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Sunday, May 09, 2010

Stephen Jones: Congressman Teague, State Rep. Steinborn Welcome Visitors to ‘National Train Day’ in Las Cruces

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This is a post by contributing writer, Stephen Jones, who is a progressive political activist and a resident of Las Cruces, New Mexico. He IS our Southern NM Bureau.

Congressman Harry Teague, State Representative Jeff Steinborn, State Senator Steve Fischmann and several other local officials welcomed hundreds of visitors attending the ‘National Train Day’ event held in Las Cruces on Saturday, May 8. The event, one of many held around the nation, was sponsored by the Las Cruces Museums and the City of Las Cruces as a celebration of New Mexico’s rail heritage and to promote modern rail services.

Congressman Harry Teague (NM-02) welcomed visitors to the event and called for support for greater mass transit services in southern New Mexico and elsewhere in the state. Teague has sponsored HR 2337, the Southwestern Transit Corridor Planning and Fuel Use Reduction Act. The Act would direct the Secretary of Transportation to allocate funds for a mass transit feasibility study for southern New Mexico and west Texas. The bill primarily focuses on mass transit options for the Las Cruces–El Paso corridor, but would also study expanding rail passenger service south of Belen. “My plan will take cars off the road and save energy,” Teague said. “I look forward to working with the community to make rail transportation a reality.”

State Senator Steve Fischmann thanked Teague for his efforts to expand mass transit and highlighted his work with state and local officials to create the El Paseo Rd. Transportation corridor in Las Cruces. The proposed corridor, one of four designated by the Federal Government, envisions a shopping and mass transit connection between downtown Las Cruces and the New Mexico State University campus. Las Cruces Mayor Pro Tempore Sharon Thomas outlined an EPA grant awarded to the city for the corridor.

State Representative Jeff Steinborn, who has sponsored several bills in the New Mexico legislature promoting mass transit, noted that the New Mexico Rail Runner Express had carried over three million passengers since it began running in the Belen-Albuquerque-Santa Fe corridor. “If we had the train here,” Steinborn said, “it would take cars off the highway, promote business development and help raise people in our area out of poverty.” Steinborn identified the 10,000 students that travel between El Paso and Las Cruces as well as thousands of commuters, city and Colonia residents that travel daily between the cities as the core base of travelers needing a Las Cruces-El Paso commuter train.

“We see the ramifications of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and can contemplate the natural costs of rising carbon levels and environmental destruction of waiting to build rail service” Steinborn said. “Now is the time and we are the people to make it happen.”

Steinborn and Thomas also sponsored a community question and answer session Saturday afternoon aboard the Rail Runner, which made an overnight journey from Albuquerque for the event, with Chris Blewett, Project Manager for the New Mexico Rail Runner Express. Blewett responded to questions about commuter rail from Steinborn, Thomas and local residents.

In his remarks Blewett outlined the density issues that had faced the communities between Belen and Santa Fe and led to construction of the new rail line. “When I-25 fails, there are no alternatives,” Blewett noted. Blewett said he saw parallels in the congested Las Cruces-El Paso corridor, particularly around the south rim of the Franklin Mountains. I-10 frequently has extensive traffic congestion and has seen many closures in that segment of the highway.

Blewett also noted that Las Cruces is eligible for Federal grant opportunities that the Rail Runner didn’t have. Blewett stated that New Mexico must approach transportation on a multi-modal model. “There really is not an either-or option between roads and rail. We need both.” Citing the 4,500 riders the service attracts daily, Blewett stated that the Rail Runner had succeeded in taking cars off the highway and alleviating parking problems in Santa Fe. Responding to a question about cost-effectiveness Blewett noted that no transportation system is profitable. “95% of the roads in New Mexico serve less than 2,000 cars per day” Blewett said.

Also highlighted at the celebration was the rededication of the Las Cruces Railroad Station museum. The current Pueblo revival station was built 100 years ago and recently placed on the National Registry of Historic Places. A centennial caboose exhibit was also dedicated. The caboose once belonging to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, and was donated to the museum by a private owner.

Other exhibits included railway equipment of the BNSF and Union Pacific Railroads, Amtrak, the New Mexico State Museum’s travelling ‘Van of Enchantment,’ and models of the Dona Ana Modular Railroad Club. Period re-enactors entertained visitors outside the station.

Click photos for larger versions. All photos by Stephen Jones. To read more posts by Stephen, visit our archive.

May 9, 2010 at 01:19 PM in By Stephen Jones, Contributing Writer, Las Cruces, NM Legislature 2010, Rep. Harry Teague (NM-02), Transportation | Permalink


Good to see that Teague and the others are pushing for more public transportation. It makes good sense and I hope the feds start funding much more of this.

Posted by: Chuck | May 10, 2010 9:29:36 AM

I went to this event and really enjoyed it. Thanks for the report and spreading the word on the need for more trains.

Posted by: Allen | May 10, 2010 9:48:49 AM

Vote for Democrats! If the Republicans get in they will destroy the railrunner and refuse to spend a dime on public transportation. The don't believe in it and the are owned by the oil companies.

Posted by: T or C | May 10, 2010 12:06:33 PM