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Speed Limit Will Drop on I-25 During Commuter Rail Construction

By Barry Massey/
Associated Press
    SANTA FE — Work has started on a $250 million project to extend commuter rail service to Santa Fe, and motorists on portions of Interstate 25 near the city will have to slow down because of the construction.
    The speed limit on I-25 between Santa Fe and La Bajada, which is south of the city, will drop from 75 mph to 55 mph in construction zones while work is under way on the rail project, Secretary of Transportation Rhonda Faught said Wednesday.
    The speed limit will be 65 mph in sections of the highway when construction isn't going on in the median. Construction will occur during the day and even at night.
    Eighteen miles of new rail track will be built from near La Bajada to the edge of the city at I-25 and St. Francis Drive. The train will use the existing median along the interstate for almost 12 miles.
    The project is to be finished by the end of 2008.
    The commuter rail, known as the New Mexico Rail Runner Express, currently operates between Bernalillo and Belen.
    State and local officials participated in a ceremonial groundbreaking for the rail project Wednesday at a rest stop along the interstate. Construction crews were working nearby to prepare for a tunnel that the train will use to go underneath the interstate to reach the median. A temporary detour of northbound lanes is being built.
    Another tunnel will be built at the edge of Santa Fe where the train will connect with an existing Santa Fe Southern Railway track that goes into the city. A contract for reconstruction of the track and other work of the final segment of the rail project within the city should be awarded in December.
    The commuter rail will follow the BNSF Railway line from Albuquerque to the base of La Bajada, where the grade is too steep for the train. A new route will take the train over La Bajada at a point almost three miles east of where the BNSF passes underneath I-25.
    The train will cross private land before intersecting with the interstate near the highway rest stop. The state is in the process of acquiring about 160 acres of right of way from three private landowners.
    The train will travel up to 79 mph on most segments of the route but will slow to about 30-35 mph within Santa Fe, according to Paul Lindberg, a Transportation Department project manager.
    A guardrail will be erected along parts of the interstate median to provide a barrier between the train and motorists on the highway. The tracks will be closer to the northbound lane of I-25 and most of that will have a guardrail. The southbound lane will have a guardrail in areas where the median is narrow, according to Lindberg.
    The estimated $250 million price tag for extending rail service from Bernalillo to Santa Fe includes construction of the tracks and stations, purchase of new rail cars and locomotives and signals at road crossings.
    Four new locomotives and 12 cars have been ordered and the manufacturer has completed most of the cars, according to Lawrence Rael, executive director of the Mid-Region Council of Governments, which oversees rail service operations for the state.
    The total construction cost of the commuter rail project — when completed from Belen to Santa Fe — is expected to reach about $400 million.
    Faught and Rael said road crossings along the rail route in Santa Fe will have warning signals and barrier gates to stop motorists.
    There have been two fatal collisions with the commuter train near Belen in less than a month. They occurred at private crossings without warning signals and gates.

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