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 -

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Mister Trains to States: Put Your Money Where Your Tracks Are

We pray that the Illinois experience holds true. (See this article.) If, indeed, it does, this is just more proof that the transportation user (taxpayer) wants and will use good Passenger Rail transportation if given the chance.

The Illinois example is clear and easy to follow. The rail routes must make sense. (Bill Richardson please listen.) The service must be convenient and timely, and the trains must not be what a C & O railroad president once described as "rolling tenements."

To make sense, the routes are just commuter rail unless the endpoint cities are big enough, have desirable destinations, and have a demographic that understands what public transportation is about.

To be convenient, the service must have station start, stop and endpoint times that the majority of users what to use, and the stations must be located in desirable areas with good public feeders and/or park and ride facilities.

To be timely, the schedules must be followed and the operating railroads must not be willing to prioritize freight over passenger. Amtrak can't do this in most areas.

To be more than rolling tenements, the trains should be new, not refurbished, and certainly not Amtrak hand-me-downs.

We are still studying the newly designated route for the New Mexico Rail Runner, and will have further comments at a later date.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, February 11, 2007

What Kind of Idiot . . ?

This writer is not a civil engineer, but we know something about civil engineering. That makes us eminently qualified to comment on the following:

The Middle Rio Grande Council of Governments and the State of New Mexico (read presidential candidate Bill Richardson) has chosen the route for NM Rail Runner to get from Bernalillo, Sandoval County to the state capital, Santa Fe.

With a tip of our engineer's hat, we graduate to a higher level of invective - from dunderheads to idiots, because MRCOG has chosen a route up the middle of Interstate 25 to get close enough to downtown Santa Fe.

We have commented on this routing before, and it really does not take a civil engineer to see that construction costs will be higher. They are going to have to build in a right-of-way that wasn't originally designed for rail, let alone heavy rail, and there will be heavy costs in relocating lanes (if only temporarily) and bridging and tunneling.

We will be doing more research to back up our comments, but without having done so, we will only say that we suspect that the lower cost of land acquisition will not offset the higher construction costs. The necessary land to make all new right-of-way until a connection is made with the Santa Fe Southern will be cheap until it gets very close to Santa Fe. And New Mexico has never been bashful in using eminent domain.

Most importantly, Bill Richardson needs this project to be well underway in case he starts winning in the Democrat primaries.

Over the next few weeks, we will re-read the reports and try to do some research so that we can comment further.

For now, our reaction to this choice is and remains, "What kind of idiot?"

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Passenger Rail is trending to:

Less of the Federal funding pie going to intracity transit. Rapid transit and light rail on dedicated right of way will continue to grow, however. Local governmental transit districts will to more of the funding.

Light rail growing as a rebirth of streetcars or the equivalent.

More full-size commuter rail on both owned and shared (with freight rail) right of way.

Commuter rail for cities that never had commuter rail before the freight railroads gave up on passengers.


Computerization. (Big surprise.)

The eventual dissolution or complete restructuring of Amtrak. Alex Kummant will not be able to do anything that drastically different. As we swing into a Democrat political cycle there will just be more of the same. There is no trend to tell us what post-Amtrak heavy passenger rail will look like. But . . .

Interest on behalf of private enterprise running passenger trains. Could we be looking at government owned infrastructure with trains owned and operated by private enterprise under franchise?

A higher density of service in any case. More people in more seats going more miles by Passenger Rail of one kind or another.

The trend is good.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -