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.