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Sunset Limited Reroute via Las Cruces


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#1 DesertDude

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Posted 30 July 2015 - 10:36 PM

Many rail fans bemoan the fact that the Sunset Limited bypasses Phoenix. But the Sunset Limited doesn’t just bypass the largest city in Arizona; it also bypasses Las Cruces, which is by far the largest city in southern New Mexico.

 

Las Cruces is a perfect candidate for Amtrak service. An intermediate city with no commercial flights, Las Cruces is home to NMSU, the second largest university in New Mexico with over 18,000 students (many of whom don’t have personal vehicles). The city sits right in the middle of Doña County, which has over 200,000 residents. For comparison, Luna County (which has an Amtrak station in Deming) has only 25,000 residents.

 

Currently, residents of Las Cruces who want to book an Amtrak trip to Tucson and points west have to take a thruway bus to the El Paso Greyhound station, then walk over to the Amtrak station and wait FOUR hours for the Sunset Limited’s arrival. Some may not mind this layover (or they may have no other options), but undoubtedly this inconvenience keeps many from using the train.

 

Considering the above information, it seems only reasonable to reroute the Sunset Limited north of El Paso to Las Cruces along the BNSF tracks. After stopping in Las Cruces, the train could follow the BNSF route northwest through Hatch and continue on to stop in Deming. According to my calculations, this would only add 41 miles to the Sunset Limited’s route. Compare this to the 71 miles added to the Southwest Chief if it was rerouted via Pueblo, as advocated by the Colorado Rail Passenger Association.

 

The GIS rail map of New Mexico published by NMDOT does show the BNSF tracks as active lines. If the average speed along the Las Cruces detour was 40 MPH (ballpark estimate), the reroute would add less than two hours to the current schedule.

 

Would Amtrak be willing to negotiate with BNSF over 133 miles of track? Or is it just easier to stay put considering UP owns the entire current route from LA to San Antonio? What other reasons/excuses exist for not rerouting the Sunset Limited through Las Cruces?

 

I’m really looking forward to responses to this. I see a lot of ideas on this forum that are somewhat “pie-in-the-sky,” but I feel this is a pretty reasonable proposal that could boost ridership on the Sunset Limited and greatly benefit the Mesilla Valley.



#2 Bob Dylan

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Posted 30 July 2015 - 11:12 PM

This is an excellent idea Desert Dude! If BNSF goes for it ( read $$$) there's no reason not to do it, UP would probably have no objections to keeping the Sunset off its tracks between El Paso and Deming. ( which is a Flagstop, as are all the Stations between El Paso and Tucson on the current route).

Edited by jimhudson, 30 July 2015 - 11:14 PM.

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#3 railiner

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Posted 30 July 2015 - 11:38 PM

This idea may have some merit, but say the time for the re-route does take almost two hours.....

There are probably many other places along the Sunset's (or any other long-haul train's route), where a 'jog' to tap some promising market may result in a few more passenger's....two hours here, a half-hour there.....before you know it, you are considerably lengthening the journey for maybe a few more passenger's....

I think a better solution for places like Las Cruces, might be to operate a dedicated thruway bus, with good connection times, and see if that generates sufficient revenue to make re-routing the train worthwhile, and preserving the integrity of the established route....


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#4 Anderson

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Posted 31 July 2015 - 12:11 AM

Bad idea IMHO.  As things stand, the train basically has one host railroad (short bits at the ends notwithstanding).  Adding another is begging for a dispatching disaster.


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#5 neroden

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Posted 31 July 2015 - 03:35 AM

The Las Cruces-Deming section is controlled by a shortline and would probably need major upgrades.

 

Now, if New Mexico suddenly changed its government to have the attitude of Massachusetts or Vermont and *bought the tracks* from El Paso to Las Cruces to Deming, then I'd say go for it, great idea.   But the current NM government which broke the contract to buy the tracks from Colorado to Lamy, not gonna happen.  :-(

 

By the way, a similar political analysis applies to Arizona and Phoenix.  :-(


Edited by neroden, 31 July 2015 - 03:36 AM.

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#6 NW cannonball

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Posted 31 July 2015 - 06:08 AM

I dunno - the Phoenix -Maricopa loser thing and the Las Cruces Deming thing seem similar.

Would a dedicated bus help? No se.

