Amtrak breaks Mayor Marty's heart

Says cash on table would improve relations

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Last Friday's (Dec. 16) Albuquerque Journal provided a lengthy and well-written cover story on Amtrak's ghetto-boy status in Albuquerque by Journal staff writer (and, apparently, closet rail advocate) Toby Smith. The snappy, impossible-to-ignore, 72-point, above-the-fold pull-quote? “This place is a dump.”

Which it is. If you've ever taken the train to or from Albuquerque (our fair city has daily service to Chicago and Los Angeles) you know that passengers arrive and depart not from the gleaming Alvarado Transportation Center, but from a slovenly “Amshack” in the dirt parking lot one door south. (I always imagine first-time visitors on the southbound Southwest Chief cheerfully looking out the window as the train slows down, saying to themselves, “Hmm. Nice station! Really classy ... Hey, wait a minute! Hey! Hey!”)

Per Smith's story, Amtrak had a deal with the city to move into the Alvarado--but now they don't. Amtrak says the city “decided not to” make room for them. And while other cities on the same route (L.A., Flagstaff and Gallup to name three) view the creation of an adequate passenger rail station as a clear municipal directive good for tourism and the local economy, Mayor Marty cries crocodile tears at Amtrak's inability to buy in to a seat at the big transit table: “It just breaks my heart what is happening to Amtrak. But they don't have penny one. ... We can't carry their burden.”

And even though Governor Richardson's Investment Partnership (GRIP) pro-rail project list actually includes a trial run of Amtrak service “between El Paso and Albuquerque and between Albuquerque and Denver”, Marty prematurely declares doom for Amtrak, stating that he doubts “we'll have passenger service in New Mexico in two years”. Does he consider Amtrak competition for the zoo-to-botanical-gardens kiddy railroad, or is it that he much prefers Greyhound's $1 million cash outlay and land donation which got them into the Alvarado. You decide.

It's pretty sad when a public project built with public funds like the Alvarado suddenly becomes a for-profit enterprise rather than a true transportation hub. The itsatrip.org website [link] still brags that “the Alvarado Transportation Center, located Downtown, is Albuquerque's transportation hub, directing both train and bus travel.” Better update that page, fella. We'll probably see a TGI Friday's in there before Amtrak, if Mayor Marty keeps wanting to charge admission. In a word: lame.