Resurrecting the Rails: New Mexico’s Rail Runner Commuter Train

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I just moved back to my home state of New Mexico not too long ago. As a lot of folks who live in the Southwestern U.S. know, we’re not particularly famous for efficient public transportation out here.

That’s why I was very pleased to learn about the new-ish Rail Runner, which eventually will have service from Belen (south of Albuquerque) to the capital (Santa Fe). This will provide affordable public transport in the most densely populated and fastest growing part of the state.

It appears that Governor Bill Richardson, a presidential candidate, has been a big promoter of this project. Not that I’m endorsing Richardson. Although he would be a hell of a lot better than Hi…whoops!…sorry…on with the post.


Here’s some more info from the Rail Runner website:

Throughout history, railroads in New Mexico have provided an essential transportation infrastructure, and served as powerful economic engines for the area.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has made transportation improvements a cornerstone of his economic development initiatives, and made passenger rail a top priority for his administration. Governor Richardson’s Investment Partnership Plan (GRIP), House Bill 15, was passed in the 2003 special session of the New Mexico State Legislature. GRIP allocated funding for the implementation of commuter rail and marked the official start of the Rail Runner. Rail Runner’s overall plan culminates with service to Santa Fe in 2008.

A great thing is that the Rail Runner minimizes the need for new infrastructure by utilizing existing rail lines. Another factor is that they use diesel, and the state government is considering using bio-diesel to run the locomotives.

The Rail Runner’s five locomotives are diesel-electric MP36PH-3s built by Motive Power Inc. in Boise, Idaho. Rail Runner locomotives produce about 3600 horsepower and are capable of running speeds in excess of 100 mph. Since they run on diesel fuel, the Mid Region Council of Governments is investigating the potential use of biodiesel as a fuel source for the locomotives.

The train is considered part of a larger planned network of public transportation in this area, which should make life easier on the residents of Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Rio Rancho, etc. and ease the traffic in this rapidly sprawling area.

This system is in its infancy, and that certainly shows. There are still not many riders, although I spoke with a friend who is already a big fan and uses it daily. There were also some delays because of an Amtrak train that needed to pass. So, we sat waiting for an extra 20 minutes or so while the track cleared.

Additionally, I hope that there will be more frequent trains and perhaps weekend service. That will of course depend a lot on if people are willing to support the Rail Runner.

I am also guessing that in the surrounding communities, there will be some stimulus of economic activity, as folks take the train as tourists to visit. Right now, you can see a lot of building going on. But in the town of Belen where I decided to get off the train, it was hard to find an internet cafe to do my work and pass the 4 hours before the return train left.

Regardless, I’m happy to see that people are forward thinking enough to get this new commuter train going before central New Mexico becomes too sprawled and a nightmare for commuters.

Now, if we could just do a little something about the actual sprawl.

Scottar August 14, 2009 at 1:01 pm

To date this enviro pipe dream has cost over $400 Million to build. The annual operating costs are $20 million and climbing. Ridership fees only pay about 5% of this.

Much more could have been done with buses and park and ride routs. They would have reached more people and would have been more flexible and less costly.

In most any rail service across the country it has been a subsidized operation that fails to pay it’s way. The same can be said for many other enviro pipe dream darlings such as wind and solar. They just don’t pan out in the long run against competitive technologies such as coal and nuclear. It’s all about the enviro hype of global warming and green energy independence!

Green technologies are OK if done right like passive solar but since the politicians have bought into it special interests have morphed it into money making scheme on an ENRON scale or political euphemistic shills based on public misconception of medicine crow feel-goodness. What they fail to realize is the hidden carbon foot print behind much of the pseudo green technology and it lack of scalability when compared to convention energy sources. It like if elitist people move to a clean upscale community. They still have transportation issues and are generating the same garbage and perhaps even more to maintain the image of upscale cleanness by the color of their lawns and the debris free streets. It’s all hidden behind their rose colored lifestyles and insulated neighborhoods.

Liberal legislators are good at mandating more regulations in the apparent attempt to improve society but show poor civic lifestyles in adherence to those mandates that the rest of the non elites have to live by. You ride the rails while they take the plush SUV coach. It’s a big shill to get votes before people catch on. Beware of hyped, feelgood mandates by shilling politicians of hope and change.

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