Featuring The Little Engine That Did
To celebrate our 25th year properly here at the Weekly Alibi, we're conducting a series of interviews with local businesses and institutions that we've grown with and that have contributed to the growth of our wonderful city.
Our second interview isn't an interview at all. Staff Writer Joshua Lee claims he tried to speak with an actual train, but that the beast was too focused on its job to bother with conversation. Instead, he did some digging to find out how this 13-year-old project came about ...
Hey, Millenials! Can you believe there was actually a time when people had to drive to Santa Fe? In their own cars, no less! Well, gather around, kids, it's time your Uncle Joshie told you a little story about a Governor who had a dream no one wanted to see realized. This here's the tale of the N.M. Rail Runner Express (or what I like to call “The Little Engine That Did”):
Back in 2003, a passenger rail line was still just a thought hovering over the minds of the state's leaders. Governor Bill Richardson—who would go on to serve as US Ambassador to the United Nations, Energy Secretary for the Clinton administration and even a presidential candidate for a few moments after being the Governor of New Mexico for two terms (he was also part of a corruption scandal involving some dirty campaign money)—pushed to get the Runner built using state highway funds. That year, NMDOT and MRCOG received federal grants for the project and the State Legislature passed a bill for transportation improvement that included the Rail Runner.
The big idea was to build a rail service that would connect the major urban centers along the Central New Mexico corridor, pumping some much-needed funds into the state while making travel for taxpayers cheaper and easier. In 2006, the Rail Runner officially went into service. It connected ABQ to Sandoval County, and all under a cute and sleek brand. The track was built mostly on existing freight lines and by 2008, it reached Santa Fe and cost nearly $400 million.
But by 2010, ticket sales started dropping, and the state's Republicans were starting to grumble about the money involved. “Where are the people who are supposed to be riding this thing?” They asked. And the drain on the transportation budget was affecting road maintenance. But the line was never killed.
However, as recently as 2015, the Department of Transportation was being criticized for the fact that the Runner was clearly making less money than it was spending. And despite the free WiFi and modern design, my neighbor told me riding on it was “gross.”
“What do you mean?” I asked him.
“I don't know” He shrugged. “It's just gross.”
I don't know if he's really the most reliable source, to be honest. I have the suspicion that he probably never set foot on the Runner. And here's the deal: You'll never know until you ride the thing.
Maybe it's just the survivor syndrome talking, but I get the feeling that people around here maybe exaggerate some things a little. Tell you what. I'll make a deal with you. Pack a lunch, spend a day on the rails, and if you come home pissed off, write your congresswoman about it and tell her that Uncle Joshie really pissed on your day.
Here: I'll make it easy for you.
The amount passengers pay for a ticket will be determined by the distance they travel. There are six zones along the 100-mile corridor between Santa Fe and the City of Belen. To figure out your fare, count how many zones you will be traveling through using the map and chart. Youths ages 10-17, students with a valid ID, seniors over the age of 62 and those with disabilities pay reduced fares. (Example: Riding from Downtown ABQ to the Santa Fe Depot means you cross five zones. That's $9 for a one-way trip or $10 for a day pass.)
There are six stations in the ABQ metro zone. Starting from the south:
Isleta Pueblo (NM Highway 47 and Tribal Road 15, Isleta Pueblo)
Bernalillo County (113 Rio Bravo SE)
Downtown ABQ (100 First Street SW)
Montaño (130 Montaño Road NW)
Los Ranchos/Journal Center (101 El Pueblo NE)
Sandia Pueblo (NM Highway 313 and NM Highway 556, Sandia Pueblo)