Governor says commuter rail not dead

By Deborah Baker

SANTA FE — Gov. Bill Richardson said Tuesday there are “a few glitches,” but the planned Rail Runner commuter train remains on track.

The governor said at a Capitol rally that he envisions commuter rail service all the way to Raton — “All of northern New Mexico will benefit,” he said — and some day to Denver.

In remarks aimed at blunting criticism of the commuter rail system, the governor told a cheering crowd that the project is a good investment for the future.

“Let the critics continue to carp. We are moving forward,” he said.

The Department of Transportation plans to start service this spring on the Bernalillo-Albuquerque stretch of the rail line, followed a couple of months later by the Albuquerque-Belen segment. The service would be extended to Santa Fe by the end of 2008 under the plan.

Some lawmakers have questioned the $393 million cost of the New Mexico Rail Runner Express and whether projected ridership warrants it. They also say environmental risks and liability haven’t been sufficiently explored.

A proposed budget for next year approved Tuesday by a House committee included language aimed at capping spending on the project at $393 million.

And while the department had hoped to have a go-ahead from the attorney general by now to close a deal to buy 51 miles of track between Belen and Bernalillo, the agreement with BNSF Railway is still undergoing legal review.