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.