Rail Runner eyes ‘midlife’ repairs for train engines

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The Rail Runner’s been moving for more than a decade, and now operations crews are looking to target some critical maintenance to keep the service running into the future. 

July will mark the 12th year of operations for Rail Runner, which continues to carry passengers between Belen and Santa Fe. 

Riders may notice a few upgrades inside the passenger cars this summer, but the train also has its engine cars that are all approaching a “midlife overhaul.” 

Rail Runner Operations Manager Robert Gonzales says the service’s nine engines are rated to last about 25 to 30 years. He says the next few years of repairs will be critical in maintaining a fleet that lives up to that rating. 

“To maintain this fleet is a lot of work,” said Gonzales. “Right now, we’re looking at midlife, which is a major overhaul on (the engines).” 

Inside the train’s passenger cars, the Rail Runner is in the process of replacing the cloth headrests with vinyl headrests that are easier to clean.  

While they don’t plan on any other notable passenger car upgrades any time soon, that’s also a good thing in terms of cost. 

“I think if you look at the interior, I think these things have held up pretty well,” said Gonzales. 

The Rail Runner now says it need to aim its maintenance budget at the engines, which are in need of a “midlife overhaul,” according to Gonzales. 

“A lot of intricate parts being repaired, the electronic parts, so it’s a big deal,” said Gonzales. 

An ideal “midlife overhaul” Gonzales estimates would cost about $1 million per train engine. However, Gonzales says the service is aware that it can’t afford that. 

“Everything’s about budget, so we’re actually looking at ways to curb our costs,” said Gonzales. 

Starting in the summer, Rail Runner is looking to do what it calls a “top shelf overhaul” on each of its nine train engines. Gonzales estimates that will cost about $300,000 per engine. 

“Which would get us in compliance and keep us running probably for the next five to ten years,” said Gonzales. 

Gonzales estimates that crews should be able to pay for about three “top-shelf overhauls” each year for the next three years within the Rail Runners current budget. He also believes the crews that manage Rail Runner’s current operations and maintenance should be able to take care of those repairs on site.  

“I think right now the way we maintain our equipment and how we rotate in and out, I think we can make that. I don’t think it’ll be a problem,” said Gonzales. 

The state paid about $3.2-million per train engine car when the service started in 2006. New replacement engine cars, by the Rail Runner’s estimate, could cost between $3.5 million and $5 million each. 

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