Belen Council OK’s site of commuter rail station
By Jane Moorman
Wednesday, July 21, 2004
The Belen City Council on Monday approved a resolution supporting the location of a commuter rail station within the city.
Lawrence Rael, executive director of Mid-Region Council of Governments, told the council the station will be located on the east side of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks on the north side of Reinken Avenue.
The land, which has a vacant building on it that formerly served as the Belen Fire Department substation, is owned by the state.
At first, the station will be a 30-foot-long platform with shade structures and lighted gravel parking lot. The commuter rail system will also have sidings in the area for extra trains to wait until they’re dispatched.
“The development of the station area will be as much as what you want,” Rael told the council, “maybe a coffee shop or other retail stores that could serve the commuters.”
He added that plans for the station include “a structure to get passengers walking from Reinken down to the rail stop.”
Rael said the planners would have liked to use the Harvey House as its stations, “but because BNSF’s east-west corridor is one of the busiest in the nation, it made it difficult for us to go into the area.”
Each community that will have a rail station has been asked to approve a resolution supporting the commuter rail.
“Bernalillo has committed, and Los Lunas will be approving its resolution later this week,” Rael said. “We have a commitment for seven of our eight stations. Isleta’s governor still has some concerns that we need to address.”
Last week, the State Transportation Commission approved $75 million to build the new commuter train service linking Belen, Los Lunas, Isleta, Albuquerque and Bernalillo.
The money ‹ a slice of the $1.6 billion transportation package approved in a special state legislative session in the fall ‹ will pay for eight new stations at a cost of $1 million each, a maintenance yard in Belen and diesel locomotives and passenger cars needed for the 46-mile route through the heart of New Mexico’s most populated region. The line will use existing track owned by the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway.
The funds will also pay for the estimated $30 million in track and signal work needed to get the service up and running, according to Rael.
“The length of track from Isleta to Belen is called dark track because there are limited signals at crossings. Burlington Northern and Santa Fe are able to have these limited signals because they are only running freight through that area. The lion’s share of the cost of this project will be putting signals at crossings.”
Rael said the system will be running by late fall or early winter in 2005.
The Council of Governments estimates that it will cost $8 million to $12 million each year to operate the service. That cost includes the price the council will pay the existing track’s owners. Negotiations with BNSF are continuing.
Planners are hoping to secure federal transit money to pay the first three years’ operating costs.
During those first three years, “we can develop our ridership and begin to demonstrate to the public and the local government and the state, that this is a valuable transportation alternative,” Rael said.
In the meantime, Rael said, the regional transit district or communities along the route will need to ask its voters for tax increases to keep the service in operation. A bill passed by the Legislature earlier this year allows local voters to boost their gross-receipts taxes by up to one-half of 1 percent to pay for such transit projects.
The second phase of the project to have commuter rail from Bernalillo to Santa Fe could start in late 2007, Rael said. The cost to build this phase is estimated at $150 million to $200 million, and planners are hoping to pay the bulk of that tab with federal funds.
Jeff Jones of the Albuquerque Journal contributed to this story.