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Dangers abound at the city’s rail yards

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

Petra Morris, left, a senior planner, Rebecca Velarde, manager of metropolitan redevelopment, and Matthew Conrad, associate planning director, lead a tour of the rail yards Friday. They say most of the rail yards aren't safe for people to visit.

Petra Morris, left, a senior planner, Rebecca Velarde, manager of metropolitan redevelopment, and Matthew Conrad, associate planning director, lead a tour of the rail yards Friday. They say most of the rail yards aren’t safe for people to visit.

Jim Trump says he’s found toys, needles and other evidence of unauthorized visits to Albuquerque’s old rail yards.

And that worries him. Most of the site simply isn’t safe for anyone – curious children and transients included, he said.

“Some individual – maybe they’re going to be a worker, maybe they’re going to be a trespasser – is going to be walking on that roof and fall through,” Trump said in a recent interview.

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His concern illustrates a particularly tough challenge as the city tries to resuscitate the rail yards, once the economic center of Albuquerque. How does the city keep people out and improve safety before development has time to take root?

Trump, who works for the development team Samitaur Constructs, has concerns that range from environmental contamination to rickety roofs.

Completely securing the site against intruders – and fixing the leaky, rotting roofs – isn’t easy. For one thing, it’s an enormous chunk of land, 27 acres in all. For another, a tent city of homeless people lies nearby, providing a population in need of shelter.

Rebecca Velarde, Albuquerque’s manager of metropolitan redevelopment, said the city has increased police patrols and walk-throughs by civilian staff to keep the buildings clear. There’s been less evidence of human activity this winter, though the city believes people do spend the night there on occasion.

“We’re taking as many steps as possible to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Velarde said.

New signs and fences also have gone up, and crews patch holes in the fences when they find them.

Velarde said it’s important the public knows that it’s simply not safe to explore the fenced-off parts of the site.

Fixing the roofs, meanwhile, will be expensive. It’s expected to cost roughly $3.5 million to repair roofs on the two biggest buildings: the machine and boiler shops.

The machine shop is a massive building at the Albuquerque rail yards. Film crews operate there occasionally, but they must take care to avoid injuries and agree the city won't be held liable.

The machine shop is a massive building at the Albuquerque rail yards. Film crews operate there occasionally, but they must take care to avoid injuries and agree the city won’t be held liable.

Some money could come from the city’s voter-approved bond program. Mayor Richard Berry’s administration is requesting $1.5 million for the rail yards in the October bond package. The city is also considering whether to seek state funding.

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About $600,000 is already available to fix the roof on one of the smaller buildings on site.

“We have a very, very small pot of money,” Velarde told members of an advisory board last week.

The city already has upgraded one building, the blacksmith shop, where the Rail Yards Market has been held.

That building is completely safe, the city said, as is the building that now houses the Wheels Museum.

The rail yards lie just south of Downtown, between the Barelas and South Broadway neighborhoods. The city bought the site in 2007 for about $8.5 million, with a commitment that redevelopment would include some mixed-income housing and a permanent place for the Wheels Museum.

Samitaur is the master developer for the site. The company will buy parcels of land from the city as needed for development. The city, then, eventually could recover the cost of roof upgrades.

The sky shows through holes in the ceiling of the boiler shop. It could cost $3.5 million to repair the roof there and on the machine shop, the two biggest buildings on site.

The sky shows through holes in the ceiling of the boiler shop. It could cost $3.5 million to repair the roof there and on the machine shop, the two biggest buildings on site.

Trump has suggested the city make the roofs a priority. Rotting wood on the roof can threaten the structure of the building itself, he said. Water that’s leaked through the ceiling already has damaged the floor, made up of wood bricks.

“As those buildings deteriorate more and more, the cost to renovate them is going to increase,” Trump told the Journal .

Film crews use the machine and boiler shops on occasion, but they have to agree the city won’t be liable for injuries.

For public events at the blacksmith shop, the city has a few walkways open so that people can peer into some of the surrounding buildings but not enter them. It’s a striking view – an almost post-apocalyptic setting.

The rail yards include some rare features. A massive transfer table that once was used to slide trains back and forth on the site is among the last of its kind in the country.

Albuquerque’s rail yards were in full operation from 1915 into the 1960s. Historians credit the railroad for helping transform the city into an industrial center.

City officials say they appreciate people’s interest in the site. But most of the buildings just aren’t safe yet.

“We’ve taken great pains to keep people out,” Velarde said.

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