ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico Rail Runner Express officials said Wednesday the railroad will receive an additional $4.8 million in federal funding this year that puts the operating budget more than $4 million in the black.
The injection of new money boosts Rail Runner’s revenues this year to $28 million, well in excess of expected operating costs of $23.6 million, said Terry Doyle, transportation director of the Mid Region Council of Governments, which oversees Rail Runner.
The announcement comes as state lawmakers debate a measure that would require counties with access to the Belen-to-Santa Fe passenger railroad to pay for any deficit in Rail Runner’s operations with local taxes. Currently, almost half its revenues, $13 million, comes from local sales taxes.
The source of the new funding is the Federal Transit Administration’s urban area formula, which awards money based on mass transit ridership data, Doyle said.
Albuquerque has received funds from the formula for years because of city bus ridership, Doyle said. But the federal agency did not include Rail Runner ridership data in the formula until 2011, which boosted the amount awarded, he said.
Transit officials had not expected formula funding to increase by $4.8 million, Doyle said.
Doyle also said he expects the formula funding to provide Rail Runner with an additional $6.4 million in fiscal year 2012, which begins July 1.
Rail Runner officials proposed ending weekend service in July when a loss of federal clean-air funding threatened the railroad with a $1.2 million deficit in this year’s operating budget and a $5.4 million deficit in fiscal year 2012.
The Rio Metro Regional Transit District board, which oversees Rail Runner, cobbled together a package of spending cuts that included curtailed Saturday service to balance the operating budget.
On Wednesday, Doyle predicted the additional formula funding will put Rail Runner’s budget in the black next year, when Rail Runner expects to receive no federal clean-air funding.
The Rail Runner collects about $3.2 million a year in fares and has an annual operating budget of about $23.6 million. That does not include about $41.7 million a year in debt service on the bonds — a figure that include eventual balloon payments.
A voter-approved sales tax levied in counties where the train operates is projected to generate nearly $13 million this year.
Discussion about an anticipated shortfall prompted state Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, to introduce a measure last month that would authorize a new excise tax in counties served by Rail Runner that would pay for any deficits in the train’s operating budget.