Sunday, February 25, 2007

Following The Santa Fe Trail

More on the subject of New Mexico's Rail Runner commuter/intercity rail experiment and its route into Santa Fe.

All of you can read about this and review the same information we have reviewed by going to the Rail Runner site.

First of all, we are going to start referring to this as an intercity rail project. Why? Because Santa Fe is not a suburb of Albuquerque. This is a commuter project only because the initial customers are likely to be Albuquerque and/or Santa Fe (when it gets there) commuters. But it is (by definition of intercity rail) an intercity rail project. It would be an interurban if it were 1912 and they were stringing catenary or trolly wires above the tracks.

Our review of the initial analysis of the freeway median routing into Santa Fe did not inspire much confidence. We have more to read and review.

But the first thing that struck us was the cavalier way in which the (political entity called) MRCOG compared this project with successful freeway commuter enterprises already in operation. The glaring comparisions used were photographs of Chicago CTA and the Los Angeles Green Line. We say glaring because the comparison targets are both electric rapid transit systems with light cars, power to weight that allows climbing steep grades, and braking systems that are not comparable to Rail Runner. The latter is a diesel heavy rail commuter line more comparable to Chicago Metra than to Chicago CTA - and a Metra train wouldn't be able to run down the Dan Ryan median at rush hour.

The target comparisons are both relatively flat lines on relatively flat highway medians. The Rail Runner is a mountain train and will be running on a mountain freeway median. Just the thought of accounting for the runoff/drainage of the many small streams that are now jumped by simple culverts is a staggering one. Simple culverts will probably not do if you have to fill and wall-retain a two-track right of way on an 80-foot median - particularly if the stream level is at the bottom of the fill. You will also have to support the retaining walls and make sure the alluvial soils that underlie most of the right of way is not ready to make a bee-line down to the Rio Grande. (As it already has in some places along I-25.) We see many fancy bridges in the future of Rail Runner - and fancy means expensive.

The next thing that struck was the recent (2/14/07) news release by Augusta Meyers of MRCOG. Ms. Meyers was formerly a talking head for one of the local news stations and is a well qualified journalist who clearly knows nothing about railroads or civil engineering. The release tells the untruth that Rail Runner is on track to get to Santa Fe by the end of 2008.

It is the beginning of March 2007, and there has not been a shovel turned for this freeway-median extension. If we are going to ride this train, we would like the engineers to take more than a month or two to design the project.

It will require at least one tunnel or bridge (near La Bahada Hill - translated as "the hill hill") and another bridge near the cutoff to the Santa Fe Southern line into The City Different. It will require a whole lot of retaining walls and cuts to maintain a grade that is useable by a heavy-rail train, and it will require another whole lot of lane relocations and traffic diversions to get this done - not to mention the above feats of civil engineering design and construction for cuts and fills and water runoff. The tunnel at La Bahada could be a strikingly expensive one.

It ain't gonna happen by December 2008.

More on this at a later date.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

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