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)
Board the Rail Runner for a dining-heavy day trip to our state’s capital
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Reporting from the tracks
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.
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.
Answer Me This
Track Marks: The Burning Man Editon
Blackrock City can kiss my ass. Santa Fe's been burning a giant dude to for way longer and with a lot less hippie.
Yuppers, it's Zozobra time (I want to put that in all caps because I'm so excited). Zozobra is the best day ever in Santa Fe. We all gather on a baseball field and send our gloom away by burning Zozo, or Old Man Gloom.
Side note: Someone tweets under the Old Man Gloom moniker and it's hilarious.
Anyway, Burque, I know you all want to come but driving back after the excitement of seeing a giant puppet go up in flames is a lot. So don't. I mean, come to Zozobra, but don't drive home. You can't crash at my house but you can ride the Rail Runner from the Santa Fe Depot at 11 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 9
Fort Marcy Park, Santa Fe
Track Marks: I say don't drink and drive, you might spill your drink
Use it. Please.
Track Marks: No Peeking
As an avid fan of all things smart-assy, I’ve found myself reading Gawker as of late. (Admitting this is somewhat painful because I truly don’t care about Lindsay Lohan’s latest jail sentence but the barbs are just so damn good I can’t help myself.)
Of Gawker’s many writers, Adrian Chen is just my kind of wise-ass. So yesterday, when I read that some site I’d never heard of called 4chan was publishing his personal info I got curious about the site, but not enough to look it up. Today it seems that users of the site actually shut Gawker down for awhile, though it still came through in RSS without pictures and Gawker’s Twitter feed was just fine.
The curiosity got to me and I tried to go to 4chan to see what it was. No dice, as I was on the Rail Runner’s internet connection. This message came through: Based on your corporate access policies, access to this web site ( http://4chan.org/ ) has been blocked because the web category "Adult/Sexually Explicit" is not allowed.
No porn on the train I guess. In the past I’ve also noticed that Pirate Bay is blocked as well. Guess the New Mexico Department of Transportation doesn’t want you torrenting or looking at dirty pictures. Bummer.
Anyway, I finally made it to the Alibi offices, where apparently I can look at all the porn I want and finally got 4chan to load. Holy ‘90s Batman. I haven’t seen a message board like this since high school, when I decided the internet wasn’t for me.
Adrian Chen, I have new respect for you. Not only are you hilarious, but you figured this site out, which means you’re a super nerd too!