Monday, October 09, 2006

|||Plan Ahed|||

Last time, we talked New Mexico's railroading future. Between then and now, the Albuquerque Journal published an editorial lauding the investment Union Pacific would make in Santa Theresa, including some facilities that will be moved from El Paso, TX. If you know anything about the geography of the area, El Paso Del Norte may as well be in Nuevo Mexico. This West Texas city of some 565,000 souls provides the only reason for any population density of any kind in the southern third of New Mexico. You may recall our comment last time about commuter rail being more viable thereabouts.

Nonetheless, it was our intention here to discuss how New Mexico just seems to blunder along in its railroad policy, never really knowing where its going. (Speaking of blunders: New Mexico has to cancel its railroad fuel tax by 2009 to make UP happy, not by 2007, as we stated last time.)

Case in point: Rail Runner. It didn't even have a name right away. It was just buy the trains, figure out where we want them to go, and everything will work out. We do believe that Gov. Richardson knew he would buy the Raton Pass line from BNSF Railway. He planned to do that when the railroad contributed to his campaign. Beyond that . . . we don't need no stinking plans.

It seems that nobody realized that tracks would have to be upgraded, switches added, and proper signals installed for passenger trains. Nobody knew how long it would take to build stations, or had even did a study to see how many people would ride. Currently, the management reports that it is waiting for "tracks" to be delivered. (We think they mean rails, but it's possible nobody there knows the difference.)

Because the grant money being used to start the service was readily available and had to be used up, the management took the generous position that they would run the trains for free for the first few months. They are over now, but nobody planned to collect fares. They are trying to figure out how to do it as we write this. Imagine! The train has been running for weeks, but nobody gave any thought to collecting fares!

Everybody wants Rail Runner to go to Santa Fe, a town that has not been a regularly scheduled stop for any railroad since the mid-1960s. There are good tracks into Santa Fe starting at the Raton Pass line near Lamy, NM. There were never any better tracks into Santa Fe; getting rails to a major population center that is at an altitude of 7,000 ft is not easy. Everybody's planning to get Rail Runner into downtown Santa Fe, but nobody has planned how to get there.

Some of the adolescent proposals are made by politicians and not by engineers. One: To run the line up the center of Interstate 25, is laughable. This route would be a major engineering feat and would seriously impact the beauty of the approach to Santa Fe for both rail and highway travelers. The profile could maybe be handled by a trolly, light rail, or rapid transit cars; definitely not by a full sized commuter train. Which is what the state bought before plans were made.

As we have pointed out in this blog before, there are only two realistic alternatives. One, you use the existing line from Lamy, slow trip but workable. Two, you design a transfer point and use light rail on the Santa Fe end, costly but a faster commute in the long run.

Nobody has, as yet, planned for a station in Santa Fe, or for the dozens of NIMBYs and BANANAs. (Santa Fe is the American capital for both.)

Next time: Other plans gone awry.

©2006 - C. A. Turek -
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