Rail Runner: It’s time to stop digging


Photo courtesy of EPA Smart Growth/flickr.com

The Rail Runner has percolated below the surface as a political issue since it went into service back in 2006. Originally marketed at a price of $122 million and as possibly being “high-speed,” the Rail Runner shuttles (mostly) tourists and government employees from downtown Albuquerque to Santa Fe and from Albuquerque south to the bedroom community of Belen.

Only recently have New Mexico taxpayers been made aware of the full scale of spending this project entails. The issue has exploded onto the pages of the Albuquerque Journal and other papers. According to newspaper reports, the train will cost a total of $1.3 billion over the next 20 years.

Regardless of whether you think the Rail Runner is worth the money or not, there is no doubt that the process that created the train is rotten to the core. For starters, the train has been operational for five years, but only recently have the system’s true finances been explained in any detail.

Secondly, rather than paying the train off in equal annual payments over 30 years as a family would do with a mortgage, former Gov. Richardson managed to set up the train’s financing so that he got the credit but future governors and legislators would have to pay the bills.

Paul J. Gessing

The fact is that New Mexico taxpayers are on the hook for two lump-sum payments of $230 million each in 2025 and 2027. That $460 million does not include replacement costs for the train sets and track which, according to transportation expert Randal O’Toole, must be replaced at something approximating their original cost every 30 years.

The Legislature and Gov. Martinez must act to prohibit such shady financing schemes from happening again in the future. If the current citizens and taxpayers of New Mexico desire a given project, the payments on that project should be spread out evenly over the life of the project, not designed so that current generations reap all of the benefits while future generations are stuck with the bills.

This kind of shady financing is what drove America’s housing market into a massive boom and bust and it is also driving our national budgetary problems, which recently caused a downgrade in the security of the U.S. government’s debt.

Other reasons to shut it down

While it would be painful to do so, the best possible decision at this point is to shut the train down right away. We can’t throw good money after bad forever and, if we shut the train down right away, taxpayers will save $453 million over the next 25 years.

In addition to the system’s shady and costly finances, there are several other reasons to shut the train down sooner than later.


  • Buses would be more flexible and faster. A system of buses running between various parts of Albuquerque and Santa Fe would be able to transport people at a fraction of the cost and much less time than it takes the Rail Runner to take people from a fixed downtown location to Santa Fe. The train takes 90 minutes to make this trip while a bus could make the trip in 60 minutes. This disparity doesn’t even consider time needed to drive to the train station and wait for the train.
  • The Rail Runner isn’t really “green.” Amtrak trains (the best available analog available for the Rail Runner when it comes to energy usage) use 2,700 BTUs per passenger mile while automobiles currently use about 3,300. That is a slight advantage for rail, but by 2035 (due to federal requirements), the train will still be using 2,700 BTUs, but cars will be using approximately 2,500 BTUs per passenger mile. Amtrak trains – the best comparison available – emit approximately the same level of CO2 gas as automobiles do today.
  • The Rail Runner has not and will not do anything to reduce traffic on I-25. That’s because daily traffic volume on I-25 (both immediately north and south of town) is so massive as to dwarf the impact of the Rail Runner’s ridership. More than 80,000 cars travel daily on I-25 just north and just south of Albuquerque while the train’s daily total ridership of 3,397 for the entire system is essentially a rounding error.

New Mexico’s economy is still in the doldrums. Only oil and gas are holding steady. Rather than letting the Rail Runner suck up more money and resources, it’s time to throw on the brakes and stop the wasteful spending.

Paul J. Gessing is the president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation, an independent, nonpartisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.

41 thoughts on “Rail Runner: It’s time to stop digging

  1. Great Question George. For your consideration and comment…..

    Intercity buss transportation, car-pooling or vans would make sense. And you are right in that there could be an interruption with I-25 at various points. The same happens with the Rail Runner when it has technical issues on the track such as a failure of equipment, derailment or accident at a crossing. I would bet the incidence of such problmes is comperable with the Rail Runner when compared to what could happen on I-25. I think your estimate on traffic is a good one. Perhaps low. And, if I am not mistaken both federal and state gas taxes pay for that cost of maintenance. Further, the I 25 road serves this state as well as others. In effect, those that use the highway pay their proportionate share of the cost. Those that use the Rail Runner are not. There is a time value too George. I takes about 1. 5 hours to commute between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. I put some value on my time. There is internet access on the Rail Runner but you can not do everything on the net.

