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Rail News Home Passenger Rail

March 2007

Rail News: Passenger Rail

Rail Runner: New Mexico agency opens final leg of commuter-rail corridor


The entire Belen-to-Bernalillo, N.M., Rail Runner Express commuter-rail line is now open for business. Last month, New Mexico’s Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG) launched service on the 50-mile line’s final leg, which connects Los Lunas and Belen.

The agency opened the line’s initial Albuquerque-to-Bernalillo segment in July 2006, then launched service between Los Lunas and Albuquerque in December.

The MRCOG is opening stations incrementally, too. Five of the line’s nine stations are open and this month, the agency will open a sixth station in downtown Bernalillo. One more is scheduled to open in April, but the last two might take a little longer. Those stations will be built on federal Indian reservation land and the agency is in the midst of a lengthy federal process to obtain lease agreements for the sites, says MRCOG Executive Director Lawrence Rael.

Ridership on track
In the meantime, the agency is continuing to build ridership. As of January’s end, the system carried about 1,600 passengers a day. Now that the final segment is open, Rael expects that number to grow by several hundred per day.

“Our original estimates were between 1,800 and 2,000 a day. We’re almost there, and we still have more stations to open,” says Rael.

With highway congestion continuing to mount, the agency expects ridership to continue rising.
“I-25 is the only major road system from one end of the corridor to the other, and during the morning and evening commutes, that interstate becomes a parking lot,” says Rael. “And, we have federal Indian reservations on either side of Albuquerque, so it’s not an option to expand the interstate.”

More service to come
But expanding the commuter-rail system is. MRCOG currently is designing Rail Runner Express Phase 2, which would extend the line north another 50 miles into downtown Santa Fe. Scheduled to open in late 2008, the line is expected to more than double Rail Runner ridership, says Rael, primarily because the interstate runs along the outskirts of the city and doesn’t serve the downtown area. In addition, Santa Fe is the state capitol and a major tourist destination.

If the region’s population increases as expected, Rail Runner will be an easy sell, MRCOG officials believe. During the next 25 years, the Santa Fe area’s population is expected to grow 60 percent and Albuquerque’s, 40 percent. Area planners project driving times between the two cities will increase from one hour, 15 minutes to more than two-and-a-half hours.

— Angela Cotey

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