trinidad and Las Vegas are not far behind either. Also, Raton had higher ridership in 2019 than either 2017 or 2018 and is more than twice as heavily used as any of the other stations between Dodge City and Las Vegas, so I don't think it should be forgotten. Below I listed the 2019 ridership numbers for each of the relevant stations.

Dodge City: 5,324
Garden City: 6,817
Lamar: 1,573
La Junta: 7,061
Trinidad: 6,060
Raton: 18,062
Las Vegas: 4,648
Lamy: 9,064
 

neroden

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Well, that's a very interesting correction. I know I was looking at older numbers. That's interesting about 2019. Looks like Garden City, and for that matter Hutchinson, numbers have been dropping fast in the last few years, and Trinidad and La Junta numbers have been climbing. I wonder why? It's not population changes. Possibly a short-term effect related to greater awareness due to the publicity campaign about the train possibly being relocated? Credit to Trinidad and La Junta; I didn't realize this.

Raton's mostly the Boy Scout special trips. (Sorry, "Scouts BSA" now, right?) Look at the 2018 number -- 7392. Interesting that they managed to get it to rebound in 2019. It's... not daily traffic, and there's been a national trend away from Scouts BSA in general and away from Raton trips for BSA in particular. Worth running some special trains, I guess, but honestly I'd consider it less reliable than the Las Vegas NM traffic. Gonna be interesting to see the 2020 and 2021 numbers for that locaion.
 

GoAmtrak

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Switzerland
There wasn't really a new line. NM was going to purchase the existing line through Lamy and Raton. Amarillo is on the BNSF's preferred freight route.

There's an article about it on Page One in the attached newsletter and a map showing both lines on Page Eight. With the map you can also see the potential reroute via Pueblo to tap the Front Range market.
Thank your for posting this link. I wasn't aware of those plans. Could be an interesting possibility as Santa Fe hopefully remains connected to the US with the commuter rail. Although the Santa Fe area would be lost with this re-routing, it would still be connected via the commuter rail. Clovis and Amarillo could indeed ensure some additional ridership as somebody mentioned already.

On the other hand, if the scenery is that beautiful between Lamy and Trinidad, it would be make some people quite unhappy if it's eliminated from the national network.
 

Willbridge

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Well, that's a very interesting correction. I know I was looking at older numbers. That's interesting about 2019. Looks like Garden City, and for that matter Hutchinson, numbers have been dropping fast in the last few years, and Trinidad and La Junta numbers have been climbing. I wonder why? It's not population changes. Possibly a short-term effect related to greater awareness due to the publicity campaign about the train possibly being relocated? Credit to Trinidad and La Junta; I didn't realize this.

Raton's mostly the Boy Scout special trips. (Sorry, "Scouts BSA" now, right?) Look at the 2018 number -- 7392. Interesting that they managed to get it to rebound in 2019. It's... not daily traffic, and there's been a national trend away from Scouts BSA in general and away from Raton trips for BSA in particular. Worth running some special trains, I guess, but honestly I'd consider it less reliable than the Las Vegas NM traffic. Gonna be interesting to see the 2020 and 2021 numbers for that locaion.
Raton also had the bus connection from Denver. It started out strong but when the Train 3 schedule was shifted, the departure time from Denver moved into pre-dawn hours. Amtrak waffled on staffing the Raton station, so the connection was on its own, which was a problem when trains were late.

In 2018 Greyhound, which had taken over the Front Range service, had operating problems. Also, somewhere in there Amtrak laid off the Group Sales staff in Chicago.

Another factor to consider is the revenue generated by Lamy/Santa Fe, which tends toward a high-end clientele.

Your suggestion of running special trains for the Scouts might work elsewhere but the proposal was to reroute the SWC and abandon the line. As I mentioned before, that not only would have done in the current service but also ended potential DEN<>ABQ service. When all of the parties involved looked closely at the many issues it was concluded that the train shouldn't be re-routed and a long-term investment in the infrastructure should be made.

Attached is the Thruway schedule that should have been started up before there was even the Thruway program. Unlike the Dodge City<>Albuquerque bustitution, this runs on major highways all the way.
 

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jebr

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Attached is the Thruway schedule that should have been started up before there was even the Thruway program. Unlike the Dodge City<>Albuquerque bustitution, this runs on major highways all the way.
That route appears to be doable now (albeit with a transfer at Tejon P&R in Colorado Springs) Monday - Friday with Bustang. The biggest downfall is that the connection isn't guaranteed; I would imagine connecting to Amtrak wouldn't be a big issue, but connecting from Amtrak with less than an hour cushion is quite tight, particularly since it's not protected.

That said, there still needs to be a connection to/from points west as well. Maybe that could be added to the Bustang South Line as a once-daily frequency? Though timekeeping connecting from Amtrak on the run north could be quite iffy.
 

Kramerica

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Raton's mostly the Boy Scout special trips. (Sorry, "Scouts BSA" now, right?) Look at the 2018 number -- 7392. Interesting that they managed to get it to rebound in 2019. It's... not daily traffic, and there's been a national trend away from Scouts BSA in general and away from Raton trips for BSA in particular. Worth running some special trains, I guess, but honestly I'd consider it less reliable than the Las Vegas NM traffic. Gonna be interesting to see the 2020 and 2021 numbers for that locaion.
Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron NM is the premier Boy Scout High Adventure camp and considered to be the pinnacle of scouting. I went there this summer on the SWC as an adult advisor on my son's crew. It is a 45 minute school bus ride from Raton to Philmont.

