ARIZONA

Each year, close to 5 million tourists flock to Grand Canyon National Park. Rafting enthusiasts have to wait up to 18 years for a chance to boat the Canyon, and on the Rim, solitude - and even parking spaces - are hard to come by (HCN, 12/21/98: Grand Canyon Gridlock). In an effort to reduce the visitor squeeze on the South Rim, the park decided to lock out cars and speed visitors in with a light-rail train system. But now, the idea has hit the skids.

Because construction of a light-rail system would be extremely expensive - $145 million to $195 million - the Park Service initially proposed contracting the project out to a concessionaire, who would then recoup its costs through a transit fee added to the $20 park entrance fee. But in 2000, park visitation decreased by 2.5 percent and the Park Service announced that light-rail costs may be greater than originally anticipated. After a visit to the park last November, Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, then chairman of the Interior subcommittee on appropriations, directed the park to consider using buses instead.

Dave Simon of the National Parks Conservation Association said his group supports light rail and advocates a federal subsidy for the project. He believes buses will not be enough to handle the Grand Canyon's heavy traffic. "There would have to be a bus leaving the parking lot every 45 seconds," he says.

Jim Tuck, Grand Canyon's transportation director, stresses that the park isn't abandoning the light rail idea but rather "revisiting the issue of how we move folks." The park will report its findings to Congress on June 1.