Railroad expansion coming
Nick Smith/The Explorer, A Union Pacific train waits on a sidetrack until the route north is clear. The railroad is in the middle of a billion-dollar project to double track its lines across the Southwest, doubling rail traffic.

Train traffic may be increasing from Tucson to Phoenix soon, as Union Pacific continues expansion of its rail lines, with plans for parallel tracks running across the state’s Sunset Line by 2011.

Before construction begins in northwest Tucson, the railroad must get approval from the Arizona Corporation Commission to expand the crossings at Camino de Mañana, Massingale and Joiner roads, all in Marana. A hearing before the Arizona Corporation Commission is set for Sept. 16 in Phoenix.

A second set of tracks would be added through those single-track crossings, effectively doubling the rail traffic between Tucson and Phoenix.

Currently, about 47 trains make their way between Arizona’s two largest metropolitan areas each day. Double-tracking would push that number into the 80s.

While this may mean drivers will have to wait for trains more often, the wait-time itself will likely be shorter because the trains will no longer have to share the track.

Currently, “it’s more or less like having a one-car dirt road,” according to Zoe Richmond, a Union Pacific spokeswoman in Omaha, Neb.

A northbound train has to wait on a sidetrack in order for a southbound train to pass through. This starting and stopping means trains lose momentum and take longer to make it through intersections.

Adding a second line not only increases capacity, but makes the lines more fluid by cutting down on delays.

The town doesn’t keep specific data on train crossings, but Marana Traffic Engineer Manager Fernando Prol observed a one- to three-minute wait at Tangerine Road during February’s Accenture golf tournament.

The three crossings up for review next month are relatively minor, with many more people crossing the railroad at the Interstate 10 interchanges at Ina, Cortaro, Tangerine and Marana roads.

Only the interchange at Orange Grove Road separates drivers from the trains, which means traffic at Ina Road could get backed up more when there are more trains on the rails.

“Whenever ADOT rebuilds any intersections in Marana, our understanding is they will be grade separated,” Prol said.

The Regional Transportation Authority has a reworking of the Ina interchange already on the drawing board. That $54 million project, which could begin in three to eight years, would have Ina Road go over the railroad and the interstate, which itself would have to be lowered, said Jim DeGrood, RTA transportation coordinator with the Pima Association of Governments.

Ruthrauff and Sunset roads could also get a better I-10 connection, and the Orange Grove underpass could see expansion.

There is also discussion about making the Tangerine Road interchange rail-friendly, but there is nothing as yet in the RTA plan, DeGrood said.

Union Pacific’s billion-dollar L.A. to El Paso double-tracking project can already be seen from the eastern border of Arizona to Benson. There are currently 691 miles of Sunset Line track in the state.

Double tracking and the proposed rail yard at the Picacho Peak / Red Rock area go hand in hand for the area’s rail future.

“They do tie into the fact that Arizona needs more rail capacity,” Richmond said.

Each train carries about 300 semi trucks-worth of cargo, amounting to 12,000 semi-trucks each day, according to Union Pacific.

“What would you rather have, waiting a few minutes for a train to go by or having I-10 bogged down?” Richmond said.

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