San Pedro and Southwestern Railroad 10th anniversary

Posted on in SPSR News

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.

San Pedro & Southwestern Railroad Marks 10th Anniversary

Posted on in SPSR News

October 31, 2013
Contact: Scott Parkinson 520-631-1447


BENSON, Ariz., Oct. 31—San Pedro & Southwestern Railroad (www.argtrans.com) marks its 10th anniversary on November 3. Based in Benson, Ariz., where it connects with Union Pacific’s Los Angeles-Chicago main line, SPSR began operations in 2003 after acquiring the line from RailAmerica, Inc. (now Genesee & Wyoming, Inc.).

San Pedro & Southwestern’s oldest predecessor goes back 125 years to 1888 when the Arizona and South Eastern Railroad laid 60 miles of track from Benson to Bisbee, Ariz., eventually becoming part of the Southern Pacific.

“We’re proud to have played an integral role developing southeastern Arizona’s economy and being a good neighbor to the towns and cities we serve,” said Paul Thomas, vice president of operations for ARG Transportation Services, SPSR’s parent company. “Our goal is to continue using the resources at hand to grow the business, increase employment, operate in a safe, injury-free manner, and be responsible stewards of our environment.”

ARG Transportation Services also operates the 133-mile Coos Bay Rail Link, headquartered in Coos Bay, Ore.

Coos Bay General Manager Tom Foster thanked attendees and extended anniversary greetings from ARG President Scott Parkinson, who is on active duty with the U.S. Navy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

San Pedro’s customers and city officials joined employees and family members October 24 to celebrate the anniversary with a luncheon catered by Chef Michael Wright, music by Mick Flaherity, and rides on a “Speeder car,” a hi-rail inspection vehicle that belongs to Larry Crouch, a friend of the railroad. Guests included Benson Mayor Toney D. King, Sr. and Councilman Jeff Cook.

SPSR Operations Manager Richard Archunde and Administrative Assistant Ellie Islas were instrumental organizing the anniversary event.

San Pedro & Southwestern’s chief traffic sources are agricultural chemicals, feed grains and building products interchanged with the UP at Benson, Willcox and Casa Grande, Ariz.


Artist will capture Arizona town’s long railroad history with murals

Posted on in SPSR News

September 6, 2013

By Dana Cole, Benson Sun News

BENSON, Arizona — Sitting cross-legged on a cushion, squinting up at an image on a wall at the Benson Visitor Center, an artist puts finishing touches on a mural. It’s a painting of an old train depot in Benson, the first phase in a series of eight walls Doug Quarles will be painting that depict the town’s historic connection with the railroad. It’s a history that got its start when Southern Pacific Railroad first rumbled through Benson in 1880, spawning the town that has since been named “Train Town USA” by Union Pacific in recognition of its support of the railroad industry.

Doug and Sharon Quarles, both artists, recently moved to Benson from Tucumcari, New Mexico, where Doug made a name for himself as an accomplished muralist, creating images throughout the community that highlight Route 66, along with the railroad that once ran through that town and the area’s western heritage. In the 10 years that he and Sharon lived in Tucumcari, Doug painted 40 murals to help revitalize the town of about 5,000, the same population as Benson.

“When the train stopped running through Tucumcari, it left the town depressed, so I had a lot of walls to work with,” Quarles joked. “When I was finished ‘painting up’ the town, I started looking for new projects.”

Quarles first learned of Benson when a friend told him about a group called “Benson Clean and Beautiful,” a committee of volunteers with a mission to beautify and revitalize their town through a range of projects. The committee, chaired by Lisa Hill, expressed an interest in launching historic murals after Hill saw Quarles’ work while visiting Lake Placid, Florida, where his murals were splashed all over town. Impressed by what she saw, Hill returned to Benson and pitched the mural idea to the committee and everyone was on board. The committee hopes to see the project take off once Quarles completes his work at the visitor center, with murals on buildings and businesses all over town.

“As soon as I heard about Benson’s mural project, I was interested,” said Quarles, whose murals at the visitor center are primarily funded through the Clean and Beautiful organization. “This committee has big plans for the project, so we’re hoping people in Benson like the murals well enough to throw their support behind it.”

