Rail Runner to Keep Rolling on Saturdays

Customer Demand, Heavy Ridership Prompts Continuation of Partial Weekend Service

The New Mexican

Weekend travelers can continue visiting Santa Fe and Albuquerque by train as a result of Wednesday’s announcement that the New Mexico Rail Runner Express will keep operating on Saturdays. Sunday service, however, is not expected any time soon.

After introductory runs in recent weeks, planners had intended to drop both Saturday and Sunday service. However, heavy ridership through the holiday season and customer demand prompted the change of plans.

More than 60,000 people have boarded the train between Belen and Santa Fe since service to the capital city began Dec. 17. Weekend trains typically were packed.

“Over the last three weekends, New Mexicans have literally flooded the train in overwhelming numbers,” state Transportation Secretary-designate Gary Girón said in a written statement. “This has had a tremendous economic boost for local businesses throughout the corridor. There is no doubt that the demand for Saturday service is very high there and we are happy to provide additional trains for our citizens.”

Starting this weekend, Saturday trains will depart Santa Fe five times between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., with northbound trips beginning in Albuquerque between 6:20 a.m. and 7:46 p.m.

The Mid-Region Council of Governments, which runs the service for the state, had planned to offer Saturday service between Memorial Day and Labor Day, using operating money already in place. When the state said it would provide an additional $500,000 to pay for additional Saturday runs until a new gross-receipts levy for transit takes effect in several counties, council Executive Director Lawrence Rael said he could make it happen for the other eight months of the year.

As for Sundays, Rael said he already has heard from lots of passengers and would-be passengers about why that’s a good idea. He’s balancing that with the idea that the day of rest is badly needed for train operators, though.

“Early on, we said that we needed to have a day to maintain the corridor and to maintain the equipment,” he said late Wednesday. “We now we have 150 miles of track that we have to inspect and maintain, and we really just need a day to ensure that the safety and efficiency of the system is at the forefront of our operations.”

Future Sunday service is not out of the question, however, he said. “I am not saying we are not going to do it down the road, but at this point, we are trying to move into this in a very deliberative process. Two or three months down the road, we might be able to add a few runs on Sunday or at least look at it again.”

Even further in the future are decisions on additional service extensions along the Rio Grande corridor. Rep. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales, D-Taos, told the Taos News last week that he will seek legislation for a feasibility study of extending the Rail Runner route to Taos.

In addition to financial, engineering and environmental hurdles, however, such a project would face political competition from other communities seeking connections, such as Las Cruces and Gallup.