Smooth From f reight rail companies to dedicated funding Rail
From freight rail companies to dedicated funding, Rail
Runner’s Lawrence Rael shows you can get commuter
rail up and running faster than you’d think.
By Fred Jandt
The Rail Runner travels across the Sandia
Pueblo, one of five pueblos its route moves
through. Photo courtesy of Ernie Montoya.
8 November 2009 • MassTransit • www.MassTransitmag.com
W When I went to Albuquerque for our November cover
story, I really didn’t know what to expect. In my time at
Mass Transit I’d never covered a rail-only agency before
and Lawrence Rael isn’t your typical, dyed-in-the-wool
transit guy. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised
FUNDING THE RUNNER
Governor Richardson’s support helped convince the
state legislature to invest in the commuter rail concept,
which allowed Rael and his staff to put together a com-
muter rail line with no federal funding — the Rail Runner
by both Rael and his system. Express was built completely with state and local funds.
The former deputy secretary of transportation for New “Part of it was what we’ve seen before in that trying
Mexico, Rael has been involved in the political end of pub- to get the federal government, the FTA [Federal Transit
lic transportation for much of his career. After spending Administration], to really invest in these systems is really
several years in Washington, D.C., working as a senato- a tall order, especially when you look at states like New
rial staffer, he returned to New Mexico and Albuquerque Mexico,” Rael says.
where he would spend more than a decade as the city’s “You know, when you are competing against ma-
chief administrative officer. Rael left the city office for the jor metropolitan areas like LA, Chicago, Detroit, New
chance to work as the executive director for the Mid-Re- York, what have you, we’re never going to pencil out
gion Council of Governments, which put him in the hot on the same level playing field because we’re a rural
seat for a governor who wanted commuter rail in his state. state by and large.
“Well I would just candidly say that without [Governor “We have some very unique issues in New Mexico
Richardson’s] desire and direction and support for this that are different than any other state, but that’s not
commuter system, we probably wouldn’t have a com- the criteria that are typically used to evaluate whether
muter rail system in New Mexico,” Rael admits. a federal government investment is going to be made
in a system.”
Rael says the early goal was to get a