Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

May 17, 2010


Host: Ted Simons

Amtrak


  • Amtrak is looking to increase service to southern Arizona. It coincides with a move to try and get rail service between Phoenix and Tucson. Sean Holstege, an Arizona Republic reporter, talks about the developments.
Guests:
  • Sean Holstege - Arizona Republic
Category: Government   |   Keywords: amtrak,

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Tonight on "Horizon," we'll talk about efforts to increase travel by rail in Arizona. Also, a debate on the death penalty as the state closes in on a possible application of capital punishment. And meet the new director of the "Heard Museum." That's coming up next on "Horizon." Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. More than a dozen major civil rights groups filed suit against Arizona's new immigration law today. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the NAACP, and the Asian Pacific-American Legal Center were among the groups that joined to file suit. The groups claim that the law infringes on the federal government's authority over immigration, invites racial profiling and violates the free speech rights of day laborers. One plaintiff in the lawsuit is a U.S.-born man of Spanish and Chinese descent who says he's been asked for his papers twice. Another plaintiff is an ASU student with a New Mexico driver's license, which does not prove his citizenship. And, a Dallas group is asking for Frito-Lay to remove its brand name from the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl game, this to protest Arizona's immigration law. The game is played in Glendale at the University of Phoenix Stadium. Frito-Lay has sponsored the Fiesta Bowl for 14 years. Amtrak is looking to increase service to southern Arizona. It's a move that coincides with the state department of transportation developing a rail plan that includes a passenger route between Phoenix and Tucson. Sean Holstege is covering the story, he's transportation reporter for the Arizona Republic. Good to see you again, thank you for joining us.

Sean Holstege:
Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons:
Daily, long-distance, Amtrak service to southern Arizona. Is there a demand for this?

Sean Holstege:
There is demand for it and it is surprising given the current system. Right now, three trains a week run through Tucson and Maricopa. They run in the dead of night. Before they changed the schedule, they were running at roughly 2:00 in the morning. Nevertheless, Amtrak has been forced by the government to look at its business model and in doing so she realized they can grow riders by 122,000 a year, which doesn't sound like much but consider they only carry 78,000 a year now. Tucson, despite the terrible schedule, is the busiest station on that entire track that runs from Los Angeles to Texas.

Ted Simons:
Where does Phoenix play in all of this?

Sean Holstege:
Phoenix has been out of the loop since derailment in 1995. After that derailment, in 1996, Amtrak was given the choice by the freight car railroad, buy our track, repair our track or accept that you're going to run your trains on our main line, Transcontinental, through Maricopa. A lot of people don't realize that Amtrak, which is a government-funded corporation, doesn't own any of the tracks it runs on. It relies on the freight carriers for access to those tracks.

Ted Simons:
So Maricopa is as close as it gets. The plan includes, what, busing folks down to Maricopa and the train from there?

Sean Holstege:
There are two approaches. One is short-term and one is long-term. Short-term, Amtrak wants to introduce daily service, we never had it. And secondly, reintroduce this bus connection, which is common in U.S. cities. That is the short-term. If negotiations between Amtrak and Union Pacific Railroad come to fruition, we could see that by the end of the year. That's the short-term. On the long-term, how do you connect Phoenix by rail rather than bus to anything? That is what A-Dot has been working on.

Ted Simons:
And what about the idea of Phoenix to Tucson, passenger rail. How does that fit into all of this?

Sean Holstege:
That is the second leg of this whole strategy that A-Dot is proposing. They have to go to Yuma where the derailment occurred. That is not complicated. They store trains on a disused line. The other part goes to east valley, that's where it gets complicated. There is a line that connected up to the Transcontinental but Union Pacific uses that for freight. There are other lines that dead end that could be extended to Transcontinental that would require investment to improve them. A-Dot has new lines to avoid the whole freight interaction problems that plague Amtrak across the country.

Ted Simons:
In negotiations with these companies, how are they going and how do they usually go?

Sean Holstege:
Right now, there are two train companies, both have tracks in the valley, depending on the company and depending on the usage of the track, those negotiations can go at various rates. Generally speaking, the freight carriers want to protect their freight business. That's what they make money doing, and they generally consider passenger rail as an interference. So if the state can come up with the money to make Union Pacific and Burlington whole, or trade land or trade access or trade improvements to the track, they get interested. But the money has to be there before they do get interested.

Ted Simons:
The operative phrase, if the state can come up with the money. Who's going to pay for all of this stuff?

Sean Holstege:
Nobody knows. The good news, and the reason this is getting in the papers recently, is in Washington there is this whole new effort by the Obama administration to folks on passenger rate of all kinds. So there's money coming out of Washington that never really existed before. The problem is it's not enough. The problem is, the State of Arizona has to match that money, and the State of Arizona doesn't have any money with which to match. So we have to see how that plays out and that's the political dynamic.

Ted Simons:
And remember, last time we talked was when the stimulus money, and all the folks looking at where the best trade, lines and train routes would be say, I don't think so. How does this play into all that?

Sean Holstege:
It is a good news bad story there. At the time, Arizona did not have any plan for state-wide rail. In order to even be at the table with the federal government, you have to have two things, matching money and a plan. At the time, we didn't have either. A-Dot is about to release a plan in June, so they're better poised than we were a year ago to find that money.

Ted Simons:
They could possibly get some kind of grant money here, that is in the future, but in order to get that you have to get something going here and we've got nothing going here.

Sean Holstege:
In the meantime, they have some federal grant money from last year which they're planning the first time of the Phoenix to Tucson plan and work ultimately further down the road.

Ted Simons:
Last question, people hear Amtrak and think failure, it never makes money, why are we getting involved in this again. Has Amtrak ever made money?

Sean Holstege:
Amtrak has never made money. Supporters will say neither has any other transportation in the United States. It burns money quicker than other forms of transportation. There is a long debate about it. It is essentially boutique service for people who want to go long distances and willing to spend a lot of time. It will never make money. Is it a realistic alternative to people? Amtrak says it is congress wants to support it.

Ted Simons:
We should see this daily service through Tucson, southern Arizona, by the end of the year.

Sean Holstege:
Subject to the negotiations.

Ted Simons:
Thank you, appreciate it.

Sean Holstege:
You're welcome. Thank you.

What's on?
  About KAET Contact Support Legal Follow Us  
  About Eight
Mission/Impact
History
Site Map
Pressroom
Contact Us
Sign up for e-news
Pledge to Eight
Donate Monthly
Volunteer
Other ways to support
FCC Public Files
Privacy Policy
Facebook
Twitter
YouTube
Google+
Pinterest
 

Need help accessing? Contact disabilityaccess@asu.edu

Eight is a member-supported service of Arizona State University    Copyright Arizona Board of Regents