The Rail Runner will roll Saturdays, too

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By Roger Snodgrass

The new commuter rail system between Santa Fe and Albuquerque will have a Saturday schedule after all. The day was quickly added to the standard weekday lineup after three free Saturdays and Sundays ended on Jan 4.

The plan had been to offer the Saturday service only during the summer between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

But Rail Runner’s Saturday service resumed this week, the Associate Press reported, after Lawrence Rael, the executive director of the council of governments that operates the train said officials had figured out how to keep it going year around.

The Rail Runner website now lists five northbound trains and four from Santa Fe to Albuquerque on Saturdays, but no trains on Sunday.

The Middle Rio Grande Council of Governments previously had to double the number of trains during its free weekend holiday service after the Santa Fe route started up on Dec. 17.

With so many specials and introductory offers mentioned on the train’s web site, some prospective riders may find them hard to keep up with.

Residents of Santa Fe ride free for the first three months of the service with a driver’s license for proof of residence. Rail Runner riders will have free access to museums in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe. There is a dollar discount for passes purchased on line.

Each of the stops also has its own connections to ground transportation, offering extra dimensions. Downtown Albuquerque’s stop offers a free D-Ride that takes in much of the city center from Lomas to Silver, and a Rapid Ride slides up and down Central Avenue from Old Town and juts over to the Uptown shopping centers. There are also airport connections and an easy bus to the zoo, aquarium and biological park area.

But riders should consult the website themselves at www.nmrailrunner.com/ or better yet, get some local knowledge from commuters who have been taking the train for three weeks and are already old hands.

During a reporter’s first trial run Friday, the train conductor had a kind of semi-professional approach to his new job and pleaded ignorance to questions about tickets and special offers.

There are many things to like about the Rail Runner, the distinctive triple-decker, silver and red express, even if it does take about an hour and a half one-way and makes any kind of tight scheduling difficult to accommodate.

For one thing, the train is both relatively smooth and remarkably quiet. One passenger said that he had been on a lot of trains around the world and that the ride was impressive. He had a handheld GPS system that clocked the train’s top speed at about 80 miles per hour.

The chairs were comfortable. About every other pair of facing chairs had a little table.

The train from Santa Fe, diverges from the Interstate near the top of La Bajada and curves south following Waldo Canyon down to the Pecos River, where it joins the main line from Lamy and parts north to Albuquerque and the west.

One of the most interesting things about the route is that it zips through Santa Domingo and San Felipe, offering an unusually intimate look into two native American pueblos.

The conductor asked passengers to refrain from taking pictures out the window during those times.

A frisky young pinto stallion couldn’t help but join a futile race for several furlongs across the pasture as the sun set on the Rail Runner’s sprint back north.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.