Monday, March 27, 2006

Consider A Two-Seat Ride

For some rail commuters, there has never been a one-seat ride into central Manhatten. New Jersey Transit (NJ Transit) has many routes or combinations of routes that require a change at Secaucus or Hoboken. Some riders have no choice but to make a change, while others do have a choice of a one-seat ride. NJ Transit has recently considered proposals to add another tunnel under the Hudson so that one or more lines may be re-routed onto the island. The cost is astronomical and so is the lead time.

There is no realistic way to predict traffic patterns far enough in advance to know that the right decision has been made. Commuters now needing to get to offices on Wall Street may need to get from Metuchen to New Providence ten years from now. We just can't tell.

Step downwards in system size to New Mexico Rail Runner. It seems that absolutely the only routing to Santa Fe being considered is a one-seat ride from Albuquerque that will require enormous investments in right-of-way, grading, and track engineering. It may even require tunnels! Again, the cost is astronomical and so is the lead time. Even though Gov. Bill Richardson has been able to push through a project in record time, any remaining routes will have to stand for themselves whether Rail Runner in its current form stands or falls.

Why not a two-seat ride into The City Different. (For non-New Mexicans, this appellation seems either complimentary or derrogatory depending on which color of the political spectrum you sit. For New Mexicans, the term is accepted as truth.) The state is going to buy the old AT&SF line, so getting to either Kennedy (a railroad place, not a town, near milepost 844) or Lamy is a relatively easy proposition. The two points are separated by about 5 miles along the line, with the latter more distant from Albuquerque.

There are two existing rights of way into Santa Fe. The first is an existing roadbed from the defunct New Mexico Central with an easy grade into Santa Fe. If it were not for the fact that the final four miles or so have been obliterated by development, this would be a no brainer. But with the current property values in Santa Fe, astronomical doesn't even begin to describe the cost of land acquisition. (Some of the right of way goes near the current state government complex, and the promise of a station stop there makes this one politically correct.)

The second is the current Santa Fe Southern, which is the original AT&SF branch, the one the railroad built when it became apparent that it was too costly to run the main line through its namesake city. It is not a low grade line and has way too many degrees of curvature for a train the likes of Rail Runner.

HOWEVER (BENEFITS)

A. It is owned by the state. B. It has track and is operational. C. It ends in downtown Santa Fe. D. Traffic on the line is minimal. E. It also goes through the government complex, so the rest of us will have to stop there just because the politicians want it to stop there. (And don't tell me we will stop giving government cars to the state employees who already have them. I won't believe you.)

Here's how the two-seat ride would work on Santa Fe Southern: Rail Runner either buys light, high tractive effort self-propelled railcars or buys light, high tractive effort electric railcars and builds overhead wire. Passengers going to Santa Fe ride the diesel powered Rail Runner to Lamy and transfer to the light railcars. The light cars run singly or in two-unit sets and negotiate both the grade and the curves expeditiously. The taxpayers save a lot of money by not having to pay for new track and grade. Maybe we can kick in for a nice transfer station at Lamy, which is still also an Amtrak stop as long as the Southwest Chief exists.

Don't worry if Gene Hackman or Shirley MacLaine don't care to change trains, they will keep using their limos and their BMWs. This is way good enough for the rest of us.

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