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Inside the Ride

3 takeaways from a record-setting week on rail

During a sizzling hot week that set new record temperatures in the Valley of the Sun, nearly 1,500 people came to Phoenix from all over the U.S. and 13 countries around world.


Light rail.

Valley Metro hosted the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Rail Conference and International Rail Rodeo June 15-22. It’s considered one of the most prestigious events in the transit industry. But what does that mean for those who live, work and play in metro Phoenix? Read on for three takeaways.

Heat, More Heat and Monsoons

Did you know the Valley of the Sun averages 109 days at 100 degrees or more? Triple digits really set in with a vengeance in mid-June.

So, it was fitting that on a day when the mercury hit 116 degrees that Valley Metro’s Superintendent of Light Rail Vehicle Maintenance talked about excessive weather conditions with maintenance experts from all types of climates. Ken Raghunandan described what it takes to keep light rail trains running in extreme heat and extreme dust.

Valley Metro Rail is designed to withstand our desert’s intense heat. It is one of the only light rail systems operating regularly in 100-plus degree heat.

Still, the sizzling sun and summer weather conditions take their toll on light rail vehicles. Ken said the stress on air conditioning systems is significant as the units work constantly to keep cold air flowing through each 90 foot train as it travels up and down the 26 mile line for up to 22 hours each day.

Ken talked about how temperatures under the console inside the cab can reach a sweltering 160 degrees. Specialized cooling systems had to be created to keep electrical components operating properly. Think doors, lights and brakes - all the things riders expect to work when they board the train.

Another climate challenge here in Arizona – monsoons. Intense dust storms roll through the Valley during the monsoon season leaving everything in their path covered in a thick layer of dust. The dirt and grime can get inside the trains and clog the air conditioning filters, which must be changed monthly.

Ken’s team works year-round to make sure light rail trains are in tip-top shape to carry thousands of passengers to work, school and fun no matter how high the mercury climbs.

Cocktail Culture

On a hot summer night, you can seek relief in the cool comforts of any number of stylish spots along light rail.

One evening during the APTA Rail Conference, visitors had the chance to explore three popular places that opened up shop after light rail started rolling along Central Avenue in Phoenix. The Newton, DeSoto Central Market and Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour have at least one thing in common: they’ve injected new life into iconic and historic locations.

B&T opened in 2014 inside Luhrs City Center at Central and Jefferson in downtown Phoenix. The historic Luhrs Building was Phoenix’s first 10-story high-rise when it opened in 1924. It also housed the former prohibition headquarters of Arizona. 90 years later, it’s a world-renowned cocktail lounge.

Owner Ross Simon said he chose this spot because he wanted to create a cocktail culture in downtown Phoenix. He takes pride in creating a community where people can get together, relax and just be. When you step inside B&T, you’ll notice there are no televisions. That’s by design. Ross wants people to actually talk to each other as they sip and savor his specialty spirits.

B&T is getting plenty of attention here in the Valley and from around the country. It’s the first bar in Arizona to be nominated for the Oscars of cocktails – The Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Award. Tales of the Cocktail is a huge cocktail festival in New Orleans, and the Spirited Awards recognize the best bars and staff from around the world. Cheers to Ross and his team!

The Pride of Rail

When you think rodeo, you probably think boots, chaps and cowboy hats. But the rodeo Valley Metro hosted featured trains, tracks and safety tests.

What exactly is a rail rodeo? It’s a competition that tests the skills and safety knowledge of the men and women who operate and maintain trains.

Nearly 100 competitors from across the country, as well Canada and Japan, came here to showcase their skills. APTA has been holding the rail rodeo for 24 years and this was its biggest ever with 21 teams from cities like San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, D.C., Montreal and Tokyo.

Representing the home team, Valley Metro:

Maintenance technicians Alex, John and Luke work behind-the-scenes each day to make sure all aspects of light rail trains are running safely and smoothly.

You might see operators Bob and Rose when you ride Valley Metro Rail. They’ve been operating trains since rail opened eight years ago. Bob said it had always been a lifelong dream to operate a train. Rose admitted it makes her proud to see how excited riders, especially children, get when the train pulls up to a platform.

Local pride was a common theme throughout the rodeo competition. All of the competitors are proud of what they do and where they live.

And we couldn’t be more proud of Luke, John, Alex, Rose and Bob. They took third place in overall points in the APTA International Rail Rodeo! Kudos also goes to Los Angeles County Metropolitan Authority and Regional Transportation District (Denver) for placing first and second respectively. These men and women, along with all operations staff, are truly the ones who keep safe and reliable service running throughout communities across the country each day of the year.

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