- Associated Press - Thursday, November 5, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - It seems New Mexico is stuck with the Rail Runner Express, as a state Department of Transportation study has found getting rid of the service would be a financial mistake.

The study, unveiled Wednesday, found selling the commuter train isn’t feasible and switching to a bus service between Belen and Santa Fe would not save much money, The Albuquerque Journal reports (https://bit.ly/1Q6RXgt ).

“We’re finding out that despite all the difficulties we’ve had, we’re probably going to have to love each other,” Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said at a legislative hearing Wednesday. “We have too much invested in it now that we can’t divorce.”

The study was completed at the request of the Legislature and focused on the possibility of selling the line, the cost of maintaining service over the next 20 years and the feasibility of replacing the train with bus service.

The Rail Runner began service in 2006 and has since been scrutinized for its high cost. While rider fares, federal funds and tax revenue from counties exceed the rail’s $26.8 million operating cost, it does not cover debt service payments.

“There’s no private investor, in my opinion, that would go and buy this,” said Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants. “I sure as heck wouldn’t.”

The state is expected to pay more than $25 million in debt service payments on the rail this year alone, with payments expected to grow to more than $110 million in both 2025 and 2026.

The study looked at replacing the Rail Runner with commuter bus service along the state’s Rio Grande corridor, but found it would take at least 50 buses making 89 one-way trips to replicate the 22 Rail Runner trips. The total operating cost of the bus service would be about $15 million annually, compared to the current Rail Runner cost of $26.8 million.

Shutting down the service wouldn’t help the state’s financial problems either. Loren Hatch, deputy transportation secretary for business support, said even if the state did so, it would still owe the debt service payments and maintenance and other costs.

After hearing the DOT’s report, many lawmakers seemed resigned to the Rail Runner’s fate.

“We’ve got something we’re just stuck with, it sounds like,” Rep. Rick Little, R-Chaparral, said.


Information from: Albuquerque Journal, https://www.abqjournal.com

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