  2. How do you get between Santa Fe and Albuquerque if I-25 is closed at La Bajada Hill?

    What do they do now, all cram on the Rail Runner? Take a day off, make phone calls, text, emails, VTC, reschedule meetings. This is the 21st century. If you really need to get there I can loan you a map, if you can’t use Mapquest. Madrid’s nice this time of year and they may even still sell Pecan Logs in Cline’s Corner.

  3. MJM:

    While you have addressed my apparent “passion”, you have yet to address a single fact, which I will repeat for you now so you don’t have to go through the oh-so-time-consuming effort of merely scrolling down the page: The Rail Runner is the second-cheapest commuter train in the US, and while suddenly shutting it down – as proposed by Mr. Paul “Who-Cares-About-Ordinary-Citizens?” Gessing – would save (according to his admittedly unreliable and probably over-inflated numbers) each New Mexican enough to buy an extra four cups of coffee every year, it would cost each of the daily commuters who actually ride the train a minimum average of $1,440 more in the next year alone… and that’s just calculating what they’d pay for extra fuel, and rather generously assumes static gas prices. This is, of course, to say nothing of the dangers of adding an additional 3,500 cars to that corridor every day and the detrimental impact on numerous businesses that have seen a noticeable increase in customers with the train’s services – which of course leads to my usual curiosity as to why the “pro-business” proposals of the Rio Grande Foundation always seem to be so bad for business. Replacing it with buses would do little good, since numerous studies of similar commuter corridors have shown that people simply don’t use intercity bus transportation in any great quantity. So what, MJM, is the allegedly “cheaper” solution that you’re going to magically create out of whole cloth? If we start building the infrastructure for whatever fantasy that is, are you then going to complain about it, too?

  4. George, busses would be much, much cheaper, and if you want clean, use natgas. That would not add many vehicles to the I25, and it really isn’t that crowded anyway, people need to check LA if they think the I25 is crowded. And of course, we need to make sure the ABQ-SF corridor is always open no matter what the weather, wrecks, etc., after all it’s just money (and just taxpayer money at that), right, we can afford such redundancy and belts and suspenders approach to such a vital corridor for our society, civilization, and economy.

  5. MJM, you say, “There are, and were cheaper solutions to mass transport that would reduce the need for subsidization.”

    Please, what are these solutions? Are you going to add additional transportation corridors with these cheaper solutions? Is it a solution to just add capacity to the single roadway between two destinations, one that currently has more than 35,000 vehicles a day? What happens when something closes that corridor? How do you get between Santa Fe and Albuquerque if I-25 is closed at La Bajada Hill?

  6. IP you are very articulate and show great passion in your arguement. The only problem is that it does not change the facts. The RailRunner is a dud. There are, and were cheaper solutions to mass transport that would reduce the need for subsidization. Sometimes you have to put bad projects down. You just can’t keep them on the economic respirator for ever.

    Wedum I know you think rapit rail is the cats meow. Did you notice yesterday on Bloomberg that China is not going to expand their operations for the forseeable futhre due to recent accidents that have killed and injured dozens of folks? They can’t make economic sense of their rail even given the population they have.

    IP-Do you by chance work for the Rail Runner or Space Port? Perhaps a contractor for either one? Just wondering.

    Mr. Guessing is just pointing out the obvious. You might not like the answers. I don’t. Cause I like many others in NM have just seen $1 billion of after tax funds go poof.

  7. OK, I guess that is the best you got.

    Translation: Dr. J has been proven wrong (as usual) about not only the facts at hand but indeed his very own words, so he’s going to pretend that things he’s made up are real and we’re all just being unfair and mean to the poor little Doc for whatever bizarre reason he’s cooked up today…

  8. When New Mexico’s credit rating was seemingly and probably unfiarly lowered, the GRIP bonds were the ones we couldn’t well defend with a straight face. Our other bonding is solid.