With the visitor center serving as the project’s launching point, Quarles is using old photos provided by Bob Nilson, director of the city’s tourism department, for the historic renderings. Upon completing the train depot, Quarles will be painting different trains that have traveled through Benson, starting with the Southern Pacific in 1880, proceeding through the years until present day.

The murals will accompany recently mounted metal railroad logos now displayed on the parking lot walls of the visitor center, made possible through a $5,000 grant from Union Pacific Railroad. The logos are of trains that have traveled through Benson at different times, starting with the Southern Pacific which was part of the town’s history from 1880 until 1997, when it was purchased by Union Pacific. Santa Fe Railroad went from Benson, to Fairbank to Nogales from 1881 to 1898. The El Paso and Southwestern had a presence in Benson from 1901 to 1955.

And finally, there’s the Union Pacific Railroad, which travels through the town today. Currently under construction, are logos for the San Pedro and Southwestern, a short line located in Benson that travels south to Curtis. Along with railroad murals, future plans are to have murals scattered throughout Benson, all depicting the town’s history, with walking tours and brochures that tell Benson’s colorful story, Hill said.

The mural project won support from the Benson city council earlier in the summer when Hill presented the idea for council approval. In addition, the council approved a $1,500 request from Benson Clean and Beautiful to help pay for the visitor center’s murals, with most of the funds for the project provided by Clean and Beautiful.

Southeast Arizona Economic Development Group and its Executive Director George Scott also applaud the murals. “The Clean and Beautiful Committee has been around for a number of years now and has accomplished some really great projects for Benson,” said Scott. “I’m glad to see the committee members are getting organized again and working together on a new project that everyone is excited about. The murals are a great idea.”

Each panel takes about two days for Quarles to complete, with cooperative weather. Working from copies of old photographs, he creates a grid which he enlarges to the size of the wall he’s working on. With the grid as his guide, he starts out by sketching an image with charcoal and then paints an outline over the charcoal to protect the sketch from rain. From there, the mural takes on a life of its own as Quarles works his magic.

While Sharon Quarles is not involved with painting the murals, she works behind the scenes researching facts to ensure the artistic renderings are historically correct. “Once people hear about what we’re doing in Benson, I’m hoping the murals generate interest in other areas of Cochise County,” said Doug. “After we paint Benson up, we’ll look for mural projects in other communities. Our goal is to paint up the whole county!”

San Pedro & Southwestern Railroad Named U.S. EPA “SmartWay” Transport Partner

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August 15, 2013


SmartWay Transport Partner LogoBENSON, Ariz., Aug. 15—The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated San Pedro & Southwestern Railroad (www.argtrans.com) as a partner in EPA’s SmartWay® Transport Partnership program.

The Benson, Ariz.-based short line was recognized August 7 for its success in improving both fuel efficiency and environmental performance by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

“This is an exciting development,” said Scott Parkinson, president of ARG Transportation Services, SPSR’s parent company. “We are one of only 18 rail carriers in the nation to earn this distinction.”

SPSR Operations Manager Richard Archunde and Administrative Assistant Ellie Islas were instrumental in gaining this recognition.

Archunde credited SPSR employees. “They have helped us save fuel, lower costs, and reduce adverse environmental impacts.” He noted, compared to trucks, railroads typically move four times more freight per gallon of fuel while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent.

Islas added, “The Smart Way program will help SPSR keep close track of how efficient we are running and help us look into areas to further improve our efficiency from year to year.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, since SmartWay began in 2004, its 3,000 members have saved 65 million barrels of oil, eliminated 28 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, and reduced 478,000 tons of nitrogen dioxide and 22,000 tons of particulate matter.

ARG Transportation Services acquired San Pedro & Southwestern Railroad in November 2003 from RailAmerica, Inc. ARG also operates the 133-mile Coos Bay Rail Link, headquartered in Coos Bay, Ore.

SPSR serves regional businesses in Cochise County from connections at Benson and Willcox, Ariz. with Union Pacific’s Los Angeles-Chicago main line.

San Pedro & Southwestern Railroad Sets 5,000-Day Safety Record

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December 28, 2012


BENSON, Ariz. – The San Pedro & Southwestern Railroad (SPSR) set a new safety record December 23 completing 5,000 days of accident-free operations on the Benson, Ariz. based short line.

