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Union Pacific

No damage was reported to railroad crossing apparatus on Ralston Road after Wednesday's crash.

Police are investigating a driver for impairment after he reportedly ran his vehicle into the side of a moving train Wednesday night, according to Maricopa Police Department.

The incident occurred Dec. 6 just before 8 p.m. at the State Route 238 and Ralston Road intersection.

Authorities said the train engine had passed the intersection about a quarter of a mile down the tracks when the vehicle, headed north on Ralston, struck one of its train cars at nearly full speed, said MPD spokesman Ricardo Alvarado.

The accident scene led police to believe the driver may have entered the southbound lane prior to colliding with the train because the vehicle did not hit the railroad cross arm, Alvarado said.

When Maricopa Fire & Medical Department arrived, they reported finding the vehicle with substantial front-end damage and “a male in his 40s out of the vehicle walking around,” said Brad Pitassi, MFMD Spokesman.

A witness initially reported to police seeing a passenger in the vehicle, but Alvarado said after MPD interviewed the witness further she could not confirm the sighting. The driver reported he was the only person in the car at the time of the crash, Alvarado added.

Crews later transported the driver to Chandler Regional Medical Center with minor injuries. MPD has issued a warrant for blood vials taken from the driver at the hospital. They will be tested at a Department of Public Safety lab for the DUI investigation.

Union Pacific Railroad spokesman Jeff DeGraff said the wreck did not cause damage to the train or its crew. However, it did halt traffic in the area until the accident was cleared around 10 p.m.

 

Reporter Mason Callejas contributed to this story.



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The Spirit of the Union Pacific locomotive. Photo courtesy UPRR

Union Pacific unveiled a commemorative locomotive this year honoring the U.S. armed forces, and it is scheduled to pass through Maricopa on Saturday.

The Spirit of the Union Pacific has made stops in Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming and is now on its way to California. The design of the locomotive pays tribute to each service branch. See diagram below.

UP spokesman Jeff DeGraff said the locomotive has some scheduled stops in California next week.

“At this time, we do not have any stops scheduled in Arizona, so it will just be passing through,” he said.

The Spirit of the Union Pacific is set to leave Tucson around 10 a.m. and arrive in Yuma at 4 p.m. Its estimated time for passing through Maricopa is midday, but DeGraff emphasized its schedule is dependent on other train traffic on the rails, so anyone wishing to take photos as it passes by may need to be patient.

The locomotive honors the company’s history. The first Spirit of the Union Pacific was a 1943 Boeing B-17, which flew with the 571st Bomber Squadron before it was shot down over Munster, Germany. Its name recognized UP employees, who funded it through war bonds.

DeGraff said UP is scheduling more stops for the locomotive in 2018, and those may include Arizona.

 

The California Zephyr being lifted into place in Maricopa in 2001. Photo courtesy of Maricopa Historical Society

The Maricopa Historical Society is seeking public input to help determine the fate of one of their recently acquired icons – the California Zephyr railcar.

At their meeting on June 5 the historical society presented a history of the Zephyr, following it from its birth in 1949 through its service on the Burlington Northern route from Chicago to Los Angeles, its retirement in 1970, its temporary homes in Texas and Los Angeles, its short acting carrier in films such as “Pearl Harbor” and ultimately its arrival in Maricopa in 2001.

After the detailed presentation, however, discussion turned toward the icon’s future.

“Do we consider restoration, or do we go the museum route,” Maricopa Historical Society President Paul Shirk posited to the group.

Most in attendance agreed that a museum was the best option, though some suggested that a partial restoration of the railcars upper deck would be nice to give visitors a glimpse into the Zephyr’s glory days.

There are many steps to take before the Zephyr can become an operational museum, the most important of which will be the installation of air conditioning.

Other items on the to-do list include updates to the interior and exterior of the car, all of which the historical society hopes will be facilitated by the formation of a “Zephyr Guild” comprised of craftsmen, artisans and technicians who will help maintain the site.

A permanent home for the Zephyr was also discussed. Though mostly unaffected by the eventual construction of the State Route 347 overpass, its current location near the Amtrak station is questioned by some who doubt if it’s the appropriate location.

At this point, however, no alternative location has been proposed.

The historical society recently took ownership of the railcar after purchasing it from Pinal County for $1. For the past few years, the society was allowed access to host tours and open houses in the railcar.

