John James: Transcontinental Rail Service Should Stop In Phoenix

By KJZZ News
John James
Published: Thursday, November 26, 2015 - 5:05am
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(Photo courtesy of John James)
Commentator John James

Millions of people will take a plane, train or automobile to travel this holiday season. But to commentator John James' dismay, if you plan to travel by train to Phoenix, you’ll probably have to take a car too.

Here's commentator John James.

Some time ago, I decided to take the train home to Phoenix from Los Angeles.  The overnight trip was peaceful and comfortable, and terminated early in the morning 35 miles south of Downtown Phoenix, in Maricopa. In Arizona we are lucky to have not one but two transcontinental trains serving our state.

But there is a challenge with Maricopa. There is no scheduled way to go from the train station to central Phoenix. Amtrak has connecting bus service from the Sky Harbor Airport bus station to Flagstaff-- a distance of over 147 miles-- to meet the daily East and Westbound Southwest Chief, but no options connecting to Maricopa. In my case, my wife drove down to meet me, two hours out of her day.

At one time the train that serves Maricopa, the Sunset Limited, came through Phoenix and served Tempe as well. But for reasons that remain a mystery, it bypassed metropolitan Phoenix and now stops only in Maricopa.

For a City that touts tourism as a major revenue source, this lack of train service to our beautiful city is an embarrassment. Trains serve a population that, for many reasons, cannot fly. Families with members suffering from mental illness have real challenges flying.  On a previous train trip, I met many citizens who have physical challenges and equipment that make flying to their destination almost impossible. Aircraft aisles are too narrow, and often access to restroom facilities in a reasonable amount of time is paramount for these people. Trains serve these citizens and their special needs.

Not being able to depart your train at our state's capital city is wrong. The hospitality of our state should be reflected from the very first moment you arrive. You should not be stranded 35 miles from metropolitan Phoenix with its many resorts, attractions and natural beauty.

Phoenix and Tempe should be added as the natural and logical stops for the Sunset Limited. In the interim, Amtrak should provide connecting bus service to Sky Harbor, and a plan to reroute service to the 6th most populous city in America.

John James is a local TV producer and a member of the National Association of Rail Passengers.

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Transcontinental Trains