Thursday, October 05, 2006

Rolling Down The Rails in New Mexico

New Mexico announced yesterday, October 4, 2006, that the Rail Runner commuter currently running from Downtown Albuquerque to Bernalillo with one intermediate stop will continue on the current schedule for the time being. Extension of the service to Isleta, Los Lunas, and Belen has been pushed back to November 1, 2006, at the earliest. Also pushed back is the seemingly simple process of charging to ride the train.

As it becomes more clear that the state and Mid-Region Council of Governments overreached and underplanned, the service seems to be doing a bang-up job of attracting free riders.

The extension of service south of Albuquerque hinges on getting rail that must be installed to upgrade the freight-only tracks that haven't seen a passenger train between Isleta and Belen since before Amtrak. The order didn't get in soon enough to guarantee delivery before the proposed start date, and New Mexico doesn't have the bidding power to outbid the Chinese or the Class Ones for the existing supplies. Rail has been in short supply forever, and it has something to do with the fact that there is only one viable rail plant in the United States and that most steel production has migrated overseas. Outfits like BART, which has an RFP out for over $4M of running rail, have more clout than New Mexico will see in a long time.

Although the state may have made amends with its other Class One, Union Pacific, by promising to cancel the railroad fuel tax by 2007, it is still in the doghouse for its sweetheart deal to buy the otherwise virtually useless Raton Pass route from BNSF Railway. UP will build (when it is ready to) an engine service facility and transfer facility in Santa Theresa, NM, near the Mexico border. UP must have felt like the odd man out when BNSF snookered the taxpayers on the Raton Pass line, so they must be happy to have snookered the taxpayers of NM on suspending the fuel tax with promises of new jobs in the southern tier.

That has nothing to do with passenger rail, however, unless somebody gets wise and realizes that there is more potential in Commuter Rail in and around El Paso than there is around Albuquerque.

Meanwhile, BNSF will continue with its now well-along plans to upgrade and double-track Abo Canyon. This will be one of the last portions of the transcon to double-track.

If Amtrak survives the next two years of Bush Admin, we predict that the Southwest Chief will be using the Belen cutoff and exchanging stops in Colorado and northern New Mexico for stops in Amarillo, TX and Clovis and Belen, NM, where we Albuquerque idiots (Mayor Martin Chavez included) who didn't build Amtrak a new station (along with our tranportation center) will have to drive to get on board. Perhaps there will be parking near the Amtrak station in Belen.

It's an interesting time in which to observe Passenger Rail in NM. (Yes, Virginia, New Mexico is a part of the United States of America.)

Next time: What else didn't get planned?

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

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