Passengers board an Amtrak train at 5:45 a.m. at the Maricopa station. Trains generally stop for 10 minutes, blocking SR 347 in the process. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

By Raquel Hendrickson

When an Amtrak train pulls into the Maricopa station, it does not stop just once.

The platform is only long enough to allow access to one baggage car and one passenger car. The train stops the first time for the first access, and then it pulls forward and stops again for access to more baggage and more passengers. And then it does so again.

It is a 10-minute procedure. For most of that time, the train is stopping the traffic flow on State Route 347.

It is why a proposal for moving the Amtrak station is an integral part of planning for an overpass across the Union Pacific Railroad tracks at SR 347.

The start of construction on the grade separation is at least five years away, but the plan has several moving pieces. Arizona Department of Transportation has its responsibilities, and the City of Maricopa has its tasks.

Among the latter is the Amtrak station, which will be in the path of the overpass, whatever the final design of the grade separation. Public Works Director Bill Fay said the move has two components. One is the concept plan for track alignment near Garvey Avenue, where the new station will be located. The other is the design of transportation center and alignment of Garvey itself.

The first component dealing with the railroad tracks is at about 30 percent design completion in manpower. Fay said on a typical road project, 30 percent is the last chance to make big changes.

“I’ve never been through a railroad right-of-way project that is entirely within the railroad’s right of way,” he said. “I don’t know that there are very big changes that one can make.”

Though the move of the Amtrak station west to the city’s Estrella Gin property involves Amtrak property and UPRR right of way, the early stages of design fall to the city. Amtrak officials consider the Maricopa staff to be spearheading the project and will say little to nothing about the plan.

Union Pacific has review powers but is equally reticent in the early stages. “UP is consulting on the track design, but other than that, we don’t have much to add,” said UPRR spokesman Francisco Castillo Jr.

“Hopefully at 60 (percent) but no later than 90, it will go before Union Pacific to review,” Fay said. “We would love for them to review it now, but their policy is 90 percent.”

UPRR has “relatively strong” veto power, Fay said. “But this makes sense. They don’t want to review it while it’s still in preliminary stages. But 90 percent is pretty deep in the process. The problem is their review can take up to 18 months. So that’s a little hard to swallow when you’ve got to get to 90 percent design first and then wait 18 months for them to review.”

He said UPRR reserves 18 months for review but does not always take 18 months. There is also the possibility Maricopa could submit its design plans before they are at 90 percent completion. In the meantime, ADOT and the city can be moving forward on the overpass project, Fay said.

Amtrak trains are not as long as the far-more-numerous freight trains on the UPRR lines but can hold up traffic even longer than the longest freight train.

Maricopa is the Phoenix station for Amtrak, a stopping point for lines between Los Angeles and New Orleans, or L.A. and Chicago (or just about anywhere else in the East if you make the right connections). Amtrak trains stop in Maricopa early in the morning – commuting time for many residents – and in the evening.

Fay said a preliminary project could be a temporary fix until the station is moved. That project would extend the asphalt platform east so it would be long enough for the train to pull off of SR 347.

The new station to be located at the Estrella Gin site on Garvey will be in what is currently being called a transportation center and a transit hub. The conceptual plan for that is at about 15 percent design, Fay said.

The civil conceptual design is contracted to a Phoenix firm.

“The piece that isn’t in there is, what is the new train station going to look like?” Fay said. “The city has money budgeted in its Capital Improvement Program (CIP) potentially to relocate the existing station to the new location.”

However, in the past some council members and some members of the Maricopa Historical Society have expressed an interest in creating a station that is a better aesthetic fit in the Heritage District. Though station design plans go to Amtrak at some point, Fay said Amtrak has expressed it “really does not care what the station looks like.”

If the city council does decide to go with a new building, the process of hiring an architect and other related tasks would be built into the timetable for the move. Ideas for a historic-looking station are mostly inspired by photos of the former station in Maricopa.

The ideas have been included in the Maricopa General Plan, and city staff has been asking for public feedback.

“The better info we get from the public the more reinforcement staff can portray to our leadership and say, ’Hey, the public wants to see this,’” senior planner Rudy Lopez said.

Lopez said when the project moves forward, the city should be working more closely with the historical society. “They’re a great organization and growing, so obviously that’s to our advantage,” he said. “We’re having this discussion now for the next generation of the city.”

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