• He retired from the Rail Yards more than 30 years ago, but kept up a devotion to tight schedules
  • Traffic volumes are inching back toward pre-pandemic levels, but Downtown area still lags
  • Cameras and license plate readers pile into the core
He retired from the Rail Yards more than 30 years ago, but kept up a devotion to tight schedules
David and Lillian Saiz, at home in the Downtown Neighborhoods.
Railroads run on precise timing just as much as they run on steel, and so far as David Saiz is concerned, that sort of regimented scheduling was the secret to his considerable professional and personal success.

He started young: Born in 1927, he grew up in Barelas on Second Street between Pacific and Cromwell.

"My mother kept me going, fed me well - that's why I'm always on schedule," he said. "You always get on a schedule. Eat at the same time, sleep at the same time." 

It was a constitution perfectly suited to a career working at the Santa Fe Locomotive Repair Shops, the complex of industrial buildings between Barelas and South Broadway we now call the Rail Yards. After working a series of odd jobs at a stationary store, a tortilla shop, and Presbyterian Hospital, opportunity knocked.

"I had a primo that told my mom that they were going to hire people at the shops and I went and inquired," Saiz said.

He would work for the railroad for the next 40 years and five months, retiring around 1989, and over the decades he did all kinds of jobs around the sprawling complex. Saiz fixed roofs, maintained the water and electrical systems, drove a forklift, tended to cabooses, pumped water and diesel into trains, and put in a particularly long stint at a plant located near Rio Bravo that made railroad ties.

Looking back, he seems positively elated to have had the job and a great collection of colleagues and supervisors: "They were wonderful people. I never gave them no trouble and they never gave me none," Saiz said. He celebrates his 95th birthday next month, but "If they would call me back to work right now I'd be there."

To be sure, staying at the shops for that long took something more than an agreeable personality and a good work ethic. The railroading labor market changed considerably over Saiz's tenure as high-maintenance steam locomotives gave way to more efficient diesel models. The railroad itself was also in the habit of moving various components of its operation around the country, sometimes leaving workers in the lurch.

"When word came out that there was going to be a layoff or they were closing down a certain shop then he would go out of his way to maneuver to another shop," son Willie Saiz said.

But it was well worth it. The wages were sufficient for David and wife Lillian Saiz to send Willie and two other children to private schools, including San Felipe de Neri and St. Pius.

"I was able to do that because the wages were amazing," David said. "Everything takes a little money."

The family moved to a quiet street just east of Duran Central Pharmacy in 1963. There Saiz figured out a precise route and departure time that would get him to the shops in the morning without hitting any red lights. He's still in that house, though the routines these days hew more toward favorite TV shows (Seinfeld, M*A*S*H, Andy Griffith), a nightly round of sudoku, going to bed at 10:45 p.m and rising at 7 a.m., give or take five minutes.

The precision still works for him after all these years: "That's why I feel good right now," Saiz said. "At my age, I've got a good appetite. I sleep like a bear. And I don't snore."
Traffic volumes are inching back toward pre-pandemic normal, but Downtown area lags
The low point - of course - was in 2020, when Greater Downtown roadways featured on average about 39 percent less traffic than they did in 2019. Things got dramatically busier in 2021, when that figure dropped to 21 percent below the old normal.

But the preliminary data from 2022, collected by the Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG), shows the pace of recovery has slowed, with the city center area standing at about 17 percent below 2019 levels. Several other parts of the metro area, meanwhile, are in the single digits, and a few - including the South Valley - are busier than before the pandemic.

"We're in a general recovery and we're getting closer to pre-COVID conditions," said Nathan Masek, who manages traffic counts for MRCOG.

But the staying power of remote work, if only for a day or two per week (DAN, 9/29/22), appears to be a key obstacle between Greater Downtown and 2019 levels of activity. The U.S. Census reported recently that the number of Americans working primarily from home tripled between 2019 and 2021, something that has also translated into reduced commute times for those who did venture out.

"I think it helps explain what we're seeing with the Downtown," Masek said.

MRCOG estimates traffic volumes based on data collected by tube counters placed along key roads all over the metro area. It measures one-third of the road segments per year and uses that information to estimate conditions in other areas. An interactive map is here.
Cameras and license plate readers pile into the core
New signs have gone up recently in the Downtown core warning passersby that they are on camera, and not just the kind whose footage can be accessed only after a cumbersome retrieval process. All in all, seven new cameras are tied into APD's Real Time Crime Center, where staffers can observe the feeds live. The department is also encouraging residents and businesses to tie their own video feeds into the center or at least register their camera locations to make it easier for detectives to obtain footage after the fact.

APD has also recently installed seven license plate readers in the Downtown core, something Valley Area Commander Nick Wheeler will help find and track problem vehicles, particularly when it comes to establishing a direction of travel.

Police also use license plate readers to screen for stolen cars or to check for cars driven by suspects. 

"It's going to help us a lot," Wheeler said. 
Downtown Albuquerque News covers Downtown, Old Town, and surrounding neighborhoods. We publish weekdays except for federal holidays. If someone forwarded DAN to you, please consider subscribing. To subscribe, contact us, submit a letter to the editor, or learn more about what we do, click here. If you ever run into technical trouble receiving DAN, click here.
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