With the recent opening of the Bernalillo County Sunport International station on Second Street and Rio Bravo and the downtown Bernalillo station, the New Mexico Rail Runner Express is now servicing seven of the nine planned stations along the first phase of the 50-mile corridor.
Along with the new stations, cameras and video message boards have also been installed, providing additional security and information for riders.
Lawrence Rael, executive director of the Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG), said the new camera equipment is capable of panning the platform, tracks and parking lots at each station.
"We have the ability to set the cameras and monitor a certain area during the day to help protect cars and property," Rael said. "These cameras are pretty sophisticated and durable. We can zoom in on areas or read license plates on cars."
The information from the mounted cameras is fed to the Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG) office building where staff members physically monitor them during the Rail Runner's hours of operation.
Rael said when trains are not in operation, the stations are still monitored and recorded where tapes can be reviewed the next day if there are any incidents.
"We had some early issues at the Los Lunas station, but the response from the Village of Los Lunas and the City of Belen has been good," Rael stated. "There's an increased security presence, and I haven't heard of any (other) incidents." Currently, the new transportation department building is being built on the east side of the Los Lunas station, which may block some of the camera's view of the parking lot, but Rael said they are working with the Village of Los Lunas to install a camera on the east side of the building once it's constructed.
At the Belen station, Security Officer Eddie Jaramillo, who began work on April 3, is dividing his services between the Rail Runner station and parks within the City of Belen.
"The main objective at the Rail Runner station is to try to make it a safe environment for commuters and the restaurant," Jaramillo explained.
The restaurant Jaramillo is talking about is the Rail Café, located next to the Belen station, where they've experienced some theft since the station came online.
Jaramillo went on to say that, within the past two and one half weeks, he has arrested two individuals off warrants and has intercepted people trying to cross over the railroad tracks from the east side.
In addition to the cameras, Rael explained they are in the process of putting together a public communications system that will allow interaction between the control room and individual stations.
"We will be able to see if a train is approaching and if a person is standing too close (on the platform), we can tell them to step back," Rael said. "Or if a train is late we can relay that information."
Rael went on to say that this will take approximately three to four months before it is fully operational. In addition to the communications system, an emergency panel and an information panel are also on site for commuters to utilize if they need to.
"The emergency button connects to the dispatch center in Valencia County," Rael said. "They can talk directly to them and relay the emergency." The information panel button will be connected to the communications system, and during the commuter train's hours of operation, riders will be able to talk to a person in the control room.
"After hours, there will be a recorded message giving basic information," Rael said.
Once it is up and running, Rael went on to say riders will be able to leave a message after hours, leaving their information such as a telephone number, and someone will call them back to answer their questions during hours of operation.
"We're planning on completing that along with the communications system," Rael said. Meanwhile, video boards that relay pertinent information for riders, such as the time, where the trains are and when the next train is scheduled to arrive are nearly complete, Rael said. "It's pretty much done - we're just doing some programming now."
Now that the first three months of riding the Rail Runner for free have expired, Rael said the ridership has been between 1,800 and 2,400 a day, depending on the day of the week.
"We saw a small decrease when fares went into effect," Rael said. "Now we are seeing a slow increase." Rael attributes the increase in ridership to the weather warming up, saying "one thing interesting about transportation of this nature - as it warms up, more people come out."
Rael explained that the opening of the Bernalillo County Sunport International station will be great for Valencia County residents who work at the airport or for those traveling because there is a shuttle service that will connect you to the airport. The service will be free as long as you have a Rail Runner ticket.
Riders should check the ABQ Bus schedule for pick-up times, as they vary.
"It's a good service for Valencia County residents," he said.
One thing Rael said they are near completing is a Saturday service schedule for the summer, and he said they should have it finalized within a week.
"We're working on a summer schedule as we speak," Rael said.
The final two stations in phase one — at Isleta and Sandia Pueblos — are yet to be completed, and Rael said they are still in negotiations at this time and a specific date has not been determined.