San Pedro and Southwestern Railroad 10th anniversary

November 6, 2013

Dana Cole / San Pedro Valley News-Sun

The San Pedro and Southwestern Railroad, a short-line railroad that runs from Benson to Curtiss, an old rail station near Apache Powder Road, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.

About 40 people attended the invitation-only event, with members of the Benson/San Pedro Valley Chamber of Commerce, city council, city staff and SPSR family members on hand to celebrate the railroad’s 10 years of operation under David Parkinson.

When Parkinson purchased the line from RailAmerica, he initially intended to provide trans-border rail service with Mexico at Naco, but that plan never materialized. At one time the train ran a little more than 76 miles, with its main track from Benson to Paul Spur west of Douglas, as well as a Bisbee Branch that extended into Bisbee in support of mining operations. However, the line now stops at Curtiss, with the rail primarily transporting supplies to Apache Nitrogen for operations at that facility.

During the celebration, Tom Foster, general manager of the railroad’s sister company, Coos Bay Railroad, read the following message on behalf of Parkinson, who was in Afghanistan at the time of the celebration.

“So, I was present in Benson on Nov. 1, 2003 when the Arizona Railroad Group took ownership of SPSR (previously SWKR). It has been my sincere privilege to be involved with the railroad for nearly its entire history,” Parkinson stated in his message, adding the following.

“A railroad runs on tracks, has equipment, uses fuel and lubricants and generates reams of printed paper. But it is the people that make a railroad. I’m proud to say that I am associated with the professionals of the San Pedro and Southwestern Railroad.

“Happy 10th anniversary and best regards from Kabul, Afghanistan.”

SPSR operations manager Richard Archunde echoed some of Parkinson’s comments. “We have six employees and have a great group of people here. We’re the best short-line in the west,” he said with a smile. “We transport freight to Curtiss, which is about seven-and-a-half miles from here. At one time SPSR was a passenger and freight line, but is now strictly used for freight.”

Paul Thomas, vice president of rail operations, said there are plans to grow the line, with hopes of bringing more business to Benson. “We want to become an integral part of the community,” he said. As part of that, SPSR recently purchased two metal logos, which were mounted at the Benson Visitor Center on Thursday with the other rail logos on display there, depicting the town’s history with the railroad industry.

Thursday’s event was catered by Chef Michael, featured live music by local musician Mick Flaherty and rides on a “Speeder car,” a rail maintenance vehicle once used by the railroad industry to inspect tracks and transport equipment. The Speeder car belongs to Larry Crouch, a friend of SPSR and one of the guests at the celebration.

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