The New Mexico Independent

Travelers will be able to ride the Rail Runner Express to Santa Fe starting Dec. 17.

In a press release, Gov. Bill Richardson announced that he, state, local and tribal officials will make the inaugural ride from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. They will also be joined by “several” members of the public.

“This is a historic event that will bring long-term economic benefits to New Mexico and change the way we travel along the Middle Rio Grande Corridor,” Richardson said in the statement. “During these tough economic times, the Rail Runner Express will provide thousands of commuters a much-needed savings while offering them a safe, viable and efficient transportation alternative.”

A roundtrip ticket from downtown Albuquerque to Santa Fe will cost $8. A trip from either Bernalillo depot will cost $7. A trip from Belen to the state’s capital will cost just $9.

The trains will run to Santa Fe on Saturdays, with the first train leaving downtown Albuquerque at 6:20 a.m. The first train leaves Belen at 10:48 a.m. on Saturdays.

On weekdays, the trains leave even earlier. The first northbound train will depart from downtown Albuquerque to Santa Fe at 4:23 a.m. The first train from Los Lunas will be at 4:50 a.m. and the first train from Belen will leave at 5:40 a.m. The first southbound train from Santa Fe will leave the Santa Fe Depot at 6:10 a.m.

Full weekday schedules are available in pdf form here. The Saturday schedule is available here.

Santa Fe County residents will get a break – the first three months of service will be free of charge for those who provide proof of residency, such as a driver’s license.

“The Rail Runner Express will change the face of transportation in New Mexico,” said State Transportation Secretary Rhonda Faught in the statement.

Faught, who will retire at the end of the year, continued, “With initial estimates of nearly 4,500 commuters riding the train between Albuquerque and Santa Fe on a daily basis, this will not only take a lot of stress off our roads, but will also enhance safety.”

According to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), there were 1.88 vehicle fatalities per 100 million miles driven in 2006, the last year for which numbers were provided. In 2007, there were 433 vehicle deaths, the lowest in more than a decade. The traffic rate was also better than in more than a decade. This ranks New Mexico as the 13th highest in the country.

So far, there have been more than 1.3 million people who have traveled by the Rail Runner. The commuter train began service on July 14, 2006, and the state says 3,000 people currently travel on the Rail Runner, which currently travels between Belen and Bernalillo, every day.

On opening day, only two of the four Santa Fe stops will be in operation: the South Capitol Complex Station at the state government complex north of Alta Vista Street and the Santa Fe Depot at the rail yard north of Paseo de Peralta.

The state says the other two stops, the first at at Zia Road and St. Francis Drive, and the second stop in southern Santa Fe at I-25 and N.M. 599 are scheduled to open at a later date.