No Better Time to Kill the Fail Runner

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Local governments in the Albuquerque region, like their counterparts in the state’s hinterlands, are facing mounting fiscal pressures. New Mexico’s “recovery” is one of the worst in the nation, while the costs of welfare, public-employee compensation, and subsidized healthcare remain on autopilot.

In metro Albuquerque, shortfalls are exacerbated by the cruel reality of the Rail Runner’s ravenous appetite for revenue. Yes, ten years after it launched — the formal anniversary is in July — the nation’s most disastrous commuter-rail line is still around.

Here’s the projected revenue breakdown for fiscal 2017, courtesy the Mid-Region Council of Governments:

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As for “demand,” the Rail Runner continues to attract fewer and fewer “customers,” with ridership dropping by 12.7 percent between 2010 and 2014:

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Killing the Rail Runner won’t free taxpayers from the debt the state incurred to cover infrastructure costs. Bondholders must be paid, no matter what, and astronomical balloon payments are due in the 2020s. But shutting the boondoggle down will save the $15.4 million in operating subsidies provided by gross-receipts taxes. And selling the rolling stock and other assets to anyone willing to make an offer will at least recoup some of taxpayers’ “investment.”

There’s no time like the present to admit that the Rail Runner has been a disaster. It should be euthanized, immediately.

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10 Replies to “No Better Time to Kill the Fail Runner”

  1. I think it’s extremely unlikely that fundamental change will take place in N.M. regarding a host of important issues until Republicans control both houses of the state legislature and the governor’s office at the same time.The last time Republicans controlled both houses of the state legislature at the same time was in 1930.

    Democrat legislators in N.M. are simply too wedded to the way that business has been done in the state for the last 75 years to voluntarily change their beliefs. Ideology appears to be preventing them from trying new approaches to problems.

    As many others have said : “In the long run we end up with the elected officials that we deserve.”

    1. I share your cynicism, Charles. Mine could be even worse, since I’m not convinced that Republicans are substantially better than Democrats. (Although it must be said that the GOP-majority New Mexico House has passed a number of solid bills the last two years, including right to work, school choice, and ride-service deregulation.)

      But change may be forced on New Mexico in our lifetimes. A state that is essentially a ward of the federal government has a unique vulnerability. When the D.C. bucks stop coming, there may be no choice but to implement pro-market, pro-taxpayer policies. Time will tell.

  2. Change is unlikely so long as New Mexico has only one and a half political parties. I am effectively disenfranchised because my incumbent-Democrat state representative and senator are running unopposed.

    If a Republican governor cannot persuade her party to run candidates in every legislative district, New Mexico will remain an isolated pocket of progressive poverty.

  3. As a railroader I have mixed feelings on the Rail Runner. Anyone in the industry knew there was not the population density to make a commuter railroad viable, but fiscal sanity has never been a problem with free spending Democrats. However there are ways to make the line work, at least not bleed as much, but it would require someone in charge with the ability to be creative. The addition of a parlor car on the after work run for instance, charter trains, special trains and on the northern end of the line, using it to move freight into Santa Fe. The creation of the commuter line effectively killed freight service into the city, eliminating all side tracks capable of working freight. You would think the “green” people of Santa Fe would appreciate the smaller carbon footprint rail provides, but Santa Fe has become a haven for left wing NIMBY zealots, so much so it is hard to recognize the town I grew up in. Frequently I see two locomotives on trains that should only require one, I’m sure there are many other parts of the operation that could be made to help ease the bleeding.

    1. There appears to be no vision for the Rail Runner other than a commuter line for people with time on their hands, and no intention to market it for tourism or leisure. Anyone with an ounce of enterprise could:
      –Offer express service to Santa Fe at a higher fare;
      –Add (and promote) trains for special events such as Spanish Market, etc,;
      –Partner with the Santa Fe opera to offer a train/shuttle service (I’d pay $20 for that);
      –Work with downtown hotels to promote the train, perhaps with a shuttle to the station.
      But that’s unlikely to happen under the present administration.

  4. I know how to increase ridership. Do what they’re doing in Albuquerque with the Rapid Transit Project. http://www.brtabq.com I’ve always thought it was a conspiracy and now I know it is. I talked with a former planner who said they specifically ignore any traffic impact because they want to FORCE people to ride the bus. So … shut down I-25 “certain” times of the day and FORCE people to ride the train. There would be no other way to get to and from Santa Fe. Ha!

  5. We can’t scrap the Rail Runner, it would drive the ridership into devastating depression which would impact healthcare.

  6. We are obligated to pay off the bonds, but that doesn’t mean we have to keep the thing running! Seems like we save ourselves millions just by parking the thing. One would think this would not be a difficult decision, but politicians often lack common sense. We’re overdue to scrap this thing, sell what we can and just bite the bullet.

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