Loss of weekend service illustrates RailRunner’s lack of sustainablility

The only way for the RailRunner to break even is to reduce service. By definition, this means that the system is not sustainable.

The folks at Rio Metro who operate the train understand this and were faced with some tough decisions in face of a loss of federal funds for the train. A few days ago, I wrote that discontinuing some early morning services and eliminating stops on a few trains could actually improve service.

Instead, Rio Metro will discontinue weekend service on the train. In some ways, this is a logical decision. After all, if the goal of the train is that of a “commuter” train, weekday service must be continued at the expense of weekend service.

The Journal also had an article on the decision and, while the tourists who use the train were understandably perplexed, Rey Garduno who sits on the Rio Metro board had the silliest remarks. Said Garduño, “Weekend routes are valued by the community and should be protected.” Well, if that service was valued by the community, wouldn’t the community be willing to pay enough to continue it? To date, weekend service is only “valued” to the extent that a $1.2 million federal grant is available.

While she did not move to shut down the RailRunner during this legislative session, Gov. Martinez is wisely not planning to add even more General Fund dollars to subsidize weekend service. I hope she maintains this stance, but as long as it rolls down the tracks, the RailRunner will continue to be an unnecessary burden on New Mexico taxpayers.

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10 Replies to “Loss of weekend service illustrates RailRunner’s lack of sustainablility”

  1. I, for one, could not agree more despite the fact that I utilize the Railrunner four days a week from Santa Fe to ABQ. In the ‘early’ days of NM Public Transportation, the NM Park & Ride buses provided a great alternative to driving. They were fast, smooth, quiet, relaxing, and had a phenomial on-time record.
    With the inaugaration of the Railrunner, duly dubbed the Snailrunner by yours truly, we lost the opportunity of using a far more economical and commuter-friendly transportation service. While I realize that no public transportation is self-sustaining, vis’-a-vis public subsidies, studies have shown that buses are far more economical for commuter services than are trains. Additionally, the infrustructure for the buses already existed, and did not require the millions of dollars to build the 20 or so miles of new rail line into Santa Fe. I was never in favor of the train, and continue to be disallusioned by its insolvency and lack of convenient schedules for commuters.

    1. Thomas, thank you for your honesty on the issue. I too occasionally use the train, but see no reason why others should subsidize that use for me. Would much rather see a shift toward user-financed/privatized services. Buses are very effective in the DC-NYC corridor where they undercut the price of driving (even just the tank of gas) considerably.

      1. Though cross subsidization is part of life. Sorry Paul you’re part of society whether you like it or not!

  2. While I can understand tax payers’ frustration over how the government uses their money, we should be careful what program we target. While I could see why Railrunner cut its late night and early morning services for lack of business, I have to disagree with the plan to eliminate weekend service by mid-August. I ride the train on Saturdays (and occasionally on Sundays), and business has always been packed on the train during every weekend that I use the train! I’m lucky to find a seat after boarding at Alvorado Transit Center. If I waited to board at Los Ranchos, I would probably have to stand for a good part of the trip to Santa Fe–not exactly what I call a lack of business! The Shakespeare rehersals on the weekend trains add to the passenger volume.

    I have to use the weekend train to get up to Santa Fe to check on my elderly mother who lives there, as I don’t like to drive on an interstate highway that is constantly under construction with more than its share of traffic jams, accidents, and drunk drivers. Even some commuters, such as students, use the trains on the weekends to to school or work. Gas prices won’t stay low for long either.

    While I realize that the Railrunner is primarily a commuter service, the tourists of the weekends and vacation periods add an extremely important part to the train’s revenue and to our economy. I am for saving tax payers’ money, but be careful what you eliminate. Revenue by rush-hour commuters alone may not provide enough revenues for the train, which is all the more reason to hold to the tourist patronage as well. Retail businesses depend heavily on this tourist passenger patronage.

    Yes, we all want to cut waste, but be careful what you axe. It’s easy to be penny-wise instead of planning for a long-term investment, which the train can provide if we can attract both commuters and tourists. Let’s dont be pound-foolish.

    1. I do think a private company could come in with some innovative ideas like charging more, having tour guides on the trains, and perhaps having a bar car or even a casino car. Unfortunately, with government running the train (not to mention the regulations), those innovations are only a dream.

  3. This was purely a politcal move not an economic one, streets don’t exist on a profit or loss basis.

    Though equipment wise they would be better off using things like self propelled railcars instead of locomotive hauled trains.

  4. Fact is: Mass transit doesn’t work unless you have enough population density to support daytime service at no more than 20-minute intervals. We don’t have that density, and I’ll bet the NM Park & Ride bus service required fairly hefty subsidies in its day. Of course, we must subsidize the hoard of money-sucking state bureaucrats and their parasitical NGO comrades who don’t want to drive or carpool. (Like $%&& we must!)

    With all due respect to Mr. Dalzell and his situation, I don’t care to have the state government pick my pocket in the guise of taxes to support tourists and locals afraid of I-25 and having elderly parents at the other end of the line.

    1. That is complete total nonsense. Transportation is a subsidized activity, it never breaks even. That includes toll
      roads fed by miles of property tax funded roads.

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