ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) — Taxpayers forked over millions of dollars to get the Rail Runner moving with a big perk of having free Wi-Fi available for riders.
However, vandals have ruined part of that and now the state is struggling to come up with a plan to stop them.
Vandals did tens of thousands of dollars in damage to one of the Rail Runner’s Wi-Fi hotspots back in September, knocking out a large stretch of service. The stretch remains offline because the state says it needs a better plan of how to protect its costly equipment.
Riders will notice the current Wi-Fi outage is in north Albuquerque. Rail Runner representatives say it all started toward the end of 2013.
“This one affected the tower, some of the solar panels were taken, copper wire,” said Augusta Meyers, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico Rail Runner Express.
Meyers says the impacted tower is in the Waldo Canyon area between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The tower has been off since September.
“That has affected about an eight-mile stretch of connectivity going north towards Santa Fe,” said Meyers.
Rail Runner says thieves broke a lock and made off with around $40,000 worth of equipment. While the eight-mile stretch has been off for more than four months now, Rail Runner says it’s working on a fix. However, there’s a hold-up.
“We have some of the replacement equipment ready and we have not put it back in,” said Meyers.
The hold-up is because of the New Mexico Department of Transportation, which is charged with securing the cabinet that holds the equipment.
“NMDOT is looking at and exploring the best possible security system so that we can deter future vandalism accounts like this,” said Meyers.
Rail Runner says vandals have now stolen from the Wi-Fi system twice. According to NMDOT, most recently, vandals broke through stronger locks and different security measures.
So far, NMDOT has been stumped over figuring out a fix. Until they have one, the stretch in Waldo Canyon will stay offline. The agency released the following statement to KRQE News 13:
“Replacements for the stolen equipment will not be installed until there is an effective security system in place. In addition to steps to discourage or prevent access to the equipment, the security system must be able to detect and actively notify the railroad dispatcher of intruders in the vicinity. Proposals for security that have been reviewed have not adequately addressed this need.”
Rail Runner says while the outage only affects an eight-mile stretch of the total 100-mile route, they say the situation is disappointing.
“It’s not that great for the user because it kind of takes them out of the mix for a while,” said Meyers.
Rail Runner has buried other electrical wiring over the years because of vandals, but it says it can’t do the same to the Internet equipment.