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The Nation

Grand Canyon Rail Plan Urged to Curb Auto Use

January 19, 2002|From Associated Press

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A tourist railroad that travels to Grand Canyon National Park is proposing to run an express train as a way to reduce the number of autos traveling to the canyon.

Park officials have been trying to establish a light-rail system to eliminate traffic congestion on the canyon's South Rim, which among other things is contributing to a pollution problem at the park.

The plan by the Grand Canyon Railway would compete with proposals being explored by the National Park Service, which is considering banning private vehicles from the South Rim and shuttling park visitors from Tusayan to the canyon.

Instead of park visitors boarding buses or light rail in Tusayan, six miles away, the railway's plan would have visitors board trains 65 miles away in Williams.

Up to 1 million passengers could be accommodated during the three-month peak summer season, according to railway officials.

"The train would leave Williams and arrive at our existing depot in the park right now," said W. David Chambers, Grand Canyon Railway president. "We think because of that there will be less need for an in-the-park transit system."

The railway's existing depot is in the heart of Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim.

Unloading passengers within walking distance of most attractions would eliminate the need for increased bus service within the park, Chambers said.

But the Flagstaff Innkeepers Assn. isn't ready to support the proposal yet.

The group's president, Ash Patel, said the innkeepers have a number of questions, including whether the railway plans to build a new hotel on property it owns in Williams.

Canyon Forest Village, a proposal to build a hotel and restaurants in Tusayan, was defeated by Coconino County voters in 2000 thanks to efforts by the innkeepers, other professional associations and the communities of Tusayan, Flagstaff and Williams.

It would have been built next to a transit staging area that would see visitors park their vehicles and board either trains or buses for the trip to the South Rim.

One of the main concerns was the new hotel and its 900 rooms would siphon revenue from existing hotels in the gateway cities.

Patel fears a new hotel associated with an express train would do the same to Flagstaff hotels.

Grand Canyon Railway currently runs a hotel at its depot in Williams, but Chambers didn't say whether the company plans to build a new facility.

According to the railway's figures, the express train would bring millions of dollars in new tourist revenue to both Flagstaff and Williams.

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