    When we started talking about trains in 2003, it was suggested we study it. Why? Because it wasn’t clear at all it that it would make sense (giving full consideration of the fact that public transportation requires subsidy). Tony Anaya did that, which is why we didn’t do this years ago. It was also strongly suggested by the administration that the Feds would help pay for it. Utah did a study, got federal money and installed a light rail system. In our rush for polical expediency and graft, the administiration decided against a study…. and kissed away federal funding that would have changed the financial viability tremendously. Of course they might have laready known that the results would have made the Feds run screaming, but we’ll never know because we never studied it. Domenici wrote a letter reminding us that this was on our dime because we were still pretending we might get federal help. Luckily, we’re a wealthy state without needs like healthcare and education, and we had a guy running for president now. So, we went old school…. Heavy Rail Baby! We could afford to economically enslave future generations of New Mexican’s, raise regressive taxes on the poor and small businesses, and cut sweetheat deals to BNSF and others (and I leave you to speculate what sort of corruption was going with every transaction, particularly the large dollar ones, in every form of state procurement).

    While it’s true that, as with the Spaceport, that now that the sunk cost has been made, the equation has changed. We can’t recoup money spent or encumbered, regardless of how back-end loaded the the financing deal was. Like most of the commentators, I’m not qualified to do an economic analysis. I wish someone credible would, because the costs and benefits haven’t gone away. I’m just surprised at the lack of conversation regarding how we got here. It wasn’t to pacify the well intended Wedum’s of the world. It was orchestrated corruption, which should make everyone question every element of this deal, regardless of the merit of the notion. Outisde of politics, “popularity” shouldn’t matter. Alcohol is quite popular too… doesn’t make it good for you.

    Here’s a random thought: if you want to be green, reduce polution and congestion, etc., move those lower end state jobs to where the workers are. We can call it economic development for Rio Rancho, Espanola, Las Vegas, etc.

  9. Dr. J:

    You really are getting less and less accurate as time goes by: before you were just linking to pages that contradicted you as evidence in your own favor. Now you’re claiming you never wrote something on the same page where you wrote it, i.e., “This fixation on exotic, high cost, low efficiency transport solutions is typical of liberals.” Seriously, I’m beginning to wonder if you ever know what you’re talking about, or if you always just make it up as you go along and hope that no one will notice that your credibility is completely non-existent.

  10. I knew it, even more exotic and expensive transport being proposed is a bullet train for LC to Raton. Just think how fast the dozens of people a day could travel and how much fun that would be. Why our highly concentrated population here and most everywhere in the US would perfectly lend itself to a China, Japan, or crowded Europe solution. All we need is money, my money and yours, who’s in favor?

  11. I have to agree with IP that the RailRunner is, well, maybe 20th century technology. But we are now in the 21st century. Fourteen countries now have High Speed Rail networks, and the US is not one of them. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-speed_rail_by_country.) China has the most HSR miles, followed by Spain, France, Japan and Germany. If the US was not spending so much on “defense,” that is, acting as world policeman, we would have bullet trains too. China’s latest will cruise at 220mph. US defense spending for 2011 is estimated at $700 Billion, China’s at $120 Billion.

    According to this source, http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2015398832_chinatrains23.html, China has invested $300 Billion so far in its HSR network, and plans to invest another $115 Billion this year. Well, they have (700 – 120) = $580 Billion more than the US does to play around with, don’t they?

  12. There you go again IP, twisting my words to use for an attack. You said: “please stop saying what is “typical” of liberals”, when I said: “that is a typical political tactic”. And you really think the rail runner is 19th century technology? If it is we paid far too much for it. Really IP is this the best you got?

  13. Intercity buses are not subsidized…

    Yes they are. You mean to tell us you’re making a bunch of wild proposals that – as have been pointed out – would cost more than the proposal that you don’t like and be far less useful to the people who actually need them, and you haven’t even bothered to learn anything about your alternatives? Why exactly is anyone taking your organization seriously? They are indeed subsidizes – at least if you want them to be inexpensive enough to actually be affordable to the people who you want to use them. They are also far less efficient and have been shown to be much less likely to be used by the public – which basically means that every dollar spent on them would be a complete waste, since they actually would go as unused as you seem to think the current system does.

  14. Mass transit subsidies are not needed. Just rail transit subsidies. Intercity buses are not subsidized and could likely perform the Rail Runner’s job far better and, if subsidies were necessary, they’d be a tiny fraction of those given to the train.

  15. Dr. J, your manufactured anger is based on a wholly-fictional understanding of how train schedules operate and the geographical distribution of the state’s economy. For that matter, please stop saying what is “typical” of liberals; You have never once been right about what liberals believe or how we think, so why on Earth would you have any authority in saying what is typical of us?

