Since 1970, the federal government has preempted state railroad safety regulation. However, the federal government, through the Federal Railroad Administration (“FRA”), offers states the opportunity to participate in federal investigative and enforcement activities. New Mexico has decided to participate and, as a result, the FRA pays for education and training of railroad inspectors and the State has more safety inspectors than states that do not choose to participate in the program.
New Mexico is a major state for rail travel. Both the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and Union Pacific have major east-west interstate lines running through the State – more than 165 trains travel through New Mexico each day. Union Pacific recently began construction on a $400 million railroad hub near Santa Teresa, in Southern New Mexico. New Mexico also has several passenger trains. Most people are familiar with Amtrak and the New Mexico Rail Runner, but there are also four short line railroads and one narrow gauge tourist railroad.
The State has designated the PRC as the agency responsible for participating in FRA inspections and investigations and for propagating safety rules and regulations. The PRC’s two railroad investigators are members of the Transportation Division. These investigators respond to rail accidents, monitor safety and work with railroads, government entities, and the public throughout the State. They make recommendations to the PRC regarding its railway rules and enforcement actions.