Trains For America

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Sunset route developments

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Casa Grande Valley Newspapers is absolutely obsessive about completeness, and that looks like a virtue from here. It’s a “must read.” Bottom line is ambiguous. The good news is that UP continues major track improvements from Texas to the coast. The bad news is that the Sunset will encounter heavy freight interference.


The railroad is in the middle of a multiyear project to double-track its Sunset Route mainline from El Paso to LA. When UP absorbed Southern Pacific in 1996, only 152 miles of the route were double-tracked. Since then, UP has added about 75 miles per year. Much of 2008 is likely to be spent addressing grade-crossing concerns for the segment from Tucson west to Mobile, about 10 miles west of Maricopa. The railroad hopes to complete double-tracking of that segment the following year.
That segment, which includes Eloy, Casa Grande and Maricopa, includes the most grade crossings along the route, 38 in Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties. Arizona has a total of 50 at-grade crossings that would be rebuilt as double-track crossings. Each crossing requires separate approval from the Arizona Corporation Commission.
UP encountered a problem almost immediately upon beginning work in the state when a subcontractor that had started work in New Mexico and followed the line into Arizona rebuilt a grade crossing at the town of Bowie before the ACC had approved the work. Needless to say, the commissioners were not happy and the railroad had egg on its face at a time when it needed to be cooperating fully with state regulators.
“Lesson learned,” Heredia said of the mistake. “That was an unfortunate situation.”
He pointed out that all grade crossings go through an administrative process with the ACC that is open to the public. The railroad also must work with local governmental entities to determine which crossings can remain as grade crossings and where other measures must be taken, such as building an overpass or underpass.
One such decision currently is under study in Maricopa, where Arizona 347 crosses the UP tracks near the busy intersection with Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway and adjacent to the city’s Amtrak station. The highway also provides access to Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino Resort.
Increasing capacity the length of the route will allow the railroad to clear up some bottlenecks in train movement and create capacity for more trains. Union Pacific currently runs 45 to 50 trains daily along the route, but anticipates that climbing to 84 to 86 trains per day by 2016. 

Filed under: Amtrak

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