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Arizona Planners Eye Passenger Rail Linking Phoenix, Tucson

Passenger rail service would help provide reliable travel times in an increasingly congested region.

Thu October 01, 2015 - West Edition

PHOENIX (AP) State transportation planners who studied multiple options for proposed passenger train service between Phoenix and Tucson are recommending one that would follow largely existing freight railroad tracks and serve both Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix and downtown Tucson.

A draft environmental impact statement released by the Arizona Department of Transportation recommends routing passenger trains generally along existing Union Pacific Corp. tracks north of Eloy in southern Pinal County and along UP tracks and Interstate 10 between Eloy and Tucson.

It also envisions possible future extensions from downtown Tucson to Tucson International Airport and from central Phoenix to locations west and northwest of downtown.

Other options studied by the transportation department at various times during a planning process that has already lasted four years included routing the proposed passenger service through the city of Maricopa or the Gila River Indian Community, both south of Phoenix or along the Superstition Freeway in the Tempe-Mesa area.

The recommended option had cost and performance advantages, the document said.

Passenger rail service would help provide reliable travel times “in an increasingly congested region that currently affords few transportation alternatives to the automobile,’’ according to the transportation department document.

The department said the recommended option calls for a blend of express service with few stops between Phoenix and Tucson and local service with stops in several additional communities along the way.

Apart from continuation of the formal planning process, the long-term future of the project is uncertain.

The department noted that there currently is no construction timetable and that no funding has been identified for the recommended option’s projected $4.5 billion cost.

“It will be up to the public and policymakers to decide if the project is feasible and how to generate the funding to pay for the project,’’ the transportation department said in a statement announcing the release of the draft statement.

The department said it will hold public hearings on the document in Phoenix, Tucson and Coolidge and accept written comments.

Passenger rail service in Arizona is currently limited in the state’s largest metro areas.

Plans call for extensions to a light rail system that extends from northwest Phoenix through downtown to Tempe and Mesa, while Tucson has a trolley system that links downtown with the University of Arizona campus.

Amtrak, the federal government’s passenger rail system, currently only provides limited service in southern and central Arizona, with an interstate route that includes stops in Tucson, Maricopa and Yuma and Maricopa but not Phoenix.

A different Amtrak route serves Flagstaff, Kingman and Winslow in northern Arizona.

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