Privatize Chama Train

There has been a lot of talk recently about the economic situation in Chama, see here and here. The town is very reliant on the tourist train that saw a trestle burned this summer. That is a shame and I am sympathetic to the folks of Chama, but that doesn’t mean I think average New Mexicans should pay the bill to restore train service.

I explain what should be done in a letter that was published in today’s Business Journal.

Privatize Chama’s tourist train

It was only a matter of time. The town of Chama, the economy of which is heavily reliant on the state-owned Cumbres & Toltec train, is in need of a taxpayer bailout because a train trestle fire this summer has limited train traffic to the town.

While it is hard to feel anything but sympathy for Chama residents whose businesses have been impacted, it is silly for taxpayers in one part of the state (or nation) to subsidize tourist attractions in other parts of the state (or nation). Tourist attractions should either be privately run or funded through local taxes.

But this is not the case. Rather, the train is reliant on the taxpayer.

Just this year, New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman requested $1 million in federal dollars for the Cumbres & Toltec. This comes on top of annual contributions from the governments of New Mexico and Colorado which jointly own the railroad. This makes no sense in the best of economic times: With core government programs on the chopping block and federal and state taxes on their way up, government needs to stick to the basics.

The Cumbres & Toltec should be privately owned like the similar Durango-Silverton train. Rather than a taxpayer bailout, we should look for ways to make the Cumbres & Toltec — and other tourist attractions — profitable, private enterprises.

Paul J. Gessing
Rio Grande Foundation