Lloyd Clark has been a fan of trains since he was a boy.
“Since I was 3 years old,” he said. “Since the first train ride I took.”
Now 87 and living in Surprise, Clark’s respect and love for riding the rails has grown stronger. That is why Clark said he supports a statewide rail plan that would start by linking Phoenix and Tucson and eventually connect to Prescott and Flagstaff in the north and Sierra Vista and Douglas in the south.
The Arizona Public Interest Research Group had a news conference recently at an unused passenger railroad station in downtown Phoenix to celebrate a recent vote by the State Transportation Board to approve the statewide rail plan.
“It’s the civilized way to travel,” Clark said. “You’re not restricted to your seat. You can get up and go to the dining car, enjoy a nice meal. It’s a great way to make new friends. I’ve met people on train rides who I still correspond with today.”
Serena Unrein, a public interest advocate for the Arizona Public Interest Research Group, said a statewide rail plan is a step toward relieving traffic congestion and improving air quality.
“We’ve seen that our roads are congested, our air is polluted and people are spending endless amounts of time in traffic,” Unrein said.
Clark said he believes an expanded rail network is the most effective way to combat those issues.
“Absolutely it would help, but the automotive, petroleum, highway and airline interests have worked so hard against trains,” he said. “Now it’s almost like rail is a four-letter word. We have a long way to go to get past that.”
The statewide plan outlines potential rail projects that would expand passenger and freight rail across Arizona and make the state eligible to compete for federal funds.
One component is a three-year study looking into the possibility of creating a rail route that would link Tucson and Phoenix. It eventually would expand to include Prescott and Flagstaff in the north and Sierra Vista and Douglas in the south, Unrein said. She said an estimated 11,400 vehicles make the trip daily between Phoenix and Tucson and that number is expected to triple by 2050.
Vincent Lopez, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, said during the news conference he supports the passenger rail because it would improve public health.
“It’ll help combat health issues and respiratory problems that are a result of the pollution that comes from car transportation in the Valley,” he said.
Jade Meskill, co-founder of Gangplank, a Chandler-based company helps entrepreneurs develop ideas using technology, is one of more than 70 business leaders who endorsed the rail plan with Unrein’s group.
But Clark said he does not expect to see a statewide rail network in his lifetime.
“I’m 87 now, and I’ll be long gone by the time that happens,” he said. “But I hope there will be some sense of sanity to planning that will allow this alternative form of transportation to perform as it used to. This country used to be connected by thousands of miles of rail.”