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Union Pacific (Ex SP) West Phoenix Line

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Posted by Falcon48 on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 5:45 PM

Fred M Cain
 

RE: Attached excerpt from Fred M's note of 10/10:

Another UP right-of-way that some people might be unaware of is the former SP “Modoc” line in extreme northeastern California.  The line was abandoned and converted into a bicycle and equestrian trail.  However, what some people might not realize is that when the conversion to railtrail was done, the UP forced the trail folks to sign a legally binding document that left the UP with the right to return the trail to rail use at any time and without notice.  Pretty clever in my view.
 
 

I don't have any inside information, but I very much doubt that UP has (or ever had) any interest in potential reactivation of the Modoc line.  If there had been any such interest, UP would have merely "discontinued service" on the line (with STB authorization) and left the tracks in place (as they did on Tennessee Pass and several other rail lines).    As a practical matter, trail use isn't a very good strategy for preserving corridors for potential rail reactivation.   The political fallout from letting a line go to trail and then, years later, taking it back for rail use would be significant.
 
The provision you mentioned in the Modoc line trail agreement where UP supposedly retained the right to take the Modoc trail back for rail restoration simply mirrors the requirements of the Federal National Trails System Act (NTSA), which has been used for most rail-trail conversions since the mid 1980's (whenever you see the terrm "interim trail use" in connection with a trail, it's probably an NTSA trail).  If the Modoc line trail was created under the NTSA (as I think it was), the railroad retains the right to restore the rail line as a matter of law, whether it reserves this right under the sale/lease agreement or not.   The right of restoration is in the statute and also in the ICC/STB decisions authorizing trail use under the NTSA.  But, that does nothing to quell the political firestorm that would result from taking a popular trail back to restore rail service.    
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Posted by blue streak 1 on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 6:42 PM

Fred M Cain

 

RE: Attached excerpt from Fred M's note of 10/10:

Another UP right-of-way that some people might be unaware of is the former SP “Modoc” line in extreme northeastern California.  The line was abandoned and converted into a bicycle and equestrian trail.  However, what some people might not realize is that when the conversion to railtrail was done, the UP forced the trail folks to sign a legally binding document that left the UP with the right to return the trail to rail use at any time and without notice.  Pretty clever in my view.
 
 

 

The provision you mentioned in the Modoc line trail agreement where UP supposedly retained the right to take the Modoc trail back for rail restoration simply mirrors the requirements of the Federal National Trails System Act (NTSA), which has been used for most rail-trail conversions since the mid 1980's (whenever you see the terrm "interim trail use" in connection with a trail, it's probably an NTSA trail).  If the Modoc line trail was created under the NTSA (as I think it was), the railroad retains the right to restore the rail line as a matter of law, whether it reserves this right under the sale/lease agreement or not.   The right of restoration is in the statute and also in the ICC/STB decisions authorizing trail use under the NTSA.  But, that does nothing to quell the political firestorm that would result from taking a popular trail back to restore rail service.    
 
Could it be UP wrote that in to lock in the trail provision ?  Laws can always be changed and some pol might pass a law eliminating the pass back to a RR that he did not want in his back yard ?
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Posted by Fred M Cain on Thursday, October 12, 2017 6:05 AM

blue streak 1

Could it be UP wrote that in to lock in the trail provision ?  Laws can always be changed and some pol might pass a law eliminating the pass back to a RR that he did not want in his back yard ?

 

 

I found the document online a few years ago and brought it to SP expert and historian Tony Johnson's attention.  I recall that he, too, was surprised so I came away with the conclusion that the Modoc abandonment was a unique case.

Not sure if I can find it again but I'll try.

Regards

Fred M. Cain

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Posted by Falcon48 on Thursday, October 12, 2017 10:39 PM

blue streak 1

Fred M Cain

 

 

Could it be UP wrote that in to lock in the trail provision ?  Laws can always be changed and some pol might pass a law eliminating the pass back to a RR that he did not want in his back yard ?
 

It's more likely that, if UP wrote this provision into the contract, it probably did so simply to make clear that the trail agreement met the requirements of the Federal National Trails System Act (NTSA) and the STB decision authorizing trail use.  As I mentioned in my previous notes, it's highly unlikely that UP (or any other major railroad) would deliberately use an NTSA trail as a device to "mothball" a rail corridor for possible future rail use.  If the railroad wants to preserve the possibility of reactivation when it shuts down a rail line, it will obtain "discontinuance" (not "abandonment") authority from STB and leave the tracks in place, a strategy which makes future restoration of rail service at a later date MUCH easier.   

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Posted by Fred M Cain on Friday, October 13, 2017 6:22 AM

Falcon48

 

It's more likely that, if UP wrote this provision into the contract, it probably did so simply to make clear that the trail agreement met the requirements of the Federal National Trails System Act (NTSA) and the STB decision authorizing trail use.  As I mentioned in my previous notes, it's highly unlikely that UP (or any other major railroad) would deliberately use an NTSA trail as a device to "mothball" a rail corridor for possible future rail use.  If the railroad wants to preserve the possibility of reactivation when it shuts down a rail line, it will obtain "discontinuance" (not "abandonment") authority from STB and leave the tracks in place, a strategy which makes future restoration of rail service at a later date MUCH easier.   

Falcon,

I went searching on Google for that document again and could no longer find it.  What I *DID* find was another online document about the Modoc Rail Trail which stated that the Union Pacific actually SOLD the abandoned right of way to Lassen County back in 2008.  So, I now believe that you are right on this one.

