When the state of New Mexico comes to mind, we often think of the Carlsbad Caverns, uniquely rugged landscapes and exotic wildlife. Soon it may also conjure up thoughts of solid railroad safety and landmark two-person crew laws.

On Feb. 20, New Mexico’s state house chamber, known as the “Round House,” was full of debate and discussion about the state of modern railroads. Watching the proceedings felt on some level like sitting in a crewroom listening to coworkers argue. Many of the representatives sounded like the new guys every crew base has who try to argue their point, even though you can tell they are still working out the rough spots in their understanding of railroad terminology. Other reps offered the time-tested “old head” line of “This is how it’s always been done.”

Unlike those crewroom debates, the one in the Round House had the potential to bring about tangible results.

The weight of the outcome of the argument made it absolutely critical that SMART Transportation Division had a role in this debate. Luckily for all involved, State Legislative Director (SLD) Don Gallegos was right in the middle. At the right-hand side of Rep. Eliseo Alcon who was HB 105’s primary sponsor, Gallegos shepherded the conversation through to a successful conclusion.

As the House minority leader and the minority whip did an excellent job of playing the role of trainmaster in this crew room debate, they tried their best to paint Rep. Alcon into corner after corner in an effort to muddy the water on the bill’s intention and scope. They tried to make the bill too complex to stand a chance in the Senate by including verbiage on passenger rail and also tried to slow down the bill’s momentum by offering to take it back to the drawing board and work with the bill sponsor to strengthen the language.

In short, they put on a clinic on how to execute the railroad lobbyist playbook to subvert the common-sense inherent in HB 105. Yet at the end of the conversation, Rep Alcon and SLD Gallegos came out with a win — a 43-25 vote in favor with two representatives opting to pass on voting,

After passing through the House with such remarkable bipartisan support, the bill was then sent to New Mexico’s Senate Transportation Committee where it will be taken up in the near future. For his part in the progression of the bill, SLD Gallegos said, “This is further than our two-person crew legislations have gotten in the past. We are all very excited at the prospect of bringing a heightened level of safety to the communities of New Mexico as well as job security to our state’s railroad professionals.”

SMART-TD is proud of the progress in New Mexico and looks forward to seeing HB 105 progress. This is yet another example of SMART-TD’s National Legislative Department’s positive momentum.

New Mexico’s progress is a great illustration of the efforts that are going on nationwide to defend our members from the profit-at-all-costs business model of Precision Scheduled Railroading.

Rail_runner_nmrx_webNon-union employees at a commuter rail operation in the state of New Mexico expressed interest in union representation and now they have it.

Engineers, conductors and ticket agents working for New Mexico Rail Runner Express voted April 28-29 for representation by the SMART Transportation Division, Director of Organizing Rich Ross reports.

The Rail Runner Express operates over approximately 100 miles of right-of-way, serving the metropolitan areas of Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

“I extend my sincere appreciation to SMART Transportation Division’s assistant state legislative director in New Mexico, Donald A. Gallegos, for his efforts. He went above and beyond the call of duty during this campaign,” Ross said.

“I also thank the members of SMART Sheet Metal Division Local 49 and Business Manager Vince Alvarado for the use of their facility in Albuquerque as our base of operation.”

“Hopefully, we can reach an agreement soon for our 38 new members.”

The commuter rail service is administered by the New Mexico Department of Transportation over right-of-way purchased from BNSF Railway. Operation and maintenance of the line and equipment is currently under contract to Herzog Transit Services, Inc.

According to NMDOT, Rail Runner Express carried 1,219,461 passengers in fiscal year 2011.