ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — City contractors began alterations to track in the Santa Fe Railyard on Thursday that are expected to save the cash-strapped Rail Runner commuter train $300,000 a year in operating costs.
But owners of the other railroad that uses the Santa Fe Depot say the city never discussed the changes with them, and that their business will suffer as a result.
Contractors began tearing out a train switching mechanism Thursday and will extend some track about 50 feet.
Rail Runner spokesman Jay Faught said Thursday that the changes will allow the Rail Runner to park its trains at the Santa Fe Depot overnight, instead of in Albuquerque, as it does now. Coupled with changes to the commuter train’s schedule, set to begin Monday, Faught said, the Rail Runner will save about $320,000, which will help continue some weekend service.
But Carol Raymond, president of the Santa Fe Southern Railway, which uses the same track to run its sightseeing trains, says nobody told her about the plan, and that storage of Rail Runner cars on the track closest to the depot will mean her company can’t run its evening trains.
“The city is just chipping away at our ability to run this business,” she said. SFSR moved its offices out of the depot last spring, after negotiations with the city to share the facility with a city-run visitors bureau broke down. SFSR continues to board passengers out of the depot.
Santa Fe City Manager Robert Romero said Raymond had been invited to discussions with the DOT and commuter train representatives about the changes, but failed to respond.
The changes are the result of city efforts to continue weekend train service, Romero said. The Rio Metro Regional Transit District board decided in June to cut out weekend service as a cost-saving measure. That decision was unpopular with the public and the Santa Fe business community, and Mayor David Coss and others appealed to the board to find other ways to save money.
City officials met with their counterparts at the DOT and the Rail Runner, Romero said. “Their idea was, if they could park the trains on the Railyard (property), they could save $300,000,” he said.
In early August, the DOT and Rail Runner told the city they wanted to move ahead quickly with track changes so they would be ready when the Rail Runner schedule changes took effect at the end of the month.
Last Wednesday, the city notified Santa Fe Southern that all its equipment would have to be moved out of the Railyard by Monday.
“They gave us less than two business days to get our entire operation out,” said Raymond on Thursday, as work began on the track changes. She said SFSR’s lease with the city requires 30 days notice for changes.
Romero said that he didn’t hear when the work on the track would begin until early last week. “DOT told us they needed access to the track by Monday, so we sent the letter” to Raymond, Romero said. “As soon as they let us know, we let her know.”
Romero said the city had repeatedly tried to get Raymond to participate in discussions about changes to the track and depot. “She refuses to work with us,” Romero said. “She feels like she owns the track, but she doesn’t. We do.”
Raymond said Romero may have sent letters to Santa Fe Southern’s old address in the depot, but that he didn’t send her any emails. She said she also got “lots of phone messages” on the Friday before she was supposed to vacate the Railyard tracks, but that she didn’t listen to all of them.
“I have a railroad to run,” she said.
The city’s letter notifying SFSR that it had to vacate the Railyard was sent to the company’s new address on West Manhattan Street.
Raymond said Thursday she couldn’t yet estimate the effect the changes would have on her business. “If they change our operations, which they seem to be doing, that’s financially harmful,” she said. “Twenty-five jobs are hanging in the balance.”
Romero said there is still room for Santa Fe Southern’s trains to be stored at the Railyard as they have been, and that the city is willing to work out an arrangement so the company’s late-night trains can load and unload passengers at the depot.
“We’ll do everything we can to accommodate her,” he said.