In 2018 there was a huge wildfire that shut down a lot of Philmont - a lot fewer scouts went that summer.

In 2019 it was back to normal - about 24,000 Philmont trekkers.

In 2020 it was closed completely all season due to COVID.

In 2021 it was back to normal - over 25,000 participants.

On our trip, there were four Boy Scout groups on the SWC headed to Raton (from Chicago), and we took up a combined 1.5 coach cars (upper) of the two coach cars in the consist. The second coach was a coach/baggage. All the backpacks for the scouts were stored in there and locked. There was probably $100,000 worth of gear in that baggage area. There was also a single level baggage car at the end of the consist - it really ruined the railfan window. On the way back there were similar numbers of scouts and the same consist. I did not notice any scout groups going to/from California.
 

toddinde

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I was not referring to through traffic. I was referring to ons and offs from the stations of Las Vegas NM, Raton NM, Trinidad CO, La Junta CO, and Lamar CO. Those numbers aren't going up, because those cities are drying up and blowing away.

Yes, a connection to Denver or Pueblo would add a lot of ridership.

As has been mentioned before, stopping in downtown Wichita and in Amarillo and in Clovis would also be major sources of ridership.

If we could invest in a full network of services, I'd run at least one Chicago-LA train via Wichita and Amarillo, a Denver-Albuquerque-El Paso train, and a Denver - Kansas City - Chicago train via Garden City and Dodge City, which seems like it meets the traffic flows more realistically.

But then I'd also be running a Denver-Chicago train via Des Moines and the Quad Cities. And I'd be running the LA-Chicago train via Wyoming, which is faster, with a separate Denver-Salt Lake Ski Areas Route train. And I'd be running multiple daily trains from Denver to Fort Collins via Boulder and from Denver to Pueblo.

Unfortunately, development of a Denver-centric network, which is quite obviously needed, has failed to get started for various state-politics-related reasons.

We've been dealing with a starved, skeletal network and there's a tendency to value whichever route randomly happened to survive over the one which didn't. This is called the "endowment effect", I believe.

In some cases it is *blindingly obvious* that a different route is better -- the Des Moines case of the "Rock Island" routing from Omaha to Chicago for the Zephyr is the clearest, in my opinion -- and yet nobody wants to lose the service which currently exists in order to get the better route, which is understandable but sometimes frustrating.

In the cases of both Phoenix and Des Moines, the other reason the better route isn't being used is that it would cost money and no state government has been willing to pay for it. (The existing route is supported by freight.) In the bizarre case of Raton Pass, which is much less valuable than either the Phoenix or Des Moines routes by any rational standard, eventually governments were convinced to put in money, only because it was already being used. This is an example of the endowment effect. (Though it didn't convince Arizona to keep the Phoenix route back when it was in use.)

As a result of the endowment effect, politically we need to be able to expand while retaining service to some of these places even if they are pretty questionable (ridership at the list of stations I named across Raton Pass is dismal and dropping).
In the case of Phoenix, apparently the West Line issue came up during Fife Symington’s administration as Governor of Arizona. At that time, America West Airlines went bankrupt and it’s hub at Sky Harbor was at risk. The state came up with millions to save the hub which American took over. At the time, it was believed to be one or the other. The issue of I-10 congestion and a lot of other issues make getting service back to Phoenix a real possibility now.
 

Willbridge

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That route appears to be doable now (albeit with a transfer at Tejon P&R in Colorado Springs) Monday - Friday with Bustang. The biggest downfall is that the connection isn't guaranteed; I would imagine connecting to Amtrak wouldn't be a big issue, but connecting from Amtrak with less than an hour cushion is quite tight, particularly since it's not protected.

That said, there still needs to be a connection to/from points west as well. Maybe that could be added to the Bustang South Line as a once-daily frequency? Though timekeeping connecting from Amtrak on the run north could be quite iffy.
There have been conversations about this for both the potential east (LAJ) and west (RAT) connections. The main difficulty with integrating existing Bustang at LAJ is potential disruption of medical appointments in Pueblo that would be caused by Train 3 running late. One of the reasons for the success of Bustang is that the regional traffic is not greatly affected by transcontinental problems or scheduling requirements.

The main difficulty with integrating Bustang with a RAT connection is that it goes out of state. That might sound silly but keep in mind that politicians are involved. Operating costs would be lower if all the connections in both directions were in LAJ. Either way, the Denver<>Pueblo timeslots that would be filled would actually be complementary to current Bustang schedules.

There are possible west connections at TRI or LAJ but they push the Denver times into the dark hours. Also, there is usually coach space west of RAT after the Scouts are off. And when Train 3 is late, RAT has restaurants and saloons near the station.

P1040407.JPG
P1040405.JPG
 

cirdan

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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.
Just a long shot here. But is there any potential for a commuter line that Amtrak could piggyback onto?
 
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