PART 1: Benson, AZ, and Lordsburg, NM PHOTOS and Commentary by Russ Jackson, RailPAC
Sunset Limited on time performance has fallen back to 18.5% since Oct. 1 (The Coast Starlight is up to 19.9%), 2006. Another major problem for Amtrak train #2 happened on May 3, 2007, when the eastbound Sunset Limited, was 12 PLUS hours late east of Tucson. This writer was on a road trip this time, and a call to Amtrak’s automated reservation voice, “Julie,” found #2 would arrive at Benson, AZ, at 1:57 PM instead of 2:20 AM! We were on target to arrive in that town, the location of the very successful Kartchner Caverns State Park, at about that time so we parked and waited. And waited. Sometimes the view from the ground gives a better account than from the train. Unknown to us at the time was the reason for the long delay, which was a derailment of the train on UP’s Guasti siding, 5 miles east of Ontario, CA, the day before, and we were waiting for a “makeup” train which departed Los Angeles at 1:42 AM.
This is the scene we found in Benson: A shack with the word “Benson” and an Amtrak logo sign bent so it was almost unreadable, a car (foreground) containing folks who intend to board the train enroute to Michigan, and a lady in another car expecting arriving passengers from Los Angeles who tells us that the UP container train parked on the track the passenger train would have to be on had been there since she arrived at 12:30 PM. It was still dangerously blocking two signaled crossings in town, including one just to the left of station where the gates were down and the bells a-ringing. Even if #2 arrived at 2:00 on the adjoining track how can these passengers get to the train? While we waited a boy climbed across the couplers, a very dangerous thing to do. At 2:27 “Julie” informed us the train won’t arrive until 3:15, so we decided not to wait for it, and headed for Tucson. At least the Amtrak logo is on the shack, but NO information about how to contact Amtrak or what it is. In 2004-05 there were 1,492 passengers to/from here. We learned the train finally arrived in Benson at 3:55 PM.
WHAT COULD BE at Benson. The new Benson Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center is located just east of the “station.” The building is in the style of the old SP train stations, has full facilities, and is staffed. The lady on duty said, “No, this isn’t the station. They stop at that ‘lean-to’ over there.”
When #2 departs Benson its next stop is Lordsburg, NM, about an hour later. Again, there is only a small railroad shack with the word Lordsburg on it, but NO Amtrak information. The tracks are quite a hike across an unpaved yard, there is no platform to mark where the train stops, and yet, 304 passengers used this station in 2004-05. A photo of this station was in the March, 2007, Review. This report continues in Part 2, Deming, NM.