The Northbound Train
A portion of the track under the Rail Runner's wheels was built by Burlington Northern more than 100 years ago.
As passengers approach Santa Fe, the century-old track meets freshly laid track in Waldo Canyon. The train carves across one of the canyon's fingers and climbs to the top of the escarpment. Riders can gaze at junipers and grazing cows—or their laptops—before the Rail Runner begins its run down the median of I-25.
Service to Santa Fe began Wednesday, Dec. 17.
"The most amazing thing about the corridor is, quite frankly, the ride itself," says Lawrence Rael, executive director of the Mid-Region Council of Governments.
The Rail Runner will probably never make money, Rael says. Transportation systems across the country are not designed to bring in the big bucks—or even to pay for themselves. "If they were, the private sector would be operating them," he adds. Ticket fees won't cover the operational costs. The 100 miles of commuter rail from Belen to Santa Fe ended up costing about $400 million for everything—track, stations, trains—and that's the most inexpensive project of this magnitude in the country, Rael says. "It was designed to move people and give people choices."
The Alibi spoke with Rael for answers to frequently asked questions about the trip from Albuquerque to Santa Fe.
How long is the trip?
Traveling from Downtown Albuquerque to Downtown Santa Fe takes about an hour and 20 minutes. The train travels at 79 mph.
Will the train ever run on weekend nights so I can party in Santa Fe?
The Friday schedule shows the last northbound train leaving Albuquerque at 6:35 p.m. and the final train from Santa Fe heading back down around 9:30 p.m. On Saturday evenings, a late train will depart from Albuquerque at 9:29 p.m. and from Santa Fe at 11:15 p.m.
Rael says he wants to get more late-evening trains moving for special events, like the Santa Fe Opera and Lobo and Isotopes games. Basic commuter service had to come first, he adds.
How many people are expected to ride the train to Santa Fe?
Rael says the ridership was expected to double when the route to Santa Fe opened on Wednesday, Dec. 17. About 3,000 people used the Rail Runner trains daily before they connected to Santa Fe. He anticipates between 6,500 and 7,000 from now on.
Will the route initially be overcrowded?
"I hope so," Rael laughs. He acknowledges there will probably be plenty of passengers crowding into trains' standing-room areas during the early weeks of the route. He may add a few passenger cars until the novelty wears off. When things settle down, he anticipates using four cars per locomotive.
Does the Rail Runner have wireless?
No. Rael says the Rail Runner is in the process of putting wireless Internet on the trains. He would like to see it in place by the summer of 2009. There are outlets on the trains for laptops.
Is food allowed on the trains?
There are no vending machines, but you are allowed to bring food as long as you clean up after yourself.
Can I bring my bike?
How about my dog/cat/iguana?
Pets are not allowed. Seeing-eye dogs and other assistance animals are permitted.
Will the train pull cargo?
It's not legal for passenger trains to move freight.
Are there any restrictions on how much I can bring with me on the train?
No. There are luggage racks. Since it's a public transportation system, it's subject to Homeland Security rules about firearms and flammable fluids, etc.
Is it climatized?
Yes. Expect comfortable temperatures.
Do the windows open?
Where can I get tickets?
Online at nmrailrunner.com, at the station or on the train itself. You can pay for your ticket after you've boarded. A ticket-seller will swing by your seat. You cannot buy tickets over the phone. Monthly and yearly passes are available. Students and seniors can get discounts. Children under 10 ride for free.
Are other Rail Runner stops in the state seeing much action?
The parking lot in Los Lunas has been expanded three times. The lots in Belen and Bernalillo have also been expanded to accommodate riders.
Will my car be safe when I leave it behind to get on the train?
Parking lots are monitored by camera, as are all the stations and platforms.
Where will the Rail Runner go next?
There's talk of researching the corridor to Las Cruces to find out if it's economically feasible to send the Rail Runner down there. The road from Santa Fe to Española is often congested, so that might be next for the state's commuter train.