    On a similar note, did you seriously just call a piece of nineteenth-century technology “exotic”?

    And MJM, as usual, you ignored the point in favor of righteous indignation based on unsubstantiated beliefs; my whole point was that in Mr. Gessing’s politically-motivated attempt to convince ordinary New Mexican’s that something that benefits them doesn’t, he (probably intentionally) made a factually- and mathematically-unsound analysis that specifically ignored the reality that even by his own numbers, that which he opposes is the so-called “cheaper solution” that you, fr some bizarre reason, are still searching for.

    Also, I find it highly amusing that in misspelling the name of the world’s-least-accurate-economist, you inadvertently echoed Ms. Wedum’s snarky nickname for him…

  16. Otis this is a great question. So consider this for a moment. Track, rolling stock, bridges, ties, ballast, and the trainstations themselves are sunk costs. They will depreciate over time just like any other fixed asset. Unfortunately, there was limited if any consideration to the costs of keeping the assets maintained. A good guess for these types of assets is about 4% per year. Since we have lets say $600 million of fixed assets to maintain, we wuld need about $25 million per year just for fixed maintenance. Consider that the current fees charged to those who use the Rail Runner cover about 14% of the actual operating costs ( not including a reserve for replacement of fixed capital) and you can see what kind of “investment” this really is. What it is Otis is a “scarce resource burner” not an investment. We have many business in the USA that have gone through a restructuring. Some do well after the restructuring. It has happend many time in the rail industry. Conrail for example. Unless the NM taxpayers want to eat about $40 million per year it is time to sell the rolling stock and look for another purpose for the track. At the very least launch the track north of Santa Fe. Try to recoup the costs of some of this operation.

  17. I’m not sure the folks so opposed to the RailRunner are using accurate economic data in their argument. The cost will not disappear if we stop using the train, will it? Was it not financed with bonds? So that cost will continue. The initial capital outlay is now “sunk” in economic terms. That money never comes back and no financial analyst would continue to use sunk costs in the same context as recurring costs. You can’t fix what is already spent. The train clearly costs the taxpayers to continue to operate. To throw away the project rather than work to increase ridership would be a gross waste of taxpayer’s investment in the project. “Study slinging” by biased parties does nothing to come to an honest appraisal of the project. Using the project to continue to beat up Bill Richardson’s policies does nothing to help New Mexicans. I don’t recall reading anywhere that this was going to be a money-maker of a project. I was led to believe it was intended to be a first step in moving New Mexico into the next generation of public infra-structure that will be needed if we are to move out of our horse-and-buggy mentality as a state. God forbid we should actually spend tax-payer money trying to prepare us for the future. I guess if one thinks the traffic between Albuquerque and Santa Fe will improve on it’s own it makes sense not to try upgrading infrastructure.

  18. A Quick Quiz

    Which of these three options have been floated as a cure for the Rail Runner budgetary shortfall?

    A. Raising the price of tickets to an amount that covers actual costs.

    B. Bikini-clad female staff to serve overpriced alcoholic beverages in a private lounge car furnished with slot machines.

    C. Including 100 miles of extended service to Upham, New Mexico (Population: 23).

  19. Well said MJM. This fixation on exotic, high cost, low efficiency transport solutions is typical of liberals. They see anything as free if taxpayers pay for it, and of course such “solutions” are wildly popular, as a politician handing out $100 bills on a street corner to anyone who wants it would be. Pouring money (especially other peoples’ money) into anything and offering it on the cheap or free is a big crowd pleaser for sure, but that doesn’t make it the best way to go.

    And wedum59, why settle for the rail in Socorro? Why not insist it come to Cloudcroft or Weed or Sunspot or Mayhill, then it would be really convenient and even more desired by those residents.

    And IP your reading comprehension is also failing, I said this: “Most all times I have noticed the rail runner going to and from Santa Fe on weekdays, it is empty or near empty on one leg, alternating from morning to evening depending on people coming or going from work in Santa Fe. That is hardly as you describe as “the train empty all the time,”. Maybe you like twisting and misrepresenting other people’s words to have something to be critical about, that is a typical political tactic. And if you doubt my observations, perhaps you should come up to Santa Fe and watch for a day, as the early morning train from ABQ turns around and goes back to ABQ and see how “packed” it is. The same for most any other contraflow train that isn’t bringing government workers from home in ABQ to work in Santa Fe and back.

