Work on Union Pacific Railroad’s double track effort through Arizona from El Paso to Los Angeles is continuing, with most of the track being laid in Pinal County. However, the railroad’s plans for a larger switch yard near Picacho Peak are now on hold.
Zoe Richmond, Union Pacific’s public affairs director for Arizona, said the bulk of the double tracking work for the project would be done in Arizona.
“This project began in 2005 with the intent of laying a double track from El Paso to Los Angeles,” Richmond said. “We started in the Los Angeles area and moved east and also from El Paso and moved west, but in 2010 we stopped the project because of the economy.”
Richmond said double tracking construction resumed in Arizona last year with track being laid in Pinal County.
“We expect to be in the Tucson area by the end of this year and will do sections of double track as customer demand allows us to add infrastructure,” Richmond said.
While Union Pacific doesn’t have a finish date yet for the project, Richmond pointed out that even with 65 percent of the project’s double track laid, “we have seen great efficiencies using some sections of the second track all through New Mexico and California and in parts of Arizona.”
The other large Union Pacific project in Arizona is a proposed switching yard near Picacho Peak. Richmond said the project remains on hold while Union Pacific works with the Arizona State Land Department to acquire 900 acres.
“It’s a pretty big project and the State Land Department is reviewing economic and technical studies that we submitted to them where they can get to the point they’re comfortable with the rail facility,” Richmond said.
The switching yard would be located northeast of Union Pacific’s current right of way and west of W. Kodial Road, across from the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch in Picacho. Richmond said the property being sought is approximately six miles long and about a mile wide.
“We need something longer instead of wider because we need room for locomotives and trains to decelerate and stop safely, and then accelerate to get back onto the main line,” she said.
A start date for construction to start on the switch-yard project has not been set by Union Pacific.
“What’s important is to acquire the land and then we would be able to do the design and planning on the project so when the economy turns around we have a shovel ready project,” Richmond said.
Richmond said Union Pacific would like to purchase the land this year, but first, the State Land Department must make the decision to sell the acreage. The land would also have to be appraised to determine a purchase price, Richmond added.
Union Pacific originally sought approval of the State Land Department to purchase 1,463 acres for the switching yard, and received the support of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors. However, after complaints from area residents that the switching yard would cause air and water pollution, the railroad reduced the size of its land application to 900 acres.
According to Union Pacific records, the railroad has 1,289 employees in Arizona, 642 miles of track and an annual payroll of $101.6 million. Union Pacific, which operates in 23 states in the western two-thirds of the country, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.