New Rio Grande Foundation Study: Time to Stop the Rail Runner in its Tracks

(Albuquerque) The Rio Grande Foundation has long been critical of the Rail Runner and its finances. A new report from the Foundation outlines the top “Ten Reasons to Shut the Rail Runner Down Now.” The report is available here.

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.

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.

Most egregious among the revelations is the fact that rather than paying the train off in equal annual payments over 30 years as a family would do with a mortgage, 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. New Mexico taxpayers are on the hook for two lump sum payments of $230 million per year in 2025 and 2027.

According to newspaper reports, the train will cost a total of $1.3 billion over the next 20 years. This does not include the replacement cost of the train sets and track which transportation expert Randal O’Toole estimates must be done at approximately their original cost every 30 years.

If the train is shut down, taxpayers will save at least $18.12 million in annual taxpayer-financed operating costs beginning with the system’s shutdown. This would add up to $453 million over the next 25 years if the train is shut down right away. The train’s total per-passenger subsidies come to $50 per-passenger, enough to purchase a car (costing more than $18,000) for each passenger annually.

Said Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing, “As painful as it might be in terms of prestige, the Rail Runner is not an integral part of New Mexico’s transportation system and is simply an unaffordable luxury. It is time to shut it down.”

Read the full report and all 10 reasons to shut the train down here.