| For Immediate Release: July 28, 2006
Michelle T. Harrington, Rivers Program Director, 602-628-9909
San Pedro Railroad Abandonment Approved
PHOENIX—The rail line that has run along the banks of the San Pedro River for more than 100 years will be retired according to a decision published July 26 by the Surface Transportation Board. The Center for Biological Diversity had filed a lawsuit against the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) in June for failing to perform an environmental review considering the impacts of continued railroad operations in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.
After several years of little or no service on the line, Sonora-Arizona International, LLC, offered to purchase the railroad and restart operations. The current owner, San Pedro Railroad Operating Company, LLC, planned to retire the 76.2 miles of railroad line between the border and Benson in Cochise County. The financial transaction was to be finalized by July 12, but the offer was withdrawn.
“We couldn’t be happier. At the end of the day, the tracks are coming out. Now begins the process of determining whether or not the rail bed will be converted to a trail,” said Michelle Harrington, Rivers Program Director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Sonora-Arizona had revealed operational plans that entailed increased development along the border, increased rail traffic on the lines and transport of hazardous materials close to the ecologically rich San Pedro River. These changes in operation and potential impacts were not analyzed by the STB before giving approval of the sale of the rail line on May 3, 2006.
“The Center was very concerned that a return of rail cars to the tracks would harm the San Pedro River and National Conservation Area. The increase in development in the area and along the border would have added stress to the river, and the prospect of toxic cargo traveling beside the San Pedro was unthinkable. A spill would have been disastrous,” said Harrington.
San Pedro Railroad originally petitioned the federal government to abandon the deteriorating rail line and salvage the steel tracks, opening the railroad corridor for a rails-to-trails project. The trail project received support from Cochise County and the Bureau of Land Management.
“The San Pedro River and the citizens in these communities as well as tourists will all benefit from a trail system. Access to hikers and birders will bring additional tourism dollars to the area. And best of all, the San Pedro will be showcased as the treasure it is,” said Harrington.
The San Pedro is the last surviving desert river in the southwest. Congress recognized its importance in 1988 with the creation of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. It provides the most intact habitat in the world for the endangered Huachuca Water Umbel, and is prized for its outstanding diversity of migratory birds, wildlife and cottonwood-willow forest.
Link to the Surface Transportation Board’s July 26 decision:
The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization with over 25,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and habitat.