  20. IP you’re wrong about the need to subsidize public transport all the time. In England for example some of the trains have been purchased by for profit carriers like Virgin.The demographics make sense there. Our wonderful Amtrack system (another big looser of scarce resources) is considering the sale of some of their northeast routes to for profit cariers.

    The point is IP if you need to subsidize public transportation( and I agree you do at times) use the most efficeint form of transport. It would make sense to have implemented bus transportation between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Our previous governor and many progressive liberals had a fixation on high dollar transportation (tranis, planes and space ports). A $billion spent… None made sense then and even less so now. Mr Guessing is just pointing out the obvious. FIND A CHEAPER SOLUTION!

    MRGCD has put out numbers that the trains (full of state, federal, county and municipal workers for the most part) ride the subsidized system to their government jobs. It is just a fact IP. I could care if they were private sector employees…that is not the point. I have taken the train several times but only because I was unable to drive at the time. One would have to be blind to see what is going on. Limited service …Limited ridership. Too much maintenance. Lots of deferred costs.

    Ms Wedum, I guess you never have taken an econoimcs course (I could be wrong) so let me put this issue in a new perspective.

    Think of state government as a train with so much fuel. We have to transport passengers on the train (this represents the need for social services offered by state agencies). We have only so much fuel to run the train. (This represents tax collections). We have to make choices on what destinations we go to. ( services we provide). Or the train runs out of fuel and we’re not gong to get us to our destination. Both you and IP would love to see the train continue or get expanded. But the fact is there are cehaper more efficient options that would free up valuable resources needed by other agencies…health care, education, etc.

  21. Really, MJM? That’s your question? Go back and read my very first comment on this topic, and you will find that I have conveniently already answered that question – mostly using Mr. Gessing’s own half-complete numbers against him, I might add. After that, please take some remedial courses in urban planning and elementary logic, to say nothing of math.

    Whatever your fanciful job is that takes you “all over the state” (which, for the record, mine does too, so you can go ahead and get off that particular ailing high horse), you clearly haven’t bothered to talk to people who don’t already agree with you; despite Dr. J’s repeated mantra that he sees the train empty all the time, it’s actually quite heavily used, and several park-and-ride locations have been enlarged to cope, as have bus services in three cities; traffic on the I-25 corridor – even by Mr. Gessings out-of-date numbers – has reduced noticeably, and as a consequence, traffic safety has actually gone up for the remaining drivers; meanwhile, decades of study have show that not subsidizing public transportation actually hurts private business – something many businesses who have benefited greatly from the train, particularly in Santa Fe, could tell you; as usual, the Rio Grande Foundation’s “pro-business” stance is noticeably anti-small-business, to say nothing of anti-employee and anti-consumer.

    As Ms. Wedum has already pointed out, even in areas that it doesn’t serve, approval of the commuter train remains noticeably high (indeed, in some cases it’s higher than in the areas it actually serves)… which would be why many people keep asking for service, even in areas where it obviously wouldn’t work. Check some polling numbers, start living in the real world, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll realize that just because you already believe something doesn’t make it true.

  22. MJM the subject is CHEMISTRY, not chemestry. As a person with a scientific background, I observe the data (information). My OBSERVATION is that the RailRunner is a program that is wildly popular in other areas of New Mexico.

    Thank you, IP, for correctly interpreting my observations. I personally would LOVE to see the Rail Runner extend to Socorro and to Las Cruces. I would happily drive from Cloudcroft to Socorro and take the RailRunner from Socorro to Albuquerque or to Santa Fe. I see this as an opportunity for citizens of our areas of New Mexico to become more personally involved in our state politics (and shopping, in Albuquerque and Santa Fe).

  23. What part about getting out of your personal vehicle and using public transportation does Mr. Gessing not understand? We are running out of the traditional fossil fuels and they are also not helping global warming. In Europe and large cities across the US, public transportation is the norm. Many people do not own cars. We need things like the Railrunner and good bus systems. We need employers to fix their work shifts so that workers can use public transportation. Get your head out of the sand, Mr. Gessing, et al!!

