Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Magic Carpet Made of Steel Report: RailRunner 4.30.07

As previously indicated, your humble blogger took the Rail Runner as part of his delicious commuting breakfast yesterday morning. Here's what I found:

Heading North (7:25 A.M. train)
  • A morning train pretty much full of both travelers and bicycles. I chose to stand for the duration of my 11 minute trip from the ill-named "Bernalillo County/International Sunport" stop to downtown ABQ. Many more than the announced limit of two bikes lined the back interior of the train. I'd say eight bikes minimum.
  • Conversation for morning train patrons largely centered around the train and not driving cars. There was a pleasant aura amongst passengers, the feeling we were all doing something morally right. The same feeling you get attending a non-profit to help defenseless animals or something. It was a pleasant feeling, tinged with a faint creepiness.
  • No ticket-taker came by to take my money in the 11 minutes between my stop and Alvarado.
  • Given the short distance and a number of crossings, the train never broke 30 miles an hour. This was less than satisfying in that "City of New Orleans" Steve Goodman sense. No blurring of objects outside the window, no gentle rocking, rhythm of the rails feel.

Heading South (4:25 P.M. train)
  • Again, plenty of commuters, now scuffed and sprinkled with the physical/mental coating of a day spent at work. Enough room to find a seat, but still the train was at least half-full.
  • Conversation is not about the train, folks crack open cell phones...it has more of a city bus vibe now.
  • A friendly ticket-taker cracking jokes as he moved along swiping bar codes from monthly pass customers (I guess, I never went inside Alvarado to actually buy a ticket). Said ticket-taker amiably sidles up to me, and I give him $2 to pay for both this and the unpaid for morning trip. He asks where I'm going and I tell him "the next stop". He asks which county the next stop is in. Several passengers chime in along with me to say "Bernalillo". Friendly ticket-taker doesn't really know about the new South Valley stop. Not surprising as it still only gets about ten passengers a day, I guess.
  • 11 minutes later I'm back to the nearly deserted train parking lot at Rio Bravo and 2nd. A passenger-empty city bus waits to pick up passengers for its new route from this station. A woman and child take their bicycles from the train, I walk to my car, and the bus remains empty. Nevertheless, the driver dutifully takes off before me out of the parking lot. I drive along side the empty bus for a mile or so down an almost bumper-to-bumper Rio Bravo, heading west.
All in all, an enjoyable journey. The train was well-populated, comfortable and on-time. It feels like you're no longer in Burque as you enter a world without cars. One almost feels like a vacationer, but perhaps that novelty wears quickly.

Two things that might prevent a ton of future visits from me: one holistic, one personal. Personally, riding Rail Runner from the SV stop to downtown is a bit of a waste. It's slower than driving the straight shot down 2nd street, and you never get that "commuter" feel. More importantly, the biggest drawback to Rail Runner now is simply frequency of trains. To make this a real alternative to driving, the system has to go beyond three trains a commuting period and become a faster, more frequent service. The novelty of newness make one forget the time passing now, but sufficient ridership to make any sort of dent in traffic density obviously requires much, much more.


phat-chance said...

from downtown to Bernalillo I found the ride disappointing - hot, uncomfortable seat, and a 'giggly' ride. I'm for public trans but the experience wasn't that great.

Clay Eals said...

Good to see your passing reference to Steve Goodman. He often doesn't get his due. Thought you might be interested in an eight-year project of mine that is coming to fruition -- a biography of Goodman that will be published this week. Please e-mail me at ceals@comcast.net if you would like me to e-mail you a background sheet on the book. Or check my Internet site below for more info and how to pre-order, if you like. Just trying to spread the word. Feel free to do the same!

Clay Eals
1728 California Ave. S.W. #301
Seattle, WA 98116-1958

(206) 935-7515

Evan said...

I've been riding the Rail Runner to and from school via the Los Ranchos/Journal Center-Downtown Albuquerque route for most of the school year now. The train is nice; it certainly beats the ABQ Ride buses with a big, heavy stick in terms of comfort. However, my biggest complaint is also one that you have mentioned: the trains are scheduled too infrequently to be of any real use.

To catch the train into school, I have to get up at 5:30, be out the door by 6:05, and then wait around at school for a good 40 minutes. Similarly, on the days I don't have Robotics Club, the earliest train I can catch after school is and hour and a half after school lets out.

When the Rail Runner starts running more often, more people will ride, I think.

michelle meaders said...

Good for you, and thanks for telling us about it! You can probably get to work faster from the downtown station by taking the UNM Hospital shuttle. It's free, open to anyone, and goes right to the hospital on Lomas, a short walk fom your school at Girard.

According to the UNM Trasportation website, http://pats.unm.edu/transportation.cfm the morning one leaves the Alvarado station at 6:30 am, 7:35 am, and 8:45 am. The afternoon one leaves the Hospital at 3:45 pm, 5:00 pm, and 6:05 pm.