Monday, December 01, 2008
New Train Deserves Own Novel
By Gene Grant
For the Journal
And so it begins. The end of next week, the Rail Runner Express commuter rail to Santa Fe pulls out of the station for its inaugural run. Quite properly, it'll be a celebration loaded with meaning. By the time the one hour and 30 minute ride chugs into Santa Fe, we'll not only have taken a giant leap to the future, we'll honor the past as well.
For the moment, let's take that leap forward. Say two decades. Is there anyone left who opposed this project who cannot acknowledge that, in one fell swoop, we have looked the future in the mug and winked at it?
Yes, we have internalized the drive to Santa Fe to the point of practically doing it blindfolded. But think about this the next time you're making that familiar run (currently near 40,000 vehicles daily). Keep an eye peeled for the all-too-familiar roadside memorials for the dead who have not finished the trip for whatever reason: alcohol, fatigue, ice, distraction, blinding snow, whatever.
What if those departed had the Rail Runner Express as a choice back then? How is this a bad thing? Look, $400 million is a lot of money, but what price a life?
Here's the thing. It's been a tough slog to get a lot of us on board with the idea of a commuter train in a car-crazy culture like New Mexico, but you have to appreciate what the fates have unfolded for us in the last year. A fundamental reconstruction on the relationship with the car. The timing could not have been better. Yes, the price of fuel has dropped again, but is there any doubt the spike in fuel we recently suffered will not return?
I'm not saying there shouldn't have been opposition. It's what we do. And we have commuter progress precedence here locally.
I recall with some fondness standing on Rio Grande Boulevard some years ago watching well-meaning locals chain themselves to that enormous, rotted cottonwood tree that was smack dab in the middle of the planned Montaño extension to Coors. With all due respect to their position, which was the fear of upending the ecosystem of the bosque with the road cut, it was amusing.
I can't help but wonder if we'll see something similar when the Rail Runner Express pulls out.
And while we're on the Montaño dustup, let us not forget the ridiculous "compromise" the then-City Council made by opening it as a single lane each way. If you're gonna do these things, do it. The Rail Runner Express has no such compromise a future Legislature will have to reconcile.
Thinking on what will transpire, I couldn't help but revisit the scene in "Atlas Shrugged," by Ayn Rand, when the John Galt Line was completed, using a new-fangled steel that the naysayers (and the public) swore would fail. In defiant response, railroad owner Dagny Taggart and the steel inventor Hank Rearden ride in the engine cab for the first ride, which includes a gorge in Cheyenne, Wyo. The train, a fully loaded freight car traveling 100 miles per hour, crosses without a hitch. The doomsayers are stunned.
It's a great scene, particularly because it has a delightfully relevant quote from a photographer, ready to capture the carnage, when he exhorts the gathered crowd with, "Can't you people look doomed, please? I know that's what the editor wants."
For Gov. Bill Richardson, riding in that engineer's cab for the first leg will be a well-earned triumph worthy of a novel. Editors, radio talk show callers, or anyone else be damned.
Gene Grant is a writer, actor, former congressional staffer and father of two. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.