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Reporting from the tracks

New Mexico Rail Runner
New Mexico Rail Runner

It’s a Wednesday morning, and the New Mexico Rail Runner Express presents a smorgasbord of snacking children, camera flashes, gimmicky tourist cowboy hats and the unmistakable crinkling sounds of unfolded, then refolded, maps. A handful of bowed head locals immerse themselves in the faint glow of a laptop screen, but the average age of rider seems to be about seven.

We leave the city and pass mobile homes, parking lots of eighteen-wheelers and neat stacks of bricks and cement blocks waiting for transport. A cluster of horses snooze under the shade of a lone tree, and a shirtless older man pushes a wheelbarrow through the hay brown fields.

The train jostles past the snarled mess of mangled electronics at the dump before gliding sweetly past white linens hanging on a laundry line. Shrubs like cotton balls dot the twisting mesas and low hills.

Eventually the buzz of just-boarded passengers dies down to a reasonable murmur. I sit back in the red canvas seat and settle in to research the budget deficit facing this train.

The Rio Metro Regional Transit District Board voted on June 17 to eliminate weekend train service, starting at the end of August. They also plan to replace the early morning northbound and southbound trains with a bus service due to the limited number of pre-dawn commuters.

The schedule changes reflect an attempt to alleviate the $1.2 million budget shortfall this year. Since the train was completed in 2008, it received federal money labeled Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Funds. The funds’ three year expiration date just passed, leaving us to grapple with serious deficit.

Some people argue the Rail Runner is money pit that will never even earn enough money to cover the start up cost. Others say that trains are the wave of the future and encourage growth in cities.

Attempts to raise fares have met with resistance since part of the train’s appeal lies in its laughably cheap ticket cost. With my student ID, I paid $6 for a round trip. That’s only half the cost for lunch in Santa Fe.

Personally I love the ease, convenience and affordability the train offers and will continue to ride it as long as it’s around. Plus, I could never have written this article on I-25.

 

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