Rael says they convinced the DOT to let them use the median of I-25 as a right-of-way for the Rail Runner. Now the train runs right between the cars as they move in either direction — a great selling point.
“Oh, absolutely,” Rael exclaims with a mischievous grin.
“We have the train down the middle of I-25. We have tunnels on both ends where it comes into the interstate and up out of the interstate as you get into Santa Fe.”
Entering Santa Fe was another “unique” problem for the Rail Runner as due to it being one of the oldest cities in the country special precautions had to be taken. Luckily the city had purchased a little-used short line track to convert into a walking trail. Instead, this trail became the entrance point for commuter rail into Santa Fe.
“It was a really fortuitous situation for us because now all we had to do was go in there,” Rael says.
“So we tore the whole bed out — everything out — and rebuilt everything. [We] left some of the old trellises and some of the old landmarks of the railroad and created a trail alongside the track so people could use it as a walking path.
“We just had our three-year anniversary in July for phase one,” Rael exhales with a smile. “We’ve only been running to Santa Fe now for less than a year, a little over six months, almost seven months, and it’s been a tremendous success.”
Keeping it Running
While its neighbor Phoenix might be getting more attention, this desert region is growing quite quickly as well, with development happening in several rural communities along the Rail Runner line. With the system up and running and its popularity growing, now it only needed a dedicated funding source to keep its trademark locomotives and cars flying between Belen and Santa Fe.
Rael says the Rail Runner was originally funded by CMAQ (Congestion Management and Air Quality) federal dollars as a three-year demonstration program. But those three years expired last June.
“So the first three years that was one of the constant albatrosses,” Rael admits.
“How are we going to pay for this?”
So with the governor’s support they embarked on an effort to get an eighth-cent gross receipts tax on the ballot last November to support the commuter rail system and transit connections to it.
“We went all over the place,” Rael says of their efforts to drum up support.
“We had created a regional transit area for this area. And under that guise is how we passed it.
“When the economy could have been the worst in the country we had an eighth-of-a-cent initiative on the ballot, but we passed it.”
Rael explains that not only did they pass it, but it passed in all the counties Rail Runner passes through, proving the commuter line had popular support.