(Santa Fe, New Mexico – June 16, 2014)
For the second time in two months, a bicycle rider was killed in a collision with a New Mexico State Dept. of Transportation “Rail Runner Express” passenger commute train in Santa Fe, NM. This repeated tragedy is causing considerable concern in both rail commute and bicycle enthusiast circles, as an as-yet unidentified 44-year-old bicyclist died Monday morning at about 11:30 A.M. when an Albuquerque-emanating train loaded with 225 passengers struck and killed him as he crossed the non-gated pedestrian crossing (sidewalk) of St. Michael’s Drive with NMRX Railroad tracks.
The tragedy was preceded in April by a fatal collision with 60-year-old bicycle rider Suzanne LeBeau at the crossing of the bicycle trail paralleling Zia Road. That crossing has no signal protection (even though the street crossing has active flashing lights, bells and crossing gates), and since the tragedy the victim’s family members have promised to petition NMDOT to install crossing gates at the bike trail/railroad intersection in order to prevent a recurrence of LeBeau’s tragic fate. State DOT officials are still reviewing the April incident and have yet to decide if pedestrian/bicycle gates are necessary at any of the rail commute system’s non-highway vehicular crossings.
Santa Fe bicycle enthusiast Tim Rogers, who helped author Santa Fe’s master bike plan and who went to the scene of Monday’s accident after being notified of its occurrence, remarked that “It’s hard to believe something like this happened again,” adding that “Having gates would make it safer, no question. I suspect this is something DOT is going to be looking at a little harder.”
Rail Runner Express train #510 was operating at the top allowable timetable speed of 25 mph at the time of Monday’s accident, according to Rail Runner Express Spokesperson Augusta Meyers. The train was already running late after striking a horse near Santo Domingo Pueblo according to passengers on board, and Myers confirmed that the train had, indeed, struck an animal, causing a disconnection of one of the air brake hoses that convey compressed air between the locomotive and the passenger cars. Passenger Tony Martinez told Reporter Chris Quintana of the Santa Fe New Mexican that the earlier accident felt “like an axel fell off,” but added that he hardly noticed when the train hit the bicyclist just two stations short of its downtown Santa Fe destination.
Another passenger, Jeremiah Valdez, echoed the sentiments of many of his fellow travelers that train operators would not tell the passengers, many of whom were delayed for as much as an hour and a half, what had happened. “It just stopped all of a sudden,” he recalled, while others complained that not only did they not see the collision, but that they did not learn why the train stopped until much later.