CASA GRANDE — Since 1996, the Amtrak passengers traveling to Phoenix have had to stop in the city of Maricopa, 25 miles to the south, and take shuttle transportation to the larger city.
However, that could change soon. Part of Amtrak’s recently unveiled expansion plans include adding rail service that would connect Tucson and Phoenix with three round trips a day and include several new stops in Pinal County.
Last week, 11 mayors within the metro region sent a letter to Arizona’s congressional delegation in support of the proposal.
“We enthusiastically support Amtrak’s vision to bring passenger rail service to our communities,” the letter reads. “Frequent and reliable rail service will expand economic opportunities and provide important regional connections between our cities and towns.”
The current Amtrak line that runs from Tucson to Los Angeles is part of the Sunset Limited route. In Casa Grande and Eloy, the rail line runs adjacent to Jimmie Kerr Boulevard and Frontier Street.
Coolidge Mayor Jon Thompson called the plan an “excellent idea” and said that public transit, including rail, is an important component of the city’s current and future growth.
“Rail would be a good way to go,” Thompson said. “Freeways are jampacked full of vehicles and we don’t have money for infrastructure, so this is another tool that can be utilized to benefit the entire state. It would be a lot better world, with a lot less traffic.”
Thompson said he is hoping to meet with representatives from Amtrak later on in the summer, and that county leaders would be sending their own letter to Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema in support of the Coolidge stop.
Casa Grande Mayor Craig McFarland said he supports expansion of rail service both in the short-term and long-term, but that there had been no recent conversations about adding a station between Marana and Maricopa. McFarland also said he hoped any future plans would allow Pinal County residents to take advantage of expanded rail service.
“As we grow it would be nice for us to be able to add stops here,” McFarland said.
Several agencies, including the Arizona Department of Transportation, have explored opportunities to connect Phoenix and Tucson over the past decade. Amtrak’s plan, part of its national “Amtrak Connects US” project, would add service moving east from Phoenix, traveling through San Tan Valley along the tracks that run mostly north-south, parallel to Hunt Highway and then State Route 87, adding stops in Queen Creek and Coolidge along the way.
For Casa Grande, McFarland said he believes widening of Interstate 10 is probably the most important infrastructure project currently in the works. He also said the city is having ongoing talks with Coolidge’s Central Arizona Regional Transit about new routes or another type of on-demand ride service.
Rail service to Coolidge was discontinued in the 1990s when the Phoenix route ended.
Part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill moving through Congress calls for $66 million to improve rail systems across the country.