For now, it's El Paso or Tucson to get any connection on public transport from the SL to anywhere between West Texas and SoCal. 

For me - want to spend a day in El Paso, if there was a way to connect from ABQ would make me me happy.

So little traffic, so long drives.


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#7 RampWidget

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Posted 31 July 2015 - 08:15 AM

Las Cruces is a perfect candidate for Amtrak service.

It's a gem of a small city with what looks like a decent ridership base, and is also well-worth a visit, IMHO (great food!)

 

This is an excellent idea Desert Dude!

I think so, too.

 

Bad idea IMHO.  As things stand, the train basically has one host railroad (short bits at the ends notwithstanding).  Adding another is begging for a dispatching disaster.

The loss of seamless dispatching would probably be one of the largest obstacles.

 

The Las Cruces-Deming section is controlled by a shortline and would probably need major upgrades.

 

Now, if New Mexico suddenly changed its government to have the attitude of Massachusetts or Vermont and *bought the tracks* from El Paso to Las Cruces to Deming, then I'd say go for it, great idea.   But the current NM government which broke the contract to buy the tracks from Colorado to Lamy, not gonna happen.  :-(

That's an excellent point. Your description of the current NM government sounds entirely too much like GA & FL as far as transportation policy is concerned, unfortunately for rail passengers.


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#8 Palmland

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Posted 31 July 2015 - 09:19 AM

Best way to serve Las Cruses is a state sponsored (I know, it's NM we're dealing with) train from El Paso to Albuquerque. Lots of potential on this natural corridor. Pre-Amtrak the ATSF train took 5+ hours for the 250 mile trip with many stops. I suspect the line is in typical BNSF good condition to support international freight traffic. A 60mph speed would get you down to about 4 hours. This would expand network connectivity considerably by a new north south connection between the SWC and Sunset routes. I do believe NM dollars spent on the RailRunner would have been better spent on multiple frequencies on this route: The metro area population for Albuquerque is 1.0 million and 1.1 M for El Paso. All but the last 18 miles is in NM. The last 30 miles from Belen is on the RailRunner route.



#9 MikefromCrete

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Posted 31 July 2015 - 09:31 AM

Anytime you switch railroads, you're vulnerable to delays. Just look at the Hoosier State between Dyer and CUS. Sunset arrives at BNSF connection. Dispatcher already has  several freights lined up. Sunset waits. Makes the two-hour (!) detour to serve one station, then returns to UP, where it waits for dispatcher to line up its slot. Best bet would be a Thruway bus if this market is so lucrative. 



#10 DesertDude

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Posted 01 August 2015 - 05:24 PM

This idea may have some merit, but say the time for the re-route does take almost two hours.....

There are probably many other places along the Sunset's (or any other long-haul train's route), where a 'jog' to tap some promising market may result in a few more passenger's....two hours here, a half-hour there.....before you know it, you are considerably lengthening the journey for maybe a few more passenger's....

 

Besides Phoenix and Las Cruces, what other cities/metro areas that large lie that close to the current SL route without being served? Maybe someone could make a case for San Marcos or Austin, but that seems a lot more circuitous than what I'm proposing (perhaps someone more familiar with Texas and Louisiana could chime in).

 

The Las Cruces-Deming section is controlled by a shortline and would probably need major upgrades.

 

Which shortline controls it if BNSF doesn't?

 

Best way to serve Las Cruses is a state sponsored (I know, it's NM we're dealing with) train from El Paso to Albuquerque. Lots of potential on this natural corridor. Pre-Amtrak the ATSF train took 5+ hours for the 250 mile trip with many stops. I suspect the line is in typical BNSF good condition to support international freight traffic. A 60mph speed would get you down to about 4 hours. This would expand network connectivity considerably by a new north south connection between the SWC and Sunset routes.

 

Las Cruces to Belen is pretty sparsely populated, no? Also, with current midday arrivals in ABQ and El Paso for the SWC and the SL, respectively, that may make connecting from the SL to the SWC (or vice versa) via a state sponsored train pretty tricky unless the current schedules get adjusted.

 

 

I think a better solution for places like Las Cruces, might be to operate a dedicated thruway bus, with good connection times, and see if that generates sufficient revenue to make re-routing the train worthwhile, and preserving the integrity of the established route....

