Gov. Signs, Celebrates $75M Rail Deal
By Jeff Jones
Journal Politics Writer
Gov. Bill Richardson on Monday signed a $75 million deal
with railroad giant BNSF Railway for New Mexico's purchase of
about 300 miles of rail line between Belen and Trinidad, Colo.
"Step by step, mile by mile, we're moving toward the
launch of my commuter service," Richardson said in
Albuquerque, standing beside the sparkling silver locomotive
No. 102 of the New Mexico Rail Runner Express.
The first check to BNSF is due in January, when the state
hands over $50 million for the rails between Belen and
Bernalillo. It is line needed to start the first phase of the
The state will pay another $20 million in 2007 for the
line between Bernalillo and Lamy, south of Santa Fe— another
leg needed by planners to ultimately get the Rail Runner into
State Transportation Secretary Rhonda Faught said the
final $5 million payment will come in 2008 for the 200 miles
of line between Lamy and Colorado.
The state also recently paid BNSF another $1 million for a
13-acre chunk of land near Lead and Coal SE in Albuquerque,
where a Rail Runner maintenance yard is to be built.
Although the 200 miles of rail north of Santa Fe isn't
needed for the commuter line, Faught said BNSF wanted to sell
the entire, 300-mile chunk of line from Belen to Trinidad as a
"It was a $75 million deal, anyway you look at it," Faught
said. "We were able to get the additional 200 miles of track
as part of the deal."
A $1.6 billion transportation program called Governor
Richardson's Investment Partnership, approved by the
Legislature in 2003, will pay for most of the train-line
The GRIP program is running short on money due to rising
transportation project construction costs. Faught has insisted
the train-line costs are not the reason for the shortfall.
Faught on Monday said the state has decided against using
any GRIP money for the final $5 million payment for the line
between Lamy and Colorado and will instead seek federal
transportation money to pick up that tab.
State Transportation Commission Chairman Johnny Cope vowed
during Monday's signing ceremony that all GRIP road projects
will get built.
"This is one heck of a deal," Faught said of the rail
purchase at the ceremony.
Richardson in 2003 unveiled his plans for a commuter train
that planners say will ultimately link Belen, Albuquerque,
Santa Fe and points in between.
The locomotives and passenger cars have already been
purchased, and the first portion of the system— a commute
between Albuquerque and Bernalillo— is planned to begin
service early next year. Service to Los Lunas and Belen is
expected by March, and planners hope to get a train into Santa
Fe sometime in 2008.
Monday's ceremony was a celebration. With one of the new
locomotives rumbling on the tracks not far away, dignitaries
ate ribs and quesadillas and sipped coffee inside a large,
heated tent with red carpeting.
State ownership of the line north of Santa Fe could one
day help allow Las Vegas, N.M., to begin a commuter line into
Santa Fe, rail planners have said. They maintain it could also
someday help make a proposed high-speed train linking
Cheyenne, Wyo., Denver and Albuquerque a reality.
Faught said, in addition to the rail right of way, the $75
million deal also includes several rail "spurs"— side tracks
that lead off the main line. She said one of those spurs runs
toward the Albuquerque International Sunport, and planners
have said they hope to link the Rail Runner to the airport by
Faught said that, after the track sales are complete, BNSF
Railway will pay the state for the freight trains that will
continue to rumble down the line.
The state will pay for the maintenance of the line. But
with the revenues from commercial track users factored in,
Faught said, the state should break even for upkeep of the
stretch between Lamy and Colorado.