I took my first Rail Runner ride today, Downtown Albuquerque to Santa Fe. The journey was delightful and the scenery eye-popping. I have made the trip several times by car and was amazed at just how much "civilization" can be found between I-25 and the Rio Grande.
Unfortunately, the rabid environmentalist in me was somewhat troubled. Despite the fact that I was on the 7:30 AM from downtown, the train was nearly empty. My best guess would be 25% of the available seats were filled after leaving Bernalillo (the last "Albuquerque Metro" stop heading out of town). I would also guess that about half of the passengers were not commuters in the strict sense. Many appeared to be bicyclists (full gear etc.) who would get off the train and ride back to Albuquerque or day-trippers (fanny pack, cameras etc.)
For a serious environmentalist, this is a problem. There is a significant fixed environmental cost to running the Rail Runner system (by "system" I mean to include the associated transfer shuttles etc.). Unless this fixed cost is offset by commuters using the system rather than their personal automobiles you really have to ask yourself what's the point of it all?
I know that the train is quite popular on weekends and for some special events, but occasional "novelty ridership" is not what public transportation systems are supposed to be about.
Has anyone run the numbers to see how much fuel per rider per day the Rail Runner system uses and compare that to the average person's automobile commute?