Rail Trail Property
Frequently Asked Questions for the Santa Fe Rail Trail
Where is the Santa Fe Rail Trail located?
The Santa Fe Rail Trail (the trail) follows the historic Atchinson, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway line from the City of Santa Fe to Lamy. The trail starts in the Railyard park and continues along the train tracks to Highway 285 and then to Lamy for a total of 18.1 miles. The portion under the management of Santa Fe County runs from the I-25 overpass near Rabbit Road south to Highway 285. The total mileage for the county portion is approximately 12.5 miles.
What types of users are allowed on the trail?
Santa Fe County welcomes bicyclists, equestrians, and pedestrians on the trail. Unauthorized vehicles including ATVs are not allowed.
What train runs along the trail?
The train that runs along the County’s portion of the trail is owned by Santa Fe Southern Railway. They conduct scenic tours from the Santa Fe Railyard Park to Lamy. They can be reached at: www.sfsr.com. The Rail Runner does not run along this portion of the trail.
What do those neon colored markers in the ground indicate - some sort of trail work?
Santa Fe County hired the engineering firm Loris and Associates (www.lorisandassociates.com) to assist with finalizing the trail alignment, resolving erosion and drainage issues and meeting all of the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) regulations for the railroad and trail. The engineering firm has extensive experience in designing and building natural surface trails – not roads.
The engineering firm has been working on the trail over the year and are using brightly colored “whiskers “ to mark possible new alignments, identify drainage problems, and propose low impact retaining or drainage structures. Pink and green whiskers indicate a particular slope or change in slope and blue whiskers indicate a slope or drainage note. These whiskers are proposed and not the final alignment – they are being used as part of the design process. Also, many of the whiskers are now missing or have re appeared in random places so their location is not accurate. Trail users may also notice surveying flags, stakes, and other identification markers.
Wait – NMDOT regulations??? I thought Santa Fe County owned the trail so please explain how NMDOT is involved with the trail?
That’s an easy question with a complicated answer. Santa Fe County purchased an easement from Santa Fe Southern Railways for the trail along the train tracks in 1997. Santa Fe Southern Railways sold the train tracks to the NMDOT in 2005 but they still operate the train that runs from Santa Fe to Lamy.
NMDOT acquired the easement for the trail when they purchased the train tracks. NMDOT requires Santa Fe County to follow certain regulations. These regulations must be followed in order to guarantee the safety of the trail users but also the safety of the train activities. This is not an option but a requirement in order to keep the trail open.
So, Santa Fe County owns the trail and is responsible for the maintenance and management as well as the education of trail users on safety and allowable uses but NMDOT owns the property where the trail is located.
What are the NMDOT restrictions/requirements?
NMDOT requires a barrier fence be installed at any point where the trail is located 25 feet or less from the centerline of the train tracks. The barrier is intended to keep trail users at a safe distance from the train tracks. Within that 25 feet the trail cannot be located less than 15 feet from the centerline of the train tracks. The closest that the trail can be to the train tracks is 15 feet from the centerline.
NMDOT also requires “No Trespassing” signs every 500 feet along the train tracks, at the ends of barrier fencing, and at all four corners of a crossing.
NMDOT does not allow the trail to cross the train tracks at unapproved crossings therefore the proposed trail alignment will utilize trestles to cross from one side of the tracks to the other.
Are there any other requirements?
NMDOT and Santa Fe Southern Railways require a maintenance road located close to the tracks. The proposed alignment follows the road in certain areas and in these areas the trail must be 8 feet wide in order to allow for authorized vehicle access. Santa Fe County Emergency and Fire also require vehicle access to the road and trail in order to respond to any calls.
Sheesh it’s just a trail and I like it just as it is so why is Santa Fe County making these improvements?
We are making these improvements for two major reasons: 1) NMDOT regulations and 2) Sustainability.
The NMDOT regulations listed above are requirements for continued use of the trail – the trail will be closed by NMDOT if they are not followed. These regulations are in place to ensure the safety of trail users and the Santa Fe Southern Railway.
Sustainability – it’s not just a buzz word for the Santa Fe County Open Space & Trails Program. A trail that is sustainable is also a low maintenance and long lived trail. We understand that we are investing the public’s money and therefore we are looking for long term solutions. We believe the proposed improvements to the trail will benefit all users and the environment as drainage improves and erosion decreases - water will be allowed to absorb into the earth, soils will stabilize, and native vegetation will prosper and spread.
What are some examples of these improvements?
Currently, there are many segments of the trail that are located within 25 feet and closer to the train tracks. This alignment will either need to be shifted or a barrier installed to follow NMDOT regulations.
One major example are the railroad cuts south of Rabbit Road where the trail is too close to the train tracks and the steep slope of the existing trail causes erosion. These areas require a specialized engineering design to create safe and as low impact as possible trail solutions to those problems. These solutions may include switchbacks, re-aligning the trail, and retaining walls along those railroad cuts.
Other improvements are focused on improving the drainage and quality of the trail. Between Arroyo Hondo and Eldorado the terrain flattens out and there are no obvious erosion issues. However long stretches of the trail retain moisture and turn muddy and are impassable at certain times of the year. Other trail sections are rutted which detracts from the use of the trail and creates an ongoing erosion problems. These conditions also cause users to create alternate routes resulting in a network of trails that greatly increases our impact on the surrounding environment. Improvements may include moving the trail to a slightly higher point in the landscape – it may be too subtle of a grade change to notice but the difference will be better drainage, less mud and less erosion.
In the area between Avenida Eldorado and Avenida Vista Grande the trail runs almost perpendicular to the existing terrain instead of following the contours of the land. This means that water runs straight down the trail without a chance to be absorbed into the ground which results in poor drainage, deep cuts, and a muddy trail. In these areas the amount of land available to re-align the trail is severely limited and measures such as culverts and gravel drainage ditches may be required to resolve the drainage issues. If culverts are installed every measure will be taken to do so in a way that minimizes the physical and visual impact on the environment.
Some of these improvements seem extreme – what will happen to the existing environment?
We will make every effort to minimize the damage but as with all construction there will be disturbance of the natural environment.
We will require the trail contractor to use small scale construction equipment suitable for trail (not road) work. We will also require the contractor to revegetate all disturbed areas with a seed mix that includes native shrubs, grasses and wildflowers. We will do everything we can to re- establish native vegetation along the trail but it will be challenging because there is not a consistent source of water.
Yes, but I like the trail just as it is – why are you changing it?
We understand that the trail is very popular and everyone has their own reasons for using it. Some bicyclists like the steep grades near the Rabbit Road trailhead, others use the trail to commute to work, and some like the wild natural setting so close to more developed urban areas. We are trying to reach a compromise between all the different types of users and all the different entities that have a responsibility to ensure the safety of the public and at the same time create a sustainable trail that will last for several generations.
Okay but are you going to pave the trail and make it like a road?
No, there are no plans to pave the county portion of the trail at this time. The trail will be native soil for trail use. Right now the trail alignment plans call for a 6 to 8 foot wide trail. In the areas where the trail and the maintenance road mentioned above share the alignment the width will be 8 feet. In other areas we are planning to use the 6 foot width where a narrower trail may be desirable or necessary.
When will these improvements happen?
We are in the currently in the middle of the engineering design process and hope to finish the design by spring 2011. Staff anticipates that due to budgetary constraints any construction along the trail will occur in phases and not all at once. By spring 2011 staff will determine a schedule for construction of the trail improvements and trailheads based on the engineering design and cost estimates.
How can I contact you or view the engineering design?
You can contact the Open Space & Trails program at 505-992-9873 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your support of sustainable trails in Santa Fe County!