“It confirms that San Pedro & Southwestern Railroad employees are totally committed to safety,” said SPSR Railroad Director Peggy Davis.

Scott Parkinson, president of ARG Trans, SPSR’s parent company, noted, “This is a huge milestone and we’re very proud of this achievement.”

San Pedro & Southwestern will celebrate with a special dinner in early January.

In addition, the railroad has earned the coveted “Jake Award With Distinction” for 12 consecutive years. This award is presented annually by the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association to only those railroads that have not had a Federal Railroad Administration reportable employee injury for the entire year.

ARG Trans acquired the line in November 2003 from RailAmerica, Inc. ARG Trans also operates the 133-mile Coos Bay Rail Link, headquartered in Coos Bay, Ore.

SPSR serves regional businesses in Cochise County from connections at Benson and Willcox, Ariz. with Union Pacific’s Los Angeles-Chicago main line.

San Pedro & Southwestern Railroad Starts Serving Central Arizona Commerce Park

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August 22, 2011


CASA GRANDE, Ariz., Aug. 22 — San Pedro & Southwestern Railroad (SPSR www.argtrans.com) began service today to the Central Arizona Commerce Park (CAZCP) in Casa Grande, Ariz. by bringing in a boxcar of newsprint for CAZCP’s first customer, Casa Grande Valley Newspapers.

SPSR has been under contract with developers since 2009 to link the 580-acre industrial park with the Union Pacific main line.

San Pedro & Southwestern Railroad Director Peggy Davis said, “We have been waiting some time now to start this operation and we see this as the beginning of a long, productive partnership.” SPSR will offer switching and ancillary rail services to all Park tenants.

ARG Trans is the parent company of SPSR. ARG Trans President Scott Parkinson said, “The addition of CAZCP to the portfolio of ARG Trans operations is very much in keeping with our strategy of providing customer-focused rail services in the West.”

SPSR, based in Benson, Ariz., was founded in 2003 when it was acquired by ARG Trans from RailAmerica. SPSR interchanges with the Union Pacific at Benson, Willcox and Casa Grande, Ariz. and provides transload facilities at all of its operating locations.  ARG Trans also operates the Coos Bay Rail Link in southwestern Oregon.

Technology To The Rescue?

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The improvements and advances in technologies deployed in the logistics system is one of the leading solutions to dealing with infrastructure challenges. Challenges such as capacity crunches, particularly in metro areas, and the fact that investments haven’t kept pace with demand, can be solved by using technology to get more out of the existing system. “Combining our info tech with our transportation system gives us more visibility and the ability to use our infrastructure 24 hours a day instead of during peak times,” Dowell says.

Dowell says operational issues can also be solved with incentives to encourage off peak pickups and deliveries so that everyone is not using the infrastructure system at the same time. “There are a lot of challenges and obstacles to doing that, but there have been success stories in terms of pilot studies,” she says. “Some companies have been able to successfully implement that.”

Moving beyond technology, there are existing resources that can increase capacities and efficiencies, including the potential of accessing inland waterways to move goods. However, the reason this mode isn’t used more is that it doesn’t quite meet the service requirements shippers demand or need in order to be competitive, Dowell says.

Another mode to consider is rail, where railroad companies are increasing investments in their systems. An example is ARG Trans (formerly Arizona Railroad Co.), which in 2003 purchased the San Pedro & Southwestern Railroad Co. from RailAmerica Inc. The San Pedro & Southwestern’s headquarters, operations and customer service are based at Benson, Ariz. The company moves agricultural chemicals, feed grains and building products. The San Pedro & Southwestern, a subsidiary of ARG, operates a transload facility serving southeast Arizona.

ARG is increasing its rail and related transportation activities in other communities. “We are growing by leaps and bounds,” says Peggy Davis, general manager, San Pedro & Southwestern. This year, ARG became the preferred operator for the 133-mile Coos Bay rail line in Oregon. The Oregon International Port of Coos Bay selected ARG to operate the Coos Bay Rail Link, which is undergoing nearly $24 million in repairs to upgrade the line from 10 mph to between 25 and 40 mph. Partial service of this former Central Oregon and Pacific track, which had been closed since 2007, was expected to begin in the summer, with full operations expected in the fall.