March 3, 2024 - Commentary by Russ Jackson, Contributing Writer -

The FRA has released its list of the 15 new long distance routes that could be added to the existing 15.  It's an impressive list of what ought-to-be's, but I hate to say only a few of them will ever reach the rails. 

Amtrak is under no obligation to do any of them. 

For most of them new crew bases and maintenance facilities would have to be constructed, they would need far more than the 500 replacement long distance cars anticipated to be ordered but not delivered until the 2030s, and the sabotage mentality toward long distance trains by management must be changed..  All of these new routes must take second place to finally getting DAILY service on the Sunset Limited and Cardinal.  Which one is number one on your list?  

All of them are good ideas.  Press reports about the FRA list brought much local publicity.  It is way too early to say anything "will" be done, and writers had to be careful.  In South Dakota, which currently has no passenger rail, TV station KOTA reported that two of the trains on that list meant there "could" be trains coming to that state.  Their report ended with "Once the federal study is submitted it will be up to Congress to decide if they want to bring Amtrak to the state."  Bingo. 

In the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex KRLD News Radio had informed feature stories all day February 24 about the Study, and how it "could" make this area a "hub."  We have to ask, would Texas participate?  
The restoration of the San Francisco Chief didn't make the cut on the FRA list.  It was number one on my submitted list.  If it returned it would give the California Bay Area and Central Valley train access to the southwest, add new markets at Wichita, KS, and Amarillo, TX, give closer rail access to Carlsbad Caverns in NM, add a second frequency from Chicago to Kansas City, make possible a connecting train from Kansas to Houston at a better time which would then make extending the Heartland Flyer from Oklahoma City to Tulsa possible. 

On the FRA list is a new train from San Francisco to Dallas that would bring first service to west Texas, and would use an idea I have floated about returning service to Phoenix, Arizona.  Let's revisit it:

How to get back to Phoenix without the UP.   It's now been 27 years since the Sunset Limited  accident in the Arizona desert west of Phoenix, a criminal case yet to be solved.  Arizona rail advocates have worked with Amtrak, the UP, and the state to get daily service restored to one of the country's largest cities so Valley of the Sun passengers don't have to travel 30 miles to Maricopa to get the tri-weekly Sunset Limited or take a bus to Flagstaff to board the Southwest Chief.  Only devoted train riders do that.  But, restoring the Wellton cut-off will cost big $ and the UP says they wouldn't use it.  You can be sure the UP will expect (or demand) Amtrak and the state pay to maintain it.  What are the alternatives?  I've got an idea:
Andrew Selden says his family took him on a "Santa Fe" train, the California Limited, to a "dude ranch" at Wickenburg, Arizona in 1952.  It had departed Los Angeles Union Station at 6:15 PM PT, and would arrive in Wickenburg at 6:30 AM MT, continuing on to Phoenix as overnight competition for the SP's Sunset Limited.  

In 1992 this writer was at LA Union Station waiting for the Sunset Limited to take me to Tucson overnight.  The PA announced that because of a derailed freight train east of Yuma our train would "enter Phoenix on the Santa Fe Railroad."  We did, by going to Barstow, Cadiz, and taking the AT&SF branch line (now the AZ&CA) to Phoenix, then returning to the (then) SP to Tucson.  So, getting to Phoenix with a new daily train can be done this way NOW with some Arizona line upgrading, new station platforms at Parker and Wickenburg, a layover facility in Phoenix, and NO UP.  This train was first advocated by Arizona's Rob Bohannan and William Lindley in 1997!  It could be extended to Tucson and beyond.   That's a real Arizona Rail project!   - - RJ  

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