  24. Icarus Phoenix here is a question I would like your opinion on. If the Rail Runner was so popular why would we have to subsidize it? If it was so darn wonderful why did the MRGCD decide to cut back on service? The reason is lack of ridership…? I want a free ride to space from the Subssidized Space Port…You paying for my ride? I bet you’re all in favor of that $250 million boondoggle too!. Just think what we could have done with the $1+ billion dollars we spent on these two white elephants. Why our hospitals and schools would be so much better off. Instead we have to subsidize these two loosers. IP perhaps you need to get around the state a bit more. My job takes me all over the state. Your facts about lots of folks loving the Rail Runner does not hold water on either the south east, southwest, western or eastern parts of NM. Some folks in the middle of the state think it is ok…but if it was so darn popular why is the ridership stuck in the mud? Why not raise the rates on use…It would only make sense if its was so popular IP?

  25. Well I don’t know IP, when I read: ” Let me add one more fact–the legislators representing EVERY area of New Mexico, from Farmington to Las Vegas to Las Cruces, submitted bills that would fund bringing the RailRunner to THEIR area in the last session. They didn’t get anywhere, as there is no money, thanks to the deregulation disaster, for the RailRunner or any other capital improvement projects at this time“, it made me think the only thing standing in the way is our lack of tax money, something I would expect liberals to envision in their public transit fantasies, all we need is the money, all else is good.

  26. the Rail Runner program is still wildly popular.

    So is winning the lottery. Not feasible either, but wildly popular nonetheless. Especially if some one else pays for the tickets.

    Personally I’m holding out for cold fusion and a perpetual motion machine.

  27. Nowhere did Ms. Wedum suggest that those expansions were actually feasible, just that the residents of those areas wanted them. As for MJM’s claim that “most of us” don’t want to subsidize the train, I can only say that MJM needs to get out of his echo chamber more, because even with the Journal relying on half-formed theories and people like Mr. Gessing creatively using statistics that in actuality contradict their point, the Rail Runner program is still wildly popular.

  28. wedum59 says: ” Let me add one more fact–the legislators representing EVERY area of New Mexico, from Farmington to Las Vegas to Las Cruces, submitted bills that would fund bringing the RailRunner to THEIR area in the last session.” OMG, I do hope this is in error, if not these reps should be quickly defeated in the next election as they have no clue as to economics and practical logistics, not to mention sanity and a they must posses a grand ability to waste our tax money on a monumental scale not seen in history. Could you imagine the costs of putting a rail runner from ABQ to Roswell, or LC, or Hobbs, or Farmington, or Taos? And could you imagine the empty trains rattling all over the state wasting our tax money at every mile? wedum59 I am amazed you would actual offer such incredibly insane “facts” to tout the rail runner.

  29. Ms Wedum.

    I believe your background is in chemestry? have you ever taken an economics course? Or have any of the politicians that want service expanded? Do you have any background in logistics or transportation economics? The demographics to this goofball train service do not work. Unless you want to subsidize ti ad infinitum. Most of us don’t.

  30. but the idea is wildly popular all over the state.

    too bad the majority of the legislature, elected by the majority of New Mexicans didn’t think so

  31. Such excellent comments already, thanks to all who have exposed the shady calculations of Mr. Gessing. Let me add one more fact–the legislators representing EVERY area of New Mexico, from Farmington to Las Vegas to Las Cruces, submitted bills that would fund bringing the RailRunner to THEIR area in the last session. They didn’t get anywhere, as there is no money, thanks to the deregulation disaster, for the RailRunner or any other capital improvement projects at this time, but the idea is wildly popular all over the state.

    I think he should change the spelling of his name to “Guessing.”

  32. Standard and Poor’s is on record and quoted in every print, broadcast, internet and cable news outlet unequivocally that it was the brinksmanship of those opposed to tax increases that played a major part in the downgrade. The housing and banking debacle belongs squarely on the shoulders of those legislators and that president who presided over the loosening of regulations allowing the high-stakes gambling to take place. Mostly “conservative” members who thought it a dandy idea to allow extreme and exotic financial instruments to become the basis of what was once an industrial-based market.
    Had the builders of this great country followed the advice of folks like Mr.Gessing we likely would not have ever embarked on an interstate highway program. Or a space program. Or most of the major public projects like airports, dams, canals, etc that produced the sorts of commerce that built this country. If you want to use statistics, the first ounce of payload we launched into real space cost the taxpayers in excess of a trillion dollars. The first automobile trip on the interstate from New York to Los Angeles cost hundreds of billions. The first ship to dock at the Long Beach yards and unload a container was unloading a container that cost at least a third of a trillion. One has to look at the long term, not just the first few years. And one shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that every project that benefits our state or our nation has to have a positive cost/benefit ratio. It has to be measured honestly in context and in the aggregate of benefits.

