Rio Metro and the New Mexico Rail Runner Express are proud to honor veterans and active duty military year-round with the Freedom to Ride Program. Over the past year, Rio Metro also found a way to recognize the families and loved ones of those who served with a pilot program transporting seniors from Albuquerque-area senior centers to the National Cemetery and back.
The Santa Fe National Cemetery Visitation Pilot Program stemmed from the suggestion of an individual attending a presentation by Marie Morra, Rio Metro Marketing Specialist. The individual pointed out the lack of convenient and affordable transportation options for people, especially seniors, residing in Albuquerque to access the cemetery to visit their loved ones interred there.
“I had not been able to visit my spouse’s resting place for two and a half years because as I get older I’m not able to navigate the fast-paced interstate highway anymore,” said the individual, who preferred not to be named.
Setting the Wheels in Motion
Morra took on the challenge of finding a way to address this issue. Setting the wheels in motion, she collaborated with Rail Runner Operations, the City of Albuquerque’s Department of Senior Affairs, the City of Santa Fe’s Senior Services Division, and the Santa Fe National Cemetery to develop a pilot program.
The pilot program consisted of three trips from Albuquerque area Senior Centers to the National Cemetery and back using the New Mexico Rail Runner Express as the primary mode of transportation. The trips took place on April 19, May 17, and June 14, 2023, and were limited to 50 people per trip.
Each collaborating entity was responsible for a different leg of the journey. The City of Albuquerque handled registration through their senior centers, bussed participants to the Rail Runner station, and provided sack lunches. Rio Metro provided transportation on the Rail Runner from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, informational posters, and lanyards for participants. The City of Santa Fe provided transportation from the Santa Fe Depot to the National Cemetery and back. The Santa Fe National Cemetery provided an informative presentation and shuttled participants to the grave sites they wanted to visit.
“We were able to bring together all of these groups that are involved with the seniors,” said Morra. “They opened their doors to us, and we couldn’t have done it without them. Each one of them provided a necessary component.”
There was no cost to any of the seniors participating in this program.
Gratitude All Around
“Everything was covered and it ran without a hitch,” said Michael Montroy, another participant. “I really appreciated the trip to Santa Fe since I don't drive and I don't have a way to travel to the Veterans Cemetery. It made us all feel special and important. This is going to be a moment I will cherish for a long, long time.”
“Having the opportunity to get this pilot project off the ground so that the families can visit loved ones has been a wonderful opportunity,” said Morra.
Rio Metro is planning to continue this collaboration, with the goal of coordinating three more trips in the spring and summer of 2024.