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          Front Page




Railway Extension to Cost $76M

By Jeff Jones
Journal Staff Writer
    The state of New Mexico plans to write a $76 million check to the BNSF Railway for nearly 300 miles of rail line between Belen and Trinidad, Colo.
    The Journal last week reported the state and the railroad giant had reached a tentative purchase deal concerning the line, some of which is needed for a planned commuter-rail service linking cities from Belen to Santa Fe. A BNSF news release late Monday spelled out the purchase price.
    "My goal of moving New Mexico forward by creating fast, convenient commuter train service just cleared another hurdle," Gov. Bill Richardson said in the news release.
    He added that the purchase of the additional track from Santa Fe to Colorado was a "great, low-cost investment in a fast-growing state."
    Richardson in 2003 first unveiled plans for the New Mexico Rail Runner Express commuter train, the first leg of which is slated to begin service in January.
    That first leg is to run between Albuquerque and Bernalillo, with service to Los Lunas and Belen expected to come by March. Planners hope to get a commuter train into Santa Fe sometime in 2008.
    The entire service, minus the track purchase, is expected to cost $300 million, state Transportation Secretary Rhonda Faught said last week. Tens of millions of that money already have been spent: Ten new passenger cars and two new locomotives— all painted in a Road Runner theme— have rolled into New Mexico.
    Faught last week said the majority of the cost of the track purchase is for the needed line between Belen and Santa Fe, not for the additional track running northward to Colorado. One planner said state ownership of the entire track could one day help Las Vegas, N.M., to start a commuter-train service into Santa Fe and help make a proposed high-speed train linking Cheyenne, Wyo., Denver, Albuquerque and parts in between a reality.
    Monday's news release from BNSF— formerly known as the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway— said the railroad company will be getting most of the $76 million in 2006.
    Faught last week said the state could pay the purchase tab with a portion of a $1.6 billion transportation package approved by the Legislature in 2003. The state already has allocated $75 million from that package for other Rail Runner service expenses.

E-MAIL Journal Staff Writer Jeff Jones