Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Just Right and Just OK

While we would like this blog to cover all passenger rail in the United States and invite global comments, we find ourselves talking about RailRunner, the New Mexico commuter rail project, over and over again. Perhaps it is because the approach taken by NM Gov. Richardson invites criticism. Perhaps it is because the project is now indefinitely behind schedule. We are now four months past when Willie the Wet (see Rose Bowl Parade float) said we would have operating trains.

The trains sit in the bright Albuquerque sunshine south of the remaining Santa Fe shop buildings right about where the roundhouse used to be. The tracks needed to run the trains still belong to BNSF Railway. There is a draft agreement that calls for a horrendous burden of liability coverage and an enormous escrow for the same purpose if NM is to buy the tracks from Belen, NM to the Colorado border. There is a draft opinion that Willie wishes the AG, Patricia Madrid, would sign and make this coverage and escrow magically legal. (By the way, this writer’s background is in insurance. We know what is horrendous and what isn’t.)

There is a planned schedule that is already inadequate, in this writer’s opinion. More on the schedule later, and also see previous blog. And there are some parking lots being built without stations, because BNSF Railway won’t let Willie and the gang onto the property unless the sale is consummated.

Then there are two articles in the March issue of Trains, articles that make it perfectly clear to anyone interested in rail transportation that there are not enough tracks to carry all the freight trains. This means more heavily used tracks, either by virtue of expansion of track miles, signaling, or increased axle loading.

Why are these articles important? Because New Mexico has three transcontinental rail routes running through the state. Colorado used to have two, now it has one. Arizona has two, Big old Texas technically has only two, but Texas is really an Eastern State masquerading as part of the Southwest. (It has ports that take Atlantic shipping and no rivers that empty into the Pacific.)

The line that Willie is about to buy is one of the three transcontinental routes in NM. But NM is in poor position to capitalize on this unless we begin to recognize that BNSF Railway does not want it shut down. What they want to do is mothball it and save it for when their other transcon through Clovis gets too full. And then NM came along and wants the whole thing, and they are hoping we will invest our money, put in passenger train signaling and maybe some sidings, and then let them use it when they get in a bind. We will also be taking all that beautiful land off the tax rolls in not-so-prosperous NM counties.

(The third route is the Golden State Route from Tucson through El Paso to Tucumcari and beyond.)

Has anyone connected with the proposed purchase stopped to consider that NM is holding all the cards, not BNSF? Maybe, just maybe, we could get a deal wherein the state subsidizes the upgrading of this line in return for a stake in its future use. In the process, we get the right to run passenger trains, with no silly liability conditions other than insuring our own trains. The future use won’t come soon, but it will come. It will come because nowhere in the country can we build enough highways to handle our future economic growth.

If we can’t work a deal like this, maybe we should tell BNSF that we will give them first option to buy it back, when they have the need, in return for waiving the stupid liability rules.

Back to scheduling. The reason the schedule is inadequate is that the line is not signaled for commuter routes and we will have to add sidings and signals to make commuter trains really work, particularly at both ends. (In Albuquerque there are two main tracks.)

Nobody tells the public any of this. If only John Q. Public would read my blog.

© 2006 - C. A. Turek - mistertrains@gmail.com

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