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Q&AZ: Will Phoenix, Tucson Ever Get Train Service?

For decades, there has been talk of a rail service linking Arizona’s two biggest cities. But will it ever happen? KJZZ listener Liana Garcia asked that via our Q&AZ reporting project.

It turns out there are a couple of ways that Phoenix and Tucson could get this long-awaited rail service. There are also some hurdles too.

The Arizona constitution may be one of the biggest. It requires the state to use transportation related tax dollars for highways, not rail services. But transit guru Tony Trifiletti said don’t give up hope.

“We have to get the private sector involved in this,” said Trifiletti who is director of All Aboard Arizona, a nonprofit that advocates for more public transit.

He said a recent study found a high-speed connector would cost $6 billion and take up to two decades to build.

But Trifiletti said an alternative route “would basically use the Union Pacific line between Phoenix and Tucson for standard rail speed — nothing fancy — just your normal 79 miles per hour.”

“Understand your intercity train would make a couple of stops in the Phoenix suburbs and then probably run nonstop to Marana or Tucson itself.”

Trifiletti said a Florida rail service company called Brightline is exploring this option in Arizona. If that deal is finalized, Trifiletti said the actual project could take as little as three years to build out.

A separate transit plan that could include a commuter rail is also in the works for Maricopa County. That could go in front of voters in 2022, but service would not reach Tucson, according to the Maricopa Association of Governments.

Bottom line: will Tucson and Phoenix get rail service? Nothing is certain, but Trifiletti said he would put his money on it.

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Will Stone grew up with the sounds of public radio. As a senior field correspondent, he strives to tell the same kind of powerful stories that got him into the business — whether that means trudging through some distant corner of the Sonoran Desert or uncovering an unknown injustice right down the street. Since joining the KJZZ newsroom in 2015, he has covered political scandals, fights over the future of energy, and efforts to care for some of Arizona’s most vulnerable communities. His pieces have also aired on national programs like Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here & Now and Marketplace. Before coming to KJZZ, he reported for public radio stations in Nevada and Connecticut. Stone received his degree in English literature from Haverford College, where he also wrote about the arts and culture scene in Philadelphia. After graduating, he interned at NPR West in Culver City, California, where he learned from some of the network’s veteran reporters and editors. When he doesn’t have a mic in hand, Stone enjoys climbing mountains, running through his central Phoenix neighborhood and shamelessly promoting his cat, Barry.