A New Sunset for Phoenix?
I am busy gathering the specifics about this story, so take that into consideration while I give you the gist of a frustrating, yet interesting situation. It’s about short-sighted decisions involving Amtrak’s train #1 and #2, the Sunset Limited, which runs three days a week in each direction between Los Angeles and New Orleans.
Almost exactly twenty years ago, the Sunset Limited made its last scheduled station stop at Phoenix. Ever since, the train has stopped instead at Maricopa, Arizona, which is about 40 miles from Phoenix. The change was made because a stretch of track the train followed in and out of Phoenix had deteriorated and the Sunset either had to inflict an uncomfortable ride on its passengers or run at slower speeds and thereby screw up its schedule.
The obvious answer was to bring that stretch of track up to standard, but the cost estimate for doing so was something like $27 million and no one wanted to pony up the money–not Amtrak, not the City of Phoenix, not the State of Arizona, and not the federal government.
And so the Sunset stopped serving a city of 1.6 million people–it also happens to be the state capital– and began stopping instead at a town of 45,000 people about 40 miles away. Add to that the somewhat inconvenient arrival times–5:30 in the morning for the eastbound train and 9:00 p.m. westbound–and quite understandably the hour-plus drive to Maricopa for Phoenix residents became a real obstacle for potential Amtrak passengers.
Oh … and the Sunset’s three-day-a-week schedule added one more deterrent. It’s one thing to meet a train at 5:30 in the morning in downtown Phoenix; quite another if you first have to drive 40-some miles to do it.
Along the way, a study was done and among its findings was the estimate that Amtrak has lost $3 million dollars in revenue every year since the Sunset switched to stopping at Maricopa.
OK, kiddies, let’s do the math: $3 million bucks a year for 20 years is $60 million in revenue … lost.
Why? Because Amtrak, either alone or in some arrangement with state or local government, wouldn’t or couldn’t find a way to raise and invest $27 million in order to make $60 million.
Well, this story may not end on a note of ineptitude. The numbers are compelling and there seems to be a groundswell building in the grassroots … not just to have the Sunset Limited stopping in Phoenix once again, but to have the train run every day in both directions. Just like a real railroad.
So watch this space.