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American Shipper

UP plan to handle growing L.A.-LB train traffic draws Ariz. Concerns

UP plan to handle growing L.A.-LB train traffic draws Ariz. Concerns

Arizona state regulators are expressing concern over a Union Pacific plan to double-track a main rail line running through the southern portion of the state, saying the plan does not adequately address public safety at proposed rail crossings on the line.

   UP officials want to upgrade about 50 existing at-grade crossings to accommodate the track addition on the 'Sunset Route' between Los Angeles and El Paso, Texas. The Omaha, Neb.-based railroad said the track project is needed to accommodate the booming transpacific trade and the number of double-stacked trains heading east from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

   The Sunset Route now handles up to 45 to 50 trains per day from the ports, while the railroad estimates that double-tracking the line would add capacity for an additional 60 to 70 trains per day. A main line across northern Arizona, operated by UP-competitor Burlington Northern Santa Fe, is already double-tracked.

   Arizona Corporation Commission members, which oversee railroad safety in the state, admit that the UP project could boost the state economy and possibly relieve traffic congestion by shifting more freight to rail. However, some of the commissioners suggest that UP should convert some of the at-grade crossings to overpasses or underpasses to accommodate the state's rapidly growing population safely.

   Though the Sunset Route track runs mostly through open areas of the state, communities between Phoenix and Tucson are rapidly expanding toward the track route.

   While overpasses and underpasses eliminate the potential for auto/train collisions, they are also exceedingly more expensive than typical at-grade gates and flashing lights.

   The railroad plan estimates the 50 proposed crossing upgrades to cost $18.4 million, an average of $368,000 per crossing. Underpass or overpass structures could cost $10 million to $30 million each, the railroad estimates.

   The commission does not have direct authority over the UP track project, only rail safety and must issue permission for the modification of the crossings.