`By Noel T. Braymer
Since the mid 90’s and the Northridge Earthquake, Metrolink has had few major extensions or service expansions.The only new line since the 90’s was the 91 Line in 2002. The first extension in years is coming with new service from Riverside to Perris on the 91 Line. There has been some excitement over recent discussion of future service to San Diego, Redlands and the Palm Springs area.
The limiting factor for extending Metrolink today is finding existing railroads that don’t have rail passenger service. Most of the railroads Metrolink runs on now were either bought or the rights to use them secured in the 1980’s and 90’s. This was when the railroads had plenty of surplus railroad they wanted to sell off or were willing to share. Those days are long gone. But there are still a few rail lines available in Southern California that could be upgraded and used for passenger service.While this may not be cheap, this will still be faster and cheaper than building rail transit from scratch.This can result in more miles of rail service to many more places sooner.
One existing line suitable for Metrolink service is owned by the County of Los Angeles.It is the old Union Pacific Harbor Line between Long Beach and downtown Los Angeles which the county bought as part of the deal for the Alameda Corridor Project. Metrolink could run regular service with some track upgrades from the Long Beach Airport area to Los Angeles Union Station Most likely such a service would be extended past LAUS to an existing line like the Antelope Valley Line.
Using the old UP Harbor Line could have connections to the Green Line to LAX and the future West Santa Branch line to Orange County. The West Santa Ana Branch was an old Pacific Electric Line from Watts Junction to Santa Ana.Plans now for it are to connect at Paramount with the Green Line and to Orange County. Orange County plans for service are still not settled. There are plans for a “Street Car” service using the West Santa Ana Branch from Westminster to Santa Ana with street running to the Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center.
One of the greatest needs for Metrolink is for more track capacity in the San Gabriel Valley. This is because the San Bernardino Line is stuck on a single track in the middle of the I-10 Freeway between Los Angeles and El Monte. A good way to get around this problem would be for additional service on the old SP mainline between Los Angeles and Colton. This would at the least require double tracking of the railroad and the cooperation of the UP which now owns it. This would also open service to more places like San Gabriel and Ontario Airport. Some trains could bypass the I-10 tracks and switch over to the San Bernardino Line in El Monte adding more service. Express trains and Ontario Airport trains could be run on this line to San Bernardino as well,
The UP line along the Blue Line could also be used for a new service to Orange County. By the Slauson Blue Line Station is a UP Junction that heads east to La Habra and down to Fullerton where this line merges into the BNSF and to the Fullerton Station. This route would serve a new market to the north and east of Fullerton, give direct connections to the Blue Line and create a bypass to the BNSF for service to downtown Los Angeles both in case of problems on the BNSF route and to allow additional capacity beyond what is available on the BNSF between Los Angeles and Fullerton.
Another railroad that could be used for passenger service with improvements is the UP rail line next to the Blue Line. With Metrolink trains extended from Union Station, such trains could connect to the Blue Line. These Metrolink trains could switch to the El Segundo Line and head west. There could be a station at Vermont Ave for transfers to the Green Line to LAX. At El Segundo, Metrolink could switch to the publicly owned old ATSF Harbor line which could provide service to the South Bay area and as far as Torrance or even Wilmington. A major area where Metrolink is missing, it along the I-405 corridor along the coast. This extension would give major connections to this major population center to the rest of Southern California by rail.
The better solution would be to use the old ATSF Harbor line which ran from downtown Los Angeles past LAX to the harbors. Much of the line is still intact. But between Imperial Highway by LAX to the area near Crenshaw and Slauson in Los Angeles the tracks have been torn out for construction of the Crenshaw Light Rail Project. In 2009 LA Metro did a study of using the ATSF Harbor line as either a locomotive hauled passenger service or a DMU service. This would provide a direct service from downtown LA to LAX, service to the South Bay area and connect with the Blue, Green and Crenshaw Metrorail lines. This project has no funding and nothing more has been done on it since 2009.
study_map click Link to see a map of routes using the ATSF Harbor Line from a study in 2009 for direct rail service from Los Angeles Union Station to LAX and with connections to the Blue, Crenshaw and Green Metrorail Lines.
There are efforts to get funding for the ATSF Harbor line project on an upcoming ballot measure to increase transportation funding. Other problems this project will have is a new track connection is needed to connect the old ATSF Harbor line to Union Station. Also many residents along Slauson Ave don’t want the trains back. They want to use the right of way for a bike path/ landscaped parkway. There are also many grade crossings along the right of way along Slauson and trenching may be needed to grade separate these crossing if rail service is restored. There could also be a movement soon to integrate a new service on the ATSF Harbor Line as Light Rail, sharing the future tracks of the Crenshaw Line and the exiting Green Line.