As the Rail Runner continues to see its yearly passenger count decline, state lawmakers say it’s a threat to the whole service and they’ve suggested a list of changes to consider.
The suggestions emerged earlier this year as part of a report published by the Legislative Finance Committee, titled, “Program Evaluation: Cost Effectiveness and Operations of the New Mexico Rail Runner Express.”
Over the past few months, the Rail Runner has had a chance to review those suggestions. The service says some of the talking points are among the changes they’ll make over the next year.
Since 2010, the Rail Runner has seen its annual passenger count decline. According to their statistics, about 1.16 million passengers rode the Rail Runner in all of 2010. In 2018, that number was down to about 771,000.
“I think when you’re in the business of public transit you’re always looking for new ways to attract riders,” said Augusta Meyers, spokeswoman for the Rail Runner.
While looking at ways to keep its current passengers and find new ones, the train also says much of their attention is being placed on a federally mandated safety system called “Positive Train Control,” or PTC.
“It’s a federal mandate, it costs $55 million, and you know we’ve secured $35 million of that,” said Meyers.
Today, Rail Runner is aiming at completing the PTC safety system by 2020. Lawmakers haven’t stopped suggesting changes though, like reducing service to or closing its least used platform in downtown Bernalillo.
However, the Rail Runner says they already limited the amount of service offered at the downtown Bernalillo station. Right now, they have no plans to close it.
Lawmakers also want the train to come up with a long-term strategy to boost ridership. In response, Rail Runner says it’s doing that, in part, by upgrading the train Wi-Fi system. The upgrades are part of the PTC mandate.
“We think a more advantageous and more workable Wi-Fi system is going to make a lot of difference too,” said Meyers.
The report also suggests that ideas for potential costly rail spurs, including one to Balloon Fiesta Park and another to the Sunport shouldn’t be built anytime soon.
The Rail Runner agrees, reiterating its focus on spending any available funding on the PTC mandate.
“Right now our biggest goal is to get through PTC. That’s going to take the better part of this year and all of next year,” said Meyers.