Dec 11, 2023 - News

Grant gets Phoenix closer to passenger rail restoration, but there's still long way to go

Passengers board a train while pulling suitcases.

Passengers board a train bound for Boston from Washington in 2021. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Arizona is taking an important step toward the restoration of passenger rail service to the Valley after nearly three decades without it, but the future of Phoenix-to-Tucson rail remains uncertain.

The latest: The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) awarded the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) a $500,000 grant last week for preliminary planning for the proposed rail line.

Details: The proposed line would run 120 miles from Buckeye to Tucson, with stops in Marana, Coolidge, Queen Creek, Tempe, Sky Harbor, Phoenix and Avondale, according to ADOT.

  • The plan assumes three daily round-trip routes, with a one-way travel time of about 1 hour and 23 minutes.

What's next: ADOT will use its grant money plan to lay out an implementation plan for the proposed line between Arizona's two largest cities.

  • The timeline for completing the plan is unclear.
  • The next steps are a preliminary engineering plan and a Tier II environmental study, since ADOT has already completed a required Tier I environmental study.

Yes, but: No funding has been designated for the actual rail line.

  • The FRA has advised that completing the development plan "may lead to selection preference for future funding opportunities," ADOT said in a press statement Friday.

Zoom in: Still, the grant is an important step, ADOT spokesperson Steve Elliott told Axios Phoenix.

  • FRA received more than 90 applications, and the two $500,000 grants for Arizona were among 67 awarded.
  • Not all of the applications were selected, and those picked are expected to receive priority for future funding.
  • "It is exciting news. It does move this forward," Elliott said.

Flashback: Phoenix hasn't had passenger rail since 1996, when Sunset Limited was rerouted to Maricopa, bypassing Phoenix.

  • The decision was made after a 1995 derailment in the desert about 50 miles outside Phoenix. The derailment was determined to be an act of sabotage and caused substantial damage to the tracks.
  • Since 1996, Phoenix has been the largest city in the U.S. without passenger rail.
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