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Editorial: Train to carry bigger load

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This gravy train is about to end.

The Rail Runner Express has been rolling along on the taxpayers’ dime since its launch in 2006 during the Bill Richardson administration. Public transportation rarely pays for itself, and that’s true in spades for the commuter train that runs between Belen and Santa Fe. A tax in the rail service district, federal money and rider fares all combine to finance the train system. And while big subsidies make sense for transit that is high-speed or mass, the Rail Runner is neither. It takes a long time to get there and it doesn’t carry all that many passengers.

Meanwhile, other state agencies, pretty much unbeknownst to them, have been picking up another Rail Runner cost – premiums for liability coverage to settle lawsuits. Settlements involving the Rail Runner have added up to about $7.7 million so far, according to AP.

The no-premium deal amounts to a somewhat secret state subsidy for the Rail Runner. But that’s about to change, thanks to state Risk Management director A.J. Forte who discovered the discrepancy. In the budget year that began July 1, the Gov. Susana Martinez administration is assessing the Rail Runner a $2 million annual premium to cover liability claims up to $3 million. The train system, managed by the Rio Metro Regional Transit District, buys insurance in the private market for claims over that amount. Terrence Doyle, director of the district, says he believes the train can pick up the premium without busting the budget.

That’s good, because while the public may accept that a train may not pay its way, there shouldn’t be any financial trickery to make the deficit look like less than it is.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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