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New Mexico eyes high-speed rail expansion

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By Ralph Damiani

It seems like New Mexico, Colorado and Texas are feeling big these days. And while we understand that Colorado and Texas are doing OK, we are really wondering how little old us is sharing in that wealth.

See, the three states are applying for federal funds to study the viability of a high-speed rail system in the hopes of putting new life into passenger railroads in the Intermountain West.

While that may be a good idea, how do we benefit from what is going to be a huge price tag. We are struggling to pay for the glorious RailRunner now.

But Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said Thursday the 720-mile high-speed rail system would travel at speeds of 110 mph to more than 200 mph from El Paso, Texas, through Albuquerque to Denver.

“The West was connected to the rest of the country by railroads. Our history is until the 1880s and the coming of the railroads, we were isolated,” Udall said. “You could view (the proposed high-speed rail corridor) as a second wave which revives the railroads that we've allowed to wither.”

Now this may not be a terrible idea, but does anyone expect it to work? Is not Amtrak only surviving via huge government subsides?

Gov. Richardson and Udall, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said the three states will submit a joint pre-application Friday for up to $5 million to pay for the study.

Congress has authorized up to 11 high-speed rail corridors nationwide. Ten have been designated, and the three states hope to become home to the 11th.

“Today, you cannot get from Albuquerque to Denver by rail without changing trains in Los Angeles or Chicago, and our regional railways run from East to West, with no North-South connections,” Udall said.

This is true. But honestly, do these folks think this will work? That it will even come close to paying for itself?

I don’t. Do you?

Richardson and Udall said such a rail system would bring business and tourism growth to the region.

“High-speed rail is the future of our country and is going to be a major boost to the economic vitality of the cities and states along its routes,” Richardson said in a news release.

It's too early to say where the stops on the proposed route would be, said Udall's spokeswoman, Marissa Padilla.

New Mexico started a commuter rail service in July 2006 that connects Belen, south of Albuquerque, to Santa Fe.

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter said his state has long been talking about high-speed rail.

“There is a great deal of movement of people, goods and services along the Front Range and the entire Colorado-Texas-New Mexico corridor, and it is high time Congress designate a Western corridor,” Ritter said.

Texas is already home to one of the designated high-speed rail routes, the South Central Corridor. It has a proposed hub at Dallas-Fort Worth and spokes extending to Austin and San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and Little Rock, Ark.

“Improving and expanding our transportation infrastructure is vitally important in a state that grows by more than 1,000 people each day,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry said.

We do think that the population in that part of the world is just a bit higher than ours and may make sense.

We don’t see it here.

The Federal Railroad Administration will decide which region gets the 11th high-speed rail corridor designation based on the strength of their applications, FRA spokesman Rob Kulat said.

New Mexico, Colorado and Texas may have competition. Kulat declined to say how many pre-applications for feasibility studies the FRA has received so far.

“Quite a few are in already, but the number is going to grow by tomorrow,” he said.

Final applications for the grants are due Aug. 24, he said.

The nation’s 10 existing high-speed rail corridors were authorized from 1991 to 2000. They are located in major metropolitan areas along the East Coast and in the South, the Chicago area, the Pacific Northwest and California. They are in varying stages of development.

In April, President Obama launched a renewed effort to develop a national network of high-speed passenger rail lines, identifying $8 billion in federal stimulus funds.

Of course given the fact that the government is drowning in excess money, why not go for it?