 

Isn't this a Catch 22 of sorts? So let's suppose it is a lucrative market worthy of a reroute, and we want to test that with a better thruway connection. Even if a thruway bus is better scheduled, how many people in Las Cruces heading to Tucson are just going to say "forget it" if they have to take a bus to El Paso first, only to wait for a train to take them westbound? Many of us are aware that a good sized chunk of the population simply won't take a bus, even if it's shiny, clean, and more practical/convenient than a train. Given the nature of Deming's station, a bus directly to Deming may not be practical or appealing, either.

 

Anytime you switch railroads, you're vulnerable to delays. Just look at the Hoosier State between Dyer and CUS. Sunset arrives at BNSF connection. Dispatcher already has  several freights lined up. Sunset waits. Makes the two-hour (!) detour to serve one station, then returns to UP, where it waits for dispatcher to line up its slot.

 

It sounds like switching to a different host railroad with a different dispatcher is the biggest problem. My question is, does anyone have a good idea of how busy the line is through Las Cruces and Hatch? If it's not much busier than, say, the present SWC route through Lamy, then at least there may be minimal delays getting *off* of the UP tracks.



#11 Bob Dylan

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Posted 01 August 2015 - 05:41 PM

The Texas Eagle serves San Marcos and Austin daily and connects with the Sunset Ltd. in SAS 3 days a week!

I'd rather see a Daily CHI-LAX Eagle with a stub train between SAS and NOL that has been proposed for several years, but Amtrak and UP couldn't reach an agreement on money and schedules!
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#12 WoodyinNYC

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Posted 01 August 2015 - 08:52 PM

...

I'd rather see a Daily CHI-LAX Eagle with a stub train between SAS and NOL that has been proposed for several years, but Amtrak and UP couldn't reach an agreement on money and schedules!

Meanwhile, the UP successfully double-tracked the line from El Paso to L.A. Now a shortage of equipment may be a delaying factor. But in two years, surplus and refurbished Horizon cars could work nicely on the Sunset Shuttle San Antonio-Houston-New Orleans. Methinks the daily Sunset/Eagle is quietly ripening, and could fall from the tree in a couple of years.



#13 neroden

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Posted 18 August 2015 - 01:48 PM

The Las Cruces-Deming section is controlled by a shortline and would probably need major upgrades.

 
Which shortline controls it if BNSF doesn't?


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#14 railgeekteen

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Posted 15 April 2018 - 04:38 PM

There is no direct way west, trains would have to detour to the north. I would rather a stand alone or even a commuter train serve Las Cruces.



#15 Lonestar648

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Posted 15 April 2018 - 11:26 PM

As difficult as the UP has been to negotiate with, I totally agree with Bob Dylans recommendation for a daily train to LAX.  The potential for major increase in riders is this daily train.  Las Cruces would provide sdditional passengers but not the same numbers.



#16 cpotisch

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Posted 16 April 2018 - 12:00 PM

Yeah, I would agree that a daily Eagle to LAX makes a lot of sense. It's so hard to justify what is currently thrice weekly, 61+ hour ride.


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#17 Devil's Advocate

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Posted 16 April 2018 - 01:35 PM

Las Cruces is a perfect candidate for Amtrak service.


Last I checked Las Cruces was (1) out of the way, (2) had no meaningful recent history with passenger rail, (3) had no demonstrated interest in funding future passenger rail, (4) was located in a state that had changed course and elected politicians who were indifferent or hostile to passenger rail, (5) wasn't important/wealthy/populous enough to receive even one single scheduled commercial flight per week, and (6) was only 90 minutes away from the nearest Amtrak station or major commercial airport. That's not to say that serving Las Cruces would be a terrible idea.  I'm sure some folks would welcome the change, including yours truly, but it's still a long way from perfect in my book.  I've used Amtrak to reach Las Cruces more times than I care to count, always in combination with other rides and rentals, but this is nowhere near the slam dunk it may first appear to be.  Best case scenario Amtrak in Las Cruces is probably a decade or two away if someone who cares enough to see it through starts laying the groundwork today.  A much cheaper/easier/realistic solution would be to improve/subsidize transportation options between El Paso and Las Cruces.  In my experience the current options are over priced and/or under provisioned.


Edited by Devil's Advocate, 16 April 2018 - 01:41 PM.

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