Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Rail Runner To Add Weekend Trains to Santa Fe

Its extension to Santa Fe has been in operation less than a month and already New Mexico Rail Runner is planning to add service. The regional operator says it will continue running to Santa Fe on Saturdays, nixing earlier plans to cut back to weekday-only operation after the New Years holiday.

According to KOAT-TV, the Saturday service will operate over the entire system from Belen to Santa Fe.
"With our extension to Santa Fe, there has always been Saturday service built into the schedule between Memorial Day and Labor Day, but now we have worked it out so that we can offer a regular Saturday service during the other eight months of the year," said Lawrence Rael, Executive Director of the Mid-Region Council of Governments.

Since the Rail Runner opened its Santa Fe extension on Dec. 17, more than 60,000 people have boarded trains between Belen and Santa Fe, many of them taking advantage of special introductory free weekend service which was made available through the holidays.
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The initial weekend service has proven a boon for Santa Fe businesses. That should come as a surprise to no one. In fact, the train's success is spurring calls to extend the line north to Espanola and Taos, although the mountainous terrain makes getting to the latter problematic.

The Santa Fe depot is in a developing area fittingly known as the Railyard District that has many restaurants, galleries and other attractions and it is within walking distance of the 400-year old city's central plaza, where there is even more to see and do. Thus, it is an ideal destination for day-trippers. Given the fact that Santa Fe is a walkable, but congested, city with limited downtown parking, train is the ideal way to get there.

This illustrates why planners, agencies and rail advocates need to refer to services like Rail Runner as regional rail rather than commuter rail. Even though commuters comprise the bulk of passengers for these operations, those lines that operate service throughout the day, seven days a week have many more markets to serve.

In the New York area, the Long Island Rail Road and NJ Transit have thriving summer weekend businesses hauling New Yorkers the many beaches along their routes. Metro North promotes travel to leisure destinations like the DIA Museum in Beacon and Rye Playland. Soon it will stop at Yankee Stadium; the LIRR will serve Citibank Field, the successor to Shea Stadium.

Of course, Manhattan is a huge draw with its shopping, theatres, museums and restaurants. Large cities like Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Chicago and San Francisco also offer numerous attractions that are reachable by rail.

Seven-day service should be part of any regional rail plan serving an area with a thriving center city and strong communities with their own attractions along the route. Tapping leisure travel markets builds the constituency for the service and the leisure traveler will pay full off-peak fares, which typically are higher what commuters with deeply discounted monthly passes pay.

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