Roll to Arlington

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  • States: Arizona   
  • Railroads: SP, UP   
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Note: This line is not formally abandoned, and may still see infrequent use.

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Site of Arlington Station, with a passing siding and short spur track (not shown). View is looking east. Photo by Mike Palmer, February 2009.

This abandoned railway was originally built sometime post 1895, after the Sunset route was completed across southern Arizona. From the west, this line left the Sunset route at Wellton, AZ, and headed roughly east-northeast to reach Phoenix. This line was used by Amtrak's Sunset Limited until the mid-1990s; the track itself was never upgraded beyond jointed rail.

The middle part of the line, between Roll and Arlington, was closed some time around the UP-SP merger in 1996. The route passes through some rugged, remote territory that would require a 4WD or other off-road vehicle to explore.

The tracks on either side of this abandonment are still in use. The east end still sees some local service near Phoenix; freight customers include local ranches. This portion of active trackage extends past Arlington, where a branch to the Palo Verde nuclear power plant connects. The western segment of the line serves local ranches in the area, and is also used for car storage.

Thanks to Mike Palmer for contributing information about this route.

This is the old Wellton Sub,later the Phoenix Sub. It was built in 1926 to complete a through main line to Phoenix. Use of the line was discontinued in 1996, not long after the infamous derailment of ATK's Sunset Limited by saboteurs. Also, this area was part of Gen. Patton's WW2 Desert Training Center, which had tens of thousands of GI's training in the desert. There is a pyramid close by the tracks at Horn AZ, a monument to some soldiers killed in a training accident in 1943.

This area is very remote, only accessible by 4WD vehicles. No radio or cell phone reception. Take plenty of water and let people know where you're going. It is so dry in this desert, in one place there is a pile of blasting powder cans used to blast away rock for the grade--sitting undisturbed for over 80 years.

Stan Jefferson
Avondale, AZ
3/7/2011

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'Tis clear from Mike Palmer's May 2010 photos that a derail device is in place just beyond (east of) the 4th Avenue grade Xing in Roll, AZ, such that no eastbound rail traffic is possible beyond Roll. Yet this figure caption for Tyson, AZ, farther east, declares, "The 44-1/2 Avenue grade crossing in Tyson. The flangeways were not blocked, so it is possible some type of rail traffic still passes through here." That possibility seems most unlikely, given that rail traffic would have to originate to the west at Wellton, and is blocked at Roll (with westbound traffic not extending beyond Palo Verde, just west of Arlington). Eastbound traffic having been blocked at Roll, would one expect to see other such--i.e., redundant--devices on the line not too much farther east?

Nelson Lawry
Rollinsford, NH
5/29/2011

[I believe the derail is in place to prevent any stored cars to the east of it from rolling onto and fouling the mainline.  —Greg Harrison]

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This document, which seems conceptual in nature might be of interest. It's MAG opinion on this line.

http://www.phoenix.gov/congress/regionalwellton.pdf

Mark E.
Tempe, AZ
2/22/2012

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I didn't know that there were any color light signals on this area of the Phoenix Line as shown in the photo of Arlington Station Siding. There are several Semaphore Signals on the West Side portion near Roll, Az. Thanks again to Mike Palmer and his contribution for this.

Keith Johns
Indio, CA
5/24/2012

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This is a really pretty rail line. I wish it was still used today.

locomotivemaster
Las Vegas, NV, NV
7/22/2012

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I remember the Phoenix Sub when the 1/2 still got to Phoenix this way...what a ROUGH stretch! Rockin' and rollin', especially in those lousy Pooches! Semaphore all the way, with most of the sidings removed, although not a prob there since there was no freight traffic at all. Phantom reds were the order of the day, since the maintainters were rather scarce out there in the middle of nowhere. Almost all the rail I ever saw on this one was original...1926, about 120 lb. Most of it was carded at 60, but you'd REALLY have to be brave to keep that up with Superliners. This line never did pay off for SP over the decades, as there wasn't much freight biz from CA to/from PHX, except for perishables. It did host a lot of passengers in its day...Sunset, Golden State, Imperial and others.

DeserTBoB
Lancaster, CA
11/23/2012

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There is some talk among the state of Arizona to possibly re-activate this stretch of track. This track was part of how Amtrak originally went to Phoenix from Los Angeles. This line being abandoned is the reason Amtrak stops in Maricopa and not Phoenix. There is a growing push to eventually rehabilitate this line and allow Amtrak to come back to downtown Phoenix.

Stephen
San Diego, CA
1/3/2013

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The east end of this line, from Arlington AZ west is getting new signals. Word for the signal crew I talked to is that the line will reopen partially past Dixie in the very near future, and become a through line in the next few years.

stan jefferson
litchfield park, AZ
8/14/2013

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Re: color lights on PHX Sub. SP, never wanting to spend a dime where it didn't have to, kept the 1926 Style B semaphore as operational as possible right up to the end, but lightning strikes and worn out parts would claim the old timers here and there. That's why you see the SafTran "bankruptcy signals" on the east end...the flags they replaced were kaput! Some of the flags on the west end are truly paradoxical...a 1895-design semaphore with its battery charged by a photovoltaic panel.

DeserTBoB
Nunya, CA
5/27/2014

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This line Is still in use that runs out west of phoenix,arizona is still in use for hickmans chicken Farms near Arlington,Arizona, the UP drops off Grains cars!!

michael
phoenix, AZ
7/2/2016

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Latest word I got from a UP signalman as of 6/16 was that there are no plans to reopen past where the signals have been updated, account the economy is too shaky to justify it. I also understand that the yard outside of Buckeye which had been proposed & land purchased is on hold @ this time as well. I've been waiting for this to get hot for 10 years, and time after time plans seem to fall through on it. Used for storage of grain cars last time I was out there this past May.

Stan Jefferson
Litchfield Park , AZ
7/13/2016

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