Sorry, Train Woes Can’t be Fixed

The Santa Fe New Mexican recently editorialized, albeit half-heartedly, in favor of keeping the Rail Runner chugging down the tracks. In doing so, they made the brilliant observation that “The key to making the Rail Runner a success is finding the money to operate it.” Duh, if money were no object, then the world would be a very different place and we’d all have flying cars and not need a train anyway.

The paper also stated the old nostrum that “mass transit never makes a profit, and it seldom breaks even.” Even that is simply not true. Check this link out. Some systems in Asia do more than break even and nearly all systems do better in terms of fare box recovery than the Rail Runner which has a ratio of 13%.

Of course, the line about road subsidies was then brought up, but, even if certain roads in rural areas are subsidized, what are we to do, not have them? The fact is that no community could survive without roads while most survive just fine without passenger rail playing a major role in the transportation mix. And, of course, as this chart shows (on the first actual page), transit and rail receive subsidies far in excess of those allocated to roads.

For more information on the Rail Runner’s disturbing finances and what to do about it, go here.

And, as a bit of an aside, I found the comments of one of the authors of the book “Freakonomics” on libertarian transportation analyst Randal O’Toole quite interesting.

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16 Replies to “Sorry, Train Woes Can’t be Fixed”

  1. Let’s go back to the bus system, costs about 1/20 less, delivers riders closer to their destination, uses less fuel and can run on alternative fuels.
    Pays for itself and takes less time. What a novel idea!

      1. I don’t use the buses but that doesn’t mean that I cannot have a position on the Railrunner which I do pay for with my taxes. So is that all you have to say?

        1. Paul, that’s just another hypocritcal excuse. I’ve never had to call the fire department, that doesn’t mean that I’m against it.

  2. That is very interesting as my first year pursing an M.E., we learned that the most efficient form of transporting people and or things is rail.

    1. Trains are very energy efficient if you are moving a full load from one place to another place. That doesn’t mean they are market efficient though. For starters, human beings don’t all live in one place and all need to go to another place at the same time. That is why most people prefer automobiles. Also, a “packed” train is nowhere near as “packed” as a freight train. Go to Japan and see what a crowded train is like. The Rail Runner is a ghost town by comparison.

  3. Randal O’Toole’s a fraud, so what he says is just BS!

    The street in front of your house isn’t even profitable!

    What’s needed is to reduce operating costs, like using diesel multiple units, instead of using locomotive hauled trains.

  4. Comparing the urban density of Japan to that of N.M. is specious at best. As well, there are often times recently that there is very little room, and anyone bring a bicycle on board will have trouble placing it in the space provided.

    Also you attempt to posit that there is a negation from people gathering to take the same train to the same destination. This comment is also seriously lacking in logic. Factually, as all these people are say traveling to S.F. once there there is even less pollution and less vehicles to add to traffic, with a commensurate decline in pollution, accidents, and need for parking. So, these are positive attributes as well from people that travel to S.F. for work or pleasure on board the Rail Runner.

    It is of great interest to me that the Rail Runner causes such great concern to the moderator of this site, with nary ever a mention of the abundant funding of failed wall street institutions, bailout money which make the rail runner look like what it is a very minor financial issue.

    1. Comparing the urban density of Japan to NM makes perfect sense. In one (Japan), rail transit makes sense. In the other, NM, it doesn’t.

      On the issue of bailouts, we opposed them and that includes the ones for the car industry as well. Problem is, dozens of free market groups work on those issues and it is kind of over with at this point. Undoing them is impossible. Undoing the Rail Runner is still quite possible.

  5. As the Rail Runner is a sunk cost, it is far more effective to consider and implement ways to make the system if not profitable, at least allowable to gain B.E.

    Hardly a “Ghost Town,” the Rail Runner is a viable concept facing as all things currently are, cost effectiveness. The moderator makes supercilious personal avaristic comments given the fact that the hatred for the system stems from the fact that it was created by a Democratic Governor.

    Interesting to note that in the early days of Albuquerque, electric trains, “light-rail” successfully transported a sparse population, effectively moving people, eliminating horses and their attended waste products; and allowed people of modest means an alternative to walking.

    Many programs need tweaking to gain greater effectiveness, the Rail Runner is such a program. As gas prices continue to rise, light rail will become a far more effective means of transportation while simultaneously eliminating traffic and vehicle pollution on this increasingly traveled corridor. Given the ubiquity of the overly large, wholly inefficient S.U.V. which in S.F. and Albuquerque so often operate with only a driver, higher taxes on gasoline, and taxes on those that choose to waste resources for the sake of elevating their social-status can be used to fund upkeep and improve the efficacy of light rail here in New Mexico and elsewhere.

  6. 70% of the US population resides east of I-35; 20% reside west of the New Mexico/Arizona line; 10% between that line and I-35; over 50% of Americans reside in coastal counties; eight of the ten most densely populated states lie between Washington DC and Boston Mass; of people carriers in that corridor, nearly all must be (heavily) subsidized. For rural NM to subsidize populated NM transportation is senseless – we cannot avail ourselves of the system. Let the people in the Belen/Santa Fe corridor pay 100% of the subsidy, and see how long before the revolution. And extending the rail service to Las Cruces, or even El Paso, to “help”? There’s an empty freeway between . They’ve already widened I-10 between Las Cruces and the NM line, a road that had no consistent level of service below “A”, and no explanation to the Las Cruces MPO why $65 million dollars were spent on that project for the previous governor. Should we be paying $.85 of each transportation dollar for train riders? Likely not, especially here.

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