Santa Fe is ready for Rail Runner

Whether they want to commute, shop or drink, Santa Feans are studying train timetables in anticipation of the Rail Runner coming to town.

Santa Fe is Ready
Sunday, December 7, 2008
by Raam Wong • Journal Santa Fe

Train Service Begins Later in the Month

The commuter train is set to begin running between Santa Fe and Albuquerque this month. The train’s backers say it offers a rapid and reliable alternative to navigating around the turistas trying to find their way down St. Francis Drive or the smashups clogging Interstate 25.

But before they climb aboard, many are wondering just how much time and money really could be saved by traveling by rail.

For now, driving is still faster — just how much faster depends of course on how a train rider gets to a station and then to his or her final destination upon arriving in Albuquerque or Santa Fe.

The train trip between downtown Albuquerque and the Santa Fe Railyard will take 81 minutes. Driving takes 75 minutes on average, according to the project’s environmental assessment. But by 2025, rush-hour traffic is expected to nearly double, adding an extra 39 minutes to the commute.

“In the future the train becomes much quicker,” relative to driving, said project consultant David Pennington.

In Santa Fe, the city is changing a couple of bus routes to make stops at Rail Runner platforms and also is acquiring vans to provide a free shuttle service looping the downtown area, starting from the Railyard train terminus. The service aimed at tourists but could come in handy for commuters who work in the City Different’s historic center.

Albuquerque’s Rail Runner stops have links to the city’s ABQ Ride transit system.

Pennington expects commuters will also appreciate the Rail Runner’s reliability compared to travel on I-25, where everything from fender-benders to tornadoes and overturned tanker trucks have shut down the road with some regularity. The number of rush-hour accidents between the two cities is expected to rise from 3.5 per week to 7 by 2025.

“It’s bumper to bumper if there’s an accident,” said Sandy Larez of Santa Fe, who is eager to take the train to the Duke City to shop.

The first stop in Santa Fe will be at I-25 and NM 599. Designed with a large park-and-ride lot, the stop is intended to serve the nearly 22,000 residents who live within 20 minutes of the station. Employees who work at the nearby state prison, a few miles south off NM 14, and at the nearby New Mexico National Guard are also likely to use the station, planners say. The station won’t open until early next year.

Two other stops opening in December — the South Capitol Station, north of Alta Vista Street near a large cluster of state government buildings, and the Railyard — are expected to be used by state government employees and other downtown workers.

Commuters like Ashleigh Morris of Santa Fe are considering how the proposed eight southbound and eight northbound trains will fit their schedules.

Morris, who attends the University of New Mexico law school, is concerned about the lack of earlyafternoon return trains because she’ll get out of class next semester in Albuquerque at 2 p.m. at least a couple days a week.

“If there’s an emergency there’s no way for me to get home,” said Morris, who has two young children. Train officials say service will likely expand as demand grows.

Morris says she is drawn to the Rail Runner for its fares. She now pays $90 for a monthly pass with New Mexico Park & Ride, which doesn’t offer a student discount. A student pass on the Rail Runner covering the five zones between City Different and Albuquerque costs $50.

Riders are charged on a zone-based structure, meaning the ticket price is determined by the distance traveled. There are discounted fares for students, seniors and people with disabilities.

An $8 day pass would allow riders to travel round trip between Santa Fe and the Downtown Albuquerque/ Los Ranchos/South Valley “zone.” A dollar more will get Santa Fe riders to Belen with a day pass.

Even as gas prices plummet, the train may still be the bargain bet. At $2 a gallon, a round trip between the capital city and Albuquerque at 21 miles per gallon would cost about $12.

And Pennington notes that the cost of driving is higher. “Clearly the cost of commuting is not just the gas price,” he said.

The estimated cost of operating a car last year was 52.2 cents per mile, including insurance, maintenance, $2.30-a-gallon gas and other costs, according to the American Automobile Association. Using that number, a Santa Fe driver’s there-and-back trip to Albuquerque costs $62.64.

“I’m really excited about it being available,” said Santa Fe resident Peter Zandan. But Zandan is disappointed he can’t use the train to go directly to the Albuquerque International Sunport for his monthly trips out of state. The train doesn’t go there, though a free bus does.

There will be no Sunday service either — in the near term that day will be used to perform track maintenance — though some trains will run Saturday.

Meanwhile, an advocacy group has popped up on the social networking Web site Facebook calling for more late-night trains to support theater, music and dining in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The group, “Call for Culture Friendly NM Rail Runner Schedule,” has 262 members.

Asher Singer of Santa Fe said it’s a shame there aren’t any late-night weekend trains. The last train pulls out of Albuquerque at 9:29 p.m., meaning the train isn’t a viable option for late-night bar-hoppers.

“If they just had one at 2 (a.m.) that’d be pretty nice,” Singer said.

Average Highway Commuting Times
U.S. 550 to St. Francis Drive Downtown Albuquerque to Downtown Santa Fe Current
35 minutes
75 minutes

2025 projected
65 minutes
114 minutes

ABQ/Santa Fe roundtrip
$62.64 by car: Based on an average of 52.2 cents per mile cost to operate a car, which includes insurance, maintenance, $2.30-a-gallon gas and other costs.
$8.00 by train/bus: Cost of a daily pass.

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