Phoenix enters light-rail era

PHOENIX - Thousands of people packed into train cars yesterday as this car-crazy city launched its new light-rail system amid criticism that ridership would be limited by urban sprawl and the area's grueling summer heat.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Mayor Phil Gordon scoffed at critics who said the system was a waste of money. "Today, you don't hear or see very many of those individuals," he said.

Christopher Robinson, who plans to use the trains because he doesn't own a car, said the trains were appealing because fares would be cheaper than buying gas. But he also thought people would be drawn to it for cultural cache. "I think that people in Arizona want to know what it really feels like to be a New Yorker," Robinson said. "This is their little taste."

The $1.4 billion start-up line, which took nearly four years to build, runs from north-central Phoenix through downtown and then east through suburban Tempe and Mesa. More than 30 miles are planned to open in Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa and Glendale by 2025.

- AP

Bigger risk seen in coal-ash spill

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Authorities need to more strongly warn residents that muck left from a major coal-ash spill in eastern Tennessee could pose health risks, a southern environmental group said yesterday.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said Friday that the mixture of coal fly ash and water coating a neighborhood near the Kingston Fossil Plant did not pose an immediate risk to residents unless they ingested it.

But Stephen Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said officials should more strongly encourage residents to avoid the sludge that surrounds their homes. About 5.4 million cubic yards of coal fly ash, a byproduct of burning coal, broke out of a retention pond Monday, flooding nearby homes.

- AP

Life savings lost and found

IRVINE, Calif. - The box of crackers Debra Rogoff bought from the grocery store had some crackerjack in it - an envelope stuffed with $10,000. Yet the Irvine woman was more curious than ecstatic about her daughter's find.

"We just thought, 'This is someone's money,' " she said. "We would never feel good about spending it." Rather than go on a shopping spree, the family called police and was initially told the money could be part of a drug drop.

Police later heard from store managers at Whole Foods in Tustin, Calif., that an elderly woman had come in a few days earlier, hysterical because she had mistakenly returned a box of crackers with her life savings inside. In a lucky mixup, the store had restocked the box rather than composting it.

- AP

Elsewhere:

A tour bus overturned

late Friday in an icy area of central New Mexico, killing two people and injuring at least 50 others. The Torrance County Sheriff's Department said the bus, from El Paso, Texas, was traveling north on U.S. 54 near Corona when the driver lost control.