Sunday, June 03, 2007

Buy It and They Will Go Away

We don't particularly like sour grapes and I-told-you-sos. But that's exactly how we feel about the recent announcement by BNSF Railway that it will cease freight operations on the Raton Pass line. The railroad and local press have tried to sugar coat it, but we saw it coming. We tried to warn the public via an Op-Ed back when it was announced that the State of New Mexico would have to put up an extraordinary amount insurance to guarantee that BNSF Railway would not have to pay up on any lawsuits arising from the operation of New Mexico Rail Runner on tracks still operated and controlled by BNSF.

The sugar coating: Well, we have talked about the interest of Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico in putting together north-south passenger service along the front range and down through the passes into the Rio Grande Valley. So the silver-lines sugar coating is that New Mexico will eventually have to have the Raton Pass line intact for that Passenger Rail service to happen. (See our previous blogs Poor Stepchild, Here's a Twist, and Big Plans.)

How intact will it be? The dark side of the silver lining is that BNSF will no longer dispatch trains over this stretch of track. We don't know the exact details of the purchase agreement, so we don't know for sure whether BNSF is required to continue maintenance on the line and at what cost. It will certainly be more costly for BNSF if they no longer have maintenance crews on the ground in this area, and it will certainly eventually cost New Mexico more money to keep the tracks and road bed viable. (At this time, it is not known whether this means that BNSF will also not use the line that runs from Isleta - site of an infamous Santa Fe passenger wreck - to Dallies, where the Transcon splits from the actual line over Raton. Nor is it clear if BNSF still wants to serve customers on this line in Albuquerque.) It is likely that increased costs for maintenance of a dead railroad will be passed on to New Mexico taxpayers.

What about Amtrak? Yes, Amtrak still dispatches the Southwest Chief over Raton, and it will keep doing this for the foreseeable future. As of January 2008, the State of New Mexico will own this line, unless it rescinds the contract and demand's its money back. We don't see that happening. So Amtrak will be the only tenant for every mile north of Galisteo (if that's where Rail Runner's new ROW actually cuts off), and Amtrak will pay who exactly to operate it's trains? New Mexico has the option of starting its own shortline, and Mister Trains, for one, would be very glad to be in on the ground floor of that enterprise.

One possibility is the Santa Fe Southern, also state owned, which runs from Lamy into Santa Fe on the old Santa Fe branch. But we would hope for a completely new operation, one that would take advantage of all the potential customers now shipping by truck from the Albuquerque Area, and one that would bring back freight service to Kirtland AFB and Sandia National Laboratory as well as the heavy duty movie soundstages now almost complete in the Mesa Del Sol area. An old branch up Tijeras Creek would be the jumping off point for an extention of track into Mesa Del Sol and perhaps even for Passenger Rail service there at a later date.

Yes, all this takes money. But if the State of New Mexico is going to buy a railroad, in our book ,it damn well better want to operate one when given the opportunity.

Get out and ride, watch, or just listen to a train!

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -
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