  33. One of the very few legislators to review the train agreement was Janice Arnold Jones. I was one of the individuals she asked to review the deal. It was poorly conceived from the beginning and makes no economic sense what so ever. It was sold to New Mexicans as the next great way of mooving us from border to border. Unfortunately the demographics of new Mexico show conclusively that this is a real looser. There is only one or two areas of the country ( north east between Washington an New York and perhaps the West Coast where this concept makes sense. About 70% of the ridership are state, federal or other government employees that are subsidized in their trips up and down the line. As for reducing the amount of traffice on I-25, we concluded that the impact was miniscule. The recent expansion of I-25 between Albuquerque and Bernalillo proves this true. Additionally, the administrative and environmental issues along the line remain a problem. The state should launch the track between Lamy and the Colorado border before we spend our precious resources trying to make Wagon Mound and Raton our next big push. We need to cut off Amtrack and let thme go through Amarillo. Taking care of the train set and the track requires about a 6% depreciation allownance annually so Paul Guessing is not too far off. Ask a few people who have worked on the rail road to opine. I use to work on the track years ago but it has been a while so I welcome other opinions. As for me, I knew it was a dud when I saw it and the economics are worse today.

  34. What I’d like to see is a comparison of cost per passenger, paid by the passenger, vs the cost per passenger, paid for by taxpayers, a high percetage of which have no access to the RailRunner. Obviously there aren’t really good analogous systems to compare the costs with, but I would like to see the actual numbers. As far as my interests go, I think Mr. Gessing doesn’t make as good an argueent in the second part of his article, as he could have nor did the rebuttals of the very recently arrived commenters do much to convince this souhern New Mexican that this was a bad idea to begin with, not a good operation now, nor a good financial burden for New Mexico in the future.

    It is a really nice option for my sister to ride up to Santa Fe for lunch with her girlfriends though.

  35. This is always an interesting discussion about public transport and its’ cost/benefit. There are some facts here of course, the rail runner will never be able to pay back even one penny of initial capital cost, but some say who cares, it is for the “public good”. It is also heavily subsidized to the point that a ticket is but a miniscule part of the operating costs, again, some would say who cares it is a “public good”. Most all times I have noticed the rail runner going to and from Santa Fe on weekdays, it is empty or near empty on one leg, alternating from morning to evening depending on people coming or going from work in Santa Fe. This is called “deadheading”, and it is expensive in tranportation systems, no matter who is paying. I think the fairest way is for those who use it to pay at least a larger % of its’ operating expenses. This could be higher ticket prices, or more taxes for the few counties that have citizens who use it, the vast majority of NM does not and should not pay for it. If those who use it don’t want to pay enough to keep it from negatively impacting our state schools, hospitals, and other services then it is costing too much. I have never riden it and never will, I am not a public transport type of person, I rely on myself, not government, for transportation, and yes I pay gas taxes for that too, but that is not crippling our state services, it pays for itself.

  36. Mr Gessing is entitled to his opinions, and it’s a good thing to involve those opinions in the general discussion here at NM Politics. The issue of mass transit and specifically fixed rail is a complicated one that opinions will differ on.

    Typically, those with an ideological point of view, and I include Mr. Gessing and his foundation in that category, are found to abuse statistics, at least a little bit. Or quite a bit. However that’s generally the behavior of right AND left. Mr. Gessing’s point that a mass transit system is a very expensive investment is valid. So are other kinds of infrastructure such as highways, flood control, and up to date internet “pipes” statewide.

    Whether it is worth it to the citizens of this state is no simple matter, and an appropriate question to “investigate”. Clearly answers to those questions of “worth and who pays for it” tend to be different for the 20% who control 80% of US assets, and those 80% who control 20%. That’s our American way, and it confronts “us” as a “whole” with tough choices, and fierce political battles. That fact doesn’t necessarily make one interest group more correct than another. We need to examine the facts, and on as level a playing field as possible., Such as this site,

    But neither left nor right groups should be getting away with pretending to be non partisan tax exempt research and educational organizations. Something’s wrong when a clearly conservative organization such as the Rio Grande Foundation can call itself independent and non partisan and be tax exempt while at the same time promoting a definite and specific ideology. They are not alone, there are cynical abuses of loopholes by both “sides”.

