One of these is really new, the other an attempt to revive some of what was once the backbone of travel in the U.S. Both of them have generated some interesting public reactions and both deserve to be closely watched to see how their success or failure might affect their respective industries.
I’ll talk about the newest one first, and then later point you to a fun download for the other.
New Mexico’s new spaceport is now in operation in the arid plains about 25 miles southeast of Truth or Consequences (the official site is Upham, but neither Google Maps nor the Census Gazetteer search engine can find that). The inaugural launch on September 26 was less than inspiring, as the 20-foot Spaceloft XL rocket from UP Aerospace only reached about 42,000 feet (far short of its intended 70 miles) before corkscrewing off course and crashing in the southern NM desert.
The state has embarked on a highly visible partnership with multi-billionaire Richard Branson, whose Virgin Galactic will be the anchor tenant of the spaceport. Branson hopes to launch paying customers from the spaceport into suborbital rocket rides at $200,000 per person. In addition, plenty of people in the state are hoping that lots of additional high-tech tenants follow Branson and make southern NM a hub of future aerospace development. Will it be an economic booster or a boondoggle? It seems like a risky bet in times of tight hydrocarbon fuel supplies, but time will tell.
Dan’s comment on my last posting referenced a study on Alaskan railroads, which brings me to the other new transportation project, which is more down-to-earth and an attempt to help save some of those fossil hydrocarbons. New Mexico’s Rail Runner Express launched this past summer with service from downtown Albuquerque north to suburban Bernalillo in Sandoval County. Some delay with rails and other material deliveries has postponed service south to Belen for now. The state hopes to bring the Rail Runner to Santa Fe by 2008. But while folks seem fine with the idea of the spaceport, the public reception to passenger rail has been mixed.
The problem: a quirk of history led to the main line of the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe railroad (of Harvey Girls fame) bypassing the actual city of Santa Fe and going a few miles to the east (it’s since merged with the Burlington Northern to form the BNSF) A later spur line built to downtown Santa Fe is inefficient as it adds quite a few miles to the Albuquerque-Santa Fe trip, so the state wants to build brand-new track branching from the main line south of the city into Santa Fe. Several alternative routes have been proposed and public comments are being gathered. This makes many homeowners anxious. They seem to fear noise, pollution and the idea that the terrible vibrations of a passing train will undermine their homes. Personally, I would love having a train into town to pass within shouting distance of my door, but that’s just me.
Oh yeah, now for the fun — you can download a nifty Rail Runner screensaver from the New Mexico Dept. of Transportation website. It comes in two versions: with our without soundtrack. The latter has guitar music in a soft, easy-listening beat (it may become sort of repetitious after a while, but would be good to nap to) and occasional clanky-clattery rail-crossing noises. They also put out a cool refrigerator magnet, but I’m afraid I can’t send you one of those over the web!
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