What I'd seen before probably predated '08 when UP still owned the ROW. If they actually owned the ROW it's only natural that they'd want to retain future rail rights.  But in this case they elected not to do that.  The same article also mentioned that during a terrible winter storm year of '97, I think it was, the UP was utilizing the line as a diversion route for storm damaged lines and ran up to 12 trains a day over the line!

Now that it's gone, they may have burned their bridges behind them.

I would like to say here that I have long believed that property taxes are one real reason that motivates railroad companies to dispose of "excess capacity".  I have long suspected that high property taxes are an issue that have gotten little attention in the railroad community but I still believe it's a problem.  Thing is, though, no one knows what to do about it.

 

Regards,

Fred M. Cain

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Posted by Pilawt on Friday, February 2, 2018 4:52 PM
Here's something of an update on the West Phoenix branch. I flew over it at low altitude yesterday. There is a string of stored autoracks, beginning just west of the wye leading to the nuke plant, and continuing unbroken (except for one dirt road crossing) about eight miles west to Gillespie. If my math is right, that would be, what, about 450+ cars? Then at the west end of the autoracks there's about a half-mile worth of well cars. I'll try to get some photos next time I'm out that way in a few weeks.
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Posted by mudchicken on Friday, February 2, 2018 5:57 PM

The NITU with first right of service like in the MoDoc case is fairly common. BN did something similar in CO and WA. If you go back and look at the Lassen County deed, it was acquired from UP/SP for trail use under the NITU statutes. (acquired for salvage value, not fair market value.) Under the statute, if a railroad wants to come back on that line, it can force the current owner to sell back to the railroad at a fair price. Not only that, IF they sever the line or sell to another agency or trail operator without STB's knowledge & consent, they forfeit ownership of the trail and any part of that line that was federal grant right of way, was obtained by right of way deed or any other deed with a reversionary clause goes back to that designated owner/ heirs and assigns in the deed. the county and state have zero say in the matter. (and there are plenty of trail operators out there already skating on thin ice.)

Mudchicken Nothing is worth taking the risk of losing a life over. Come home tonight in the same condition that you left home this morning in. Safety begins with ME.... cinscocom-west
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Posted by Pilawt on Wednesday, March 28, 2018 2:02 PM

Curious ...

I flew over the West Phoenix branch again yesterday.  A handful of flats are still there near Gillespie, but those miles and miles of autoracks I saw there early last month are all gone.

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Posted by Fred M Cain on Wednesday, April 7, 2021 11:03 AM

Here's an update on the West Phoenix line or the "Wellton Branch" as it's officially known by UP.

As many of you know, Amtrak has come out with an expansion plan that's completely dependent on Biden's so-called "infrastructure" bill getting past and signed into law.

Amtrak came out with this notorius map that shows new lines in light blue which I'm sure some of you have seen.  (It was posted on the TRAINS Magazine New Line)

Well, guess what?  It shows a light blue line running through Phoenix which suggests a restoration of the line.

However, I tried Googling for news on this and found nothing.  We'll have to wait and see what happens but whatever you do, I wouldn't hold your breath and that's for sure !

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Posted by MikeF90 on Friday, April 9, 2021 3:37 PM

Perhaps the City of Phoenix has more on its plate, but downtown redevelopment may be enhanced by a grade separated railroad trench similar to El Paso TX or Reno NV. No more ugly, slow freight trains to deal with!  

Not that UP would use the line more. A report on The Other railfan site indicates that Sunset Route traffic is healthy, about 28 trains a day (EB+WB). Note that these are much longer 'PSR designed' trains which keep capital investment, crew starts and service frequency down.

Links to my Google Maps ---> Sunset Route overview, SoCal metro, Yuma sub, Gila sub, SR east of Tucson, BNSF Northern Transcon and Southern Transcon

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Posted by Fred M Cain on Monday, April 12, 2021 9:47 AM

Mike,

I recall that back in the late 1960s, the SPTCo was running an average of 40 trains a day through Tucson.  So, if my recollection and your report are correct, daily average counts are down by about 12 trains a day. 

Well four of those daily trains in the late sixties were actually passenger trains so that make a decline of more like 36 to 28 trains a day.

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Posted by azrail on Monday, April 12, 2021 2:39 PM

Not enough train traffic through downtown Phoenix to warrant a "ditch"-the major streets have over/underpasses over the tracks, plus all of the hassle to move utilities and a baseball stadium that has the UP line behind it.

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Posted by Fred M Cain on Tuesday, April 13, 2021 7:28 AM

azrail,

Please correct me if I'm wrong but I think a few of those downtown grade crossings have been closed.  I can remember when every block had a street that crossed the tracks just east of th depot  and were protected by "wig wag" signals.  Google Earth street views seems to suggest that they've closed some of them off.

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Posted by azrail on Tuesday, April 13, 2021 12:36 PM

Due to the redeveolpment around Chase Field many of those streets are nonexistant now

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Posted by Fred M Cain on Tuesday, April 13, 2021 12:50 PM

azrail

Due to the redeveolpment around Chase Field many of those streets are nonexistant now

azrail,

I moved out of the Phoenix area back in 1980.  During the last year or two I have "flown over" the Salt River Valley using Google Earth.  I don't know whether to be surprised or horrified.  So much of the "Valley" is no longer recognizable to me today.

Anyhow, on the Phoenix Line, here is a nice online article I found.  If you Google for "Amtrak Phoenix" you can find several of them.

https://www.azfamily.com/news/features/planned-amtrak-service-would-connect-phoenix-to-california-las-vegas/article_74e1f4d8-9275-11eb-884c-abc119af0c97.html 

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