When I was a boy, the Southern Pacific Railroad operated six trains a day between Phoenix Union Station and Tucson. They were part of the fading American passenger-rail system, once the finest in the world.
The top of the line were the crack Sunset Limited, SP's flagship running between New Orleans and Los Angeles (once it went all the way to San Francisco). Phoenix to Tucson took less than two-and-a-half hours. Then the Golden State Limited, another premier train operated by SP from Los Angeles to Tucumcari, N.M., where it was handed off to the Rock Island for the trip to Chicago. Finally, there was the remains of the Imperial, once a fine train in its own right but by the 1960s a mail train with a single coach.
But the trains were dying, helped along by the Postal Service canceling the vital mail contracts in 1967-68. Amtrak took over a much diminished Sunset — three days a week — and it left Phoenix in the 1990s when the state would not help maintain the northern main line. Phoenix is the largest city in America with no passenger trains.
I mention this history as the Arizona Department of Transportation studies passenger rail between Phoenix and Tucson. It has gotten press. But is it possible?