Arizona mayors support plan to restore passenger train service to Phoenix, Tucson

Officials say service would stimulate economies, relieve traffic on Interstate 10


Michael Russell

Historic Union Station in Downtown Phoenix might once again become a busy passenger train hub.

Michael Russell, Reporter

With the exception of light rail, no passenger train service is available in the Phoenix metro area. Many Phoenix area residents, especially younger generations, do not realize that this service operated in Arizona’s capital for a century — and may soon do so again.

Amtrak, the government-run passenger train system, turns 50 years old this year. Between 1971 and 1996, Amtrak stopped at historic Union Station, at 401 South 4th Avenue in downtown Phoenix. The structure was placed on the National Register of Historic places in November 1985.

Opened in 1923, Union Station was the main travel hub in Phoenix prior to Sky Harbor Airport taking over that designation in the 1950s. Amtrak then operated the passenger train route through Phoenix called the Sunset Limited. This route, originating in 1894, runs cross-country from New Orleans to Los Angeles.  It is the oldest named train route in the United States, predating Amtrak. The train used to stop in Tucson before going on to Phoenix, then California.

In October 1995, an Amtrak train on that route derailed about 50 miles west of Phoenix in an isolated stretch of desert. Eight of the twelve cars derailed, four of them falling 30 feet off a trestle bridge and into a dry river bed below.

One person, an Amtrak employee, was killed. Seventy-eight people were injured. Foul play caused the derailment, but the case has never been solved.

Soon afterward, Amtrak service in Phoenix was discontinued and Union Station, already in disrepair, was closed to passenger service for good on June 3, 1996. Amtrak’s New Orleans to L.A. route still stops in the town of Maricopa, over 35 miles to the south of Phoenix.

However, the planned renovation of Union Station and the restoration of Amtrak service running from Tucson through Phoenix is part of the Biden Administration’s $1.2 trillion dollar infrastructure program.

Mayor Kate Gallego of Phoenix and Tucson mayor Regina Romero, as well as a dozen other Arizona mayors,  are urging Arizona’s Congressional delegation to support the measure. They say it will create $77.7 million a year in local economic activity, along with a one-time $1.9 billion federal infrastructure investment.

It would also link Arizona’s two largest metro areas by passenger rail once again.