    This is similar to the recent PAC’s that pretend to be unaffiliated with election campaigns in order to garner unlimited contributions; while employing and working closely with persons working on those campaigns. It’s questionably legal at best, but certainly unethical, and falls into the “shady” category of behavior that Mr. Gessing complains about with perhaps good reason in the Rail Runner situation. Heath, can these cynical exploitations of laws be reigned in somehow?

  37. Mark, I too would like to see the actual cost per passenger for the train, but for the information to be meaningful, we’d have to be able to compare it to the actual cost per passenger of driving and include in that amount the cost of building and maintaining the roads they drive on as well as the cost of purchasing, maintaining, fueling, and insuring the car.

  38. Your comment that the Rail Runner has not and will not do anything to reduce traffic on I-25 is illogical on two counts:

    1. A 5% reduction in traffic is not insignificant.

    2. You have no basis for the statement that the train “will not do anything to reduce traffic”. With a more frequent schedule, effective advertising, and real political support, there is no reason not to expect ridership to increase.

    3. Reducing traffic isn’t the sole function of the train. Other obvious benefits are:

    (a) Reducing energy consumption. The same statistics you use to say the train doesn’t save much energy show the opposite. At a savings of 600 BTU per passenger x 3,397 riders per day, the train is saving over 2 million BTU per day. That’s the equivalent of NOT burning 30 tons of coal a year and NOT putting the pollution from those 30 tons of pollution into the air every day.

    (b) Tourists use the train. You mention this almost derisively. Are you unaware of the fact that tourism is a major industry in NM?

    Stopping support for the Rail Runner now would be the equivalent of burning money. Delaying some of the cost for the train is not unreasonable in this case because the people who pay the bill will still be deriving benefit from the infrastructure that has been put in place. Yes, trains do require maintenance, but unlike cars, they are not built to last only ten years. Visit any city in the world that relies heavily on mass transit and you will no doubt be riding in cars that are 30+ years old on tracks that are even older. Furthermore, ridership is likely to increase with time, so the benefits of traffic reduction and reduced energy consumption will still be being realized when the next bill comes due.

  39. Mr. Gessing:

    I congratulate you for going above-and-beyond in your abilities when it comes to misleading statistics. First of all, public transportation must be subsidized; making it “profitable” makes it useless. I know that you don’t really care about the prosperity of the middle- and working-classes of this country, but I assure you, public transit is an absolute necessity in improving the standard-of-living for the average American.

    The cost of the Rail Runner (by your own numbers) makes it the second-cheapest commuter train in the United States. I also have to ask, since when is approximately 5% of motor vehicles an a nearly 60-mile stretch of a major freeway merely a “rounding error”? Certainly a single-digit difference doesn’t seem significant, but it makes a difference to the nearly 4,500 people who ride the train every single day (a number you glossed over by only mentioning an out-of-date figure for individual cars), not to mention the over 3,500 people who ride it every weekend (which you ignored completely). As usual, you also ignore the cost to the average citizen; that $453 million that we collectively save spread over a quarter-of-a-century comes to a whopping $12 a year per taxpayer (and I’m being generous with that figure). Meanwhile, for the average Rail Runner daily commuter, the additional cost incurred in fuel alone comes to an absolute minimum of $1,440 this year alone – and that’s assuming fairly static gas prices and a car with very good gas mileage. Also, as long as we’re talking numbers, assuming the 2,500 BTU goal for autos in 2037 is achieved (which seems like kind of a pathetically low hurdle to clear, honestly), you’re comparing two-dozen trains to 3,400 cars. There are millions of elementary school children who can tell you what’s wrong with that.

    Either your math skills are atrocious – particularly for an economist – or you are, as usual, ignoring the needs of your fellow citizens and paying homage to whoever has been anointed with the most cash.

  40. Just another boondoggle financed by the taxpayers of New Mexico.

    The Rail-Runner cannot possibly become economically feasible, nor can the silly series of buses that drive daily from Las Cruces to El Paso and back.

    What I would really like to see is what the ACTUAL cost per passenger is for both of these state fiascos.