RENO - Standing near the bridge north of Fitzgerald's Casino, Phil Metscher of Tonopah was waiting for the train Friday afternoon. He made the journey to Reno because he wanted to see for himself a major step in a project that has been on the drawing board for 60 years.
"I've lived in this area my whole life and I think it's a good thing for the area. I was a little hesitant at first because I thought it would get pork-barreled and they would keep increasing the cost, but they didn't," said Metscher.
After 60 years on the drawing board and six years of debate and construction, Union Pacific sent a freight train carrying vehicles westbound on the north track just after noon.
The opening of the long-debated and controversial Reno Transportation Rail Access Corridor project drew a crowd of residents watching the train from various bridges over the tracks.
"It's great that it's finally done. But it's going to make the downtown revitalize and it will help with the noise and traffic plus make the area much safer. It was much-needed money to give work to a lot of people," said Marco Romero of Reno while waiting to see the train pass underneath him.
Many of those people waited more than two hours as the railroad worked through the technical necessities of sending the first train through the 2.2-mile trench.
The trench cost more than $282 million and will eliminate 11 street-level railroad crossings. Construction began in September 2002 and is scheduled to be completed in Spring 2006. Granite Construction Co. is the general contractor for the project.
The trench's opening culminates years of debate, pitched political battles and completion of construction that is Reno's largest public works project in history.
The trench's average depth is 33 feet and runs from the area near Fourth and Second streets to Sutro and Commercial streets. Fourteen trains a day will be using the trench but the project was sold on the expectation of at least 36 trains daily.
"It's a very big day. It's one we've long waited for," said Reno City Manager Charles McNeely.
The trench opening represents an end to on-and-off efforts dating back to World War II, McNeely said. The current effort began in 1996.
"This time around we were able to get through all the hurdles we were confronted with," McNeely said. "There were a lot of monumental things that had to come together to make this happen."
-- Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1217. The Associated Press contributed to this article.