A new Amtrak station rail siding, a major component in a city-proposed relocation project, will cost an estimated $4.2 million.
An official with Union Pacific Railroad predicted once funding is available for the rail siding — a low-speed track section distinct from the main track where the train can stop for passengers to board and deboard — the project could be completed within 12 months to 18 months.
Jim Marshall, Union Pacific’s program manager for commuter engineering, estimated the work at $4,160,118 for design and construction. The city paid $10,000 for the estimate.
Brent Billingsley, director of development services, said the city has been working with Union Pacific, Amtrak and the Arizona Department of Transportation for three years to relocate the existing Amtrak station to the west, away from the intersection of State Route 347 and the Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway.
The Maricopa Amtrak station is the key station serving the Phoenix and central Arizona areas.
The funds needed to build the rail siding are separate from the money needed to build the station itself and the platform where passengers get on and off the train, Billingsley said.
He compared the Amtrak relocation to the proposed grade separation on State Route 347, another major infrastructure project Maricopa residents want.
“We are seeking all the funding that we can to help,” Billingsley said. “We have approached ADOT (Arizona Department of Transportation) and CAAG (Central Arizona Association of Governments). We are leaving no stone unturned.”
CAAG is a council of governments that serves as the regional planning agency for Pinal and Gila counties.
The Maricopa City Council has asked the Gila River Indian Community for a $300,000 grant to help pay for the rail siding. A decision on the request will be made by the end of October.Billingsley said the rail siding, station, platform and a parking lot could all be built at the same time if the money was available.
The new station will be built on the city-owned Estella Gin property, where a new city fire department headquarters also is planned. There is no time estimate yet on when the new train station will be built.
The necessity to relocate the station came to the forefront May 7 when Amtrak changed its six weekly arrival times from around midnight to 5:30 a.m. on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays and from midnight to 8:52 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.
The trains frequently are behind schedule or block the crossing at SR 347 for more than 15 minutes because passengers get on and off one car at a time.
Billingsley said the city does not have authority to regulate or fine Amtrak. State statute allows for 15 minutes as the maximum “dwell time.” Exceptions are made for emergencies, unavoidable accidents or circumstances beyond the control of the railroad company.
“We have no control over Union Pacific or Amtrak,” he said.
The Arizona Corporation Commission governs at-grade railroad crossings in the state. Billingsley said the agency was paying close attention to the issue with the SR 347 crossing.
Chris Watson, an assistant supervisor with the ACC’s railroad safety division, said he has not received any complaints about the Maricopa Amtrak crossing.
Traffic issues, however, are “definitely an issue that we would monitor,” Watson said.