Is the Rail Runner a Success?

With stories of packed trains and huge demand, the average person (subscription required) might be led to believe that the Rail Runner can now be called a success. But is it true? Is New Mexico’s commuter train really a success?
Not by a long shot.
First and foremost, like we saw when the train originally opened, there are plenty of joy-riders taking to the rails in droves right now to see what a free trip to Santa Fe on the train is like. Once commuters and other regular customers become the bulk of the train’s customers, we’ll have a better idea on ridership. But if high ridership continues, doesn’t that make the train a success? Not by a long shot.
Let’s put this in perspective. This train cost taxpayers $400 million to build. It will cost $20 million annually to operate, $19 million of which will be again financed by taxpayers. Only $1 million will come from fares. So, what we have is a massive subsidy. Imagine if the Waltons and other shareholders didn’t care about turning a profit and Wal Mart charged $50 for a new HD television and $25 for a Nintendo Wii. If they did that, there is no doubt that customers would flock to their stores. Of course, if they sold these items for such low prices, Wal Mart would likely go out of business (or at least stop making money) before long, so they instead charge market prices for their goods.
Transportation should be no different from Wal Mart. I as a New Mexico taxpayer should not be forced to subsidize your trip to Santa Fe or Belen any more than I should be paying for your HD TV. Unfortunately, this is not conventional wisdom in this, the age of bailouts.
Nonetheless, those who call the Rail Runner a success are ignorant of economics and simply aren’t weighing the projects’ full cost.

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