By Noel T. Braymer
I have been a “Rail Advocate” since 1979. There are several projects I and my friends talked about and dreamed about over 30 years ago that are only now starting construction. Some of my friends from the last century didn’t live to see these projects get built. I am happy and excited that I am finally able to see many of these critical projects finally coming to be.
1. The Expo Line built and extended to Santa Monica.
Back in the early 1980’s when I lived in Los Angeles, I proposed using the then new San Diego Trolley as a model for Los Angeles to use existing Pacific Electric rail lines between Los Angeles to Long Beach and Santa Monica and convert them to passenger Light Rail. My goal was to see this done in time for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.The PE line to Santa Monica goes right past the Coliseum which was a major venue of the 1984 Summer Games. I am older and wiser now of what it takes to get things done. The Blue Line between Los Angeles and Long Beach wasn’t finished until 1990. The final leg of the Expo Line to Santa Monica is finished now and passenger service will begin in Spring of next year. It took a long time to overcome local homeowner opposition to building the Expo Line. At least the Expo Line Right of way was bought by the county in the 1980’s which saved it for the future. But it took grassroots organization largely organized by Darrell Clarke and growing traffic congestion to get the Expo Line built. Often the problems to getting rail projects built is from local opposition to any development from fears it will increased traffic congestion. But it is urban sprawl which is the main cause of traffic congestion, not development served by rail service.
2. The Regional Connector for Light Rail in downtown Los Angeles.
The original plan for the Blue Line from Long Beach to Los Angeles was to extend it north to Pasadena. After years of delay the Gold Line was built and it ended up being stuck at Los Angeles Union Station for several years. Later it was extended to East Los Angeles, but still largely missed most of downtown Los Angeles. The Regional Connector is a 2 mile long subway through downtown Los Angeles which will eliminate the hassles of transferring between the Blue and Gold Lines to the Red and Purple Lines. This will result in easier and fewer transfers with increased ridership on all rail transit lines in downtown Los Angeles. The Expo Line will be extended to East Los Angeles and the Blue Line will finally be extended to Pasadena and to Azusa. Azusa service will begin next spring as part of the Gold Line. The Regional Connector has been in the news recently. Tunneling is always complicated. The project is already 25 percent finished. But it is running behind schedule and over budget. Subway construction is always difficult in urban areas with often uncharted utilities. Current estimates are for this project to be finished by 2021 not 2020. These problems pail compared to the problems of building the Red Line in the 1990’s. Red Line construction led to a major sinkhole in Hollywood with a tunneling machine stranded and damage to many buildings in the process. These problems and cost over-runs which delayed many rail projects led to LA County banning subway constructions for several years.
3. The Southern California Regional Interconnector Project or the run through tracks at Los Angeles Union Station.
My friends in 1979 were dreaming of the future run through tracks at what was then Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal (LAUPT). This will make the station much more efficient and allow direct service to more places by rail. A major problem in 1980 to seeing this happen was the then planned Los Angles Downtown People Mover which if built as planned at the south end of the station tracks, would have blocked construction for future run-through tracks. RailPAC, or then known as Citizens for Rail California (CRC) was a major player in getting the plans for the Downtown People Mover changed so not to block future run-through tracks. Actually much of the work was by the then President of CRC: Byron Nordberg. I was the last President of CRC and the first President of RailPAC. Ironically, the Downtown People Mover was never built after the Federal funding for the project was shut down by the Reagan Administration. This left money with no place to go that was to be the local match for the People Mover. The money for the People Mover became the seed money in the early 1980’s that started the Blue Line between Los Angeles and Long Beach.
4.The new concourse at Los Angels Union Station.
This project was beyond my wildest dreams in 1979. Back then just getting a 7th round trip San Diegan was a big deal. I will miss some parts of the old station that will be lost for the new concourse. But it will make much easier to transfer between the different travel modes (High Speed Rail, Metrolink, Amtrak, Subway, Light Rail, Transit Bus, Intercity Bus, Rental Cars and Cabs. Ridership at Los Angeles Union Station is going to grow more with expanded rail service and it is already greater than what the original station was designed for. The combination of the new concourse, SCRIP and the Regional Connector are all going to make Union Station a huge transportation hub. These should all come together between now and 2021.
5. High Speed Rail coming to Los Angeles Union Station by 2024 and not 2029.
This was a delightful surprise for me. For years I couldn’t understand why the California High Speed Rail Authority didn’t want to use exiting space and right of way at Union Station. The explanation was the existing station layout was too slow if the trains were to get to San Francisco in 2 hours and 40 minutes. Instead years of planning went into whole new alignments and an underground station near Union Station. This of course raised the costs and delayed service to Los Angeles, which is only the biggest travel market for California. I now feel vindicated, again.
6. A fully grade-separated, 4 track mainline between Los Angeles and Fullerton.
This project started back in the 1970’s. Then State Senator Jim Mills of San Diego who was also Senate Pro Tem was responsible for this project, as well the San Diego Trolley and expansion of the San Diegan rail service between San Diego and Los Angeles. Senator Mills got legislation to grade separate the rail crossings on the then ATSF mainline between the City of Commerce and Fullerton. Given the disruption to both road and rail traffic and limited funding, this has been done mostly one crossing at a time. A major part of this legislation was that the grade separations had to be built to support 4 tracks (for what at the time was a double tracked railroad) for a right of way was wide enough for four tracks. When finally finished late in the next decade, this will create a double tracked railroad for freight and a separate double track railroad for passenger trains. Many more passenger trains will be able to run on this line, and at faster speeds up to 110 miles per hour without disrupting slower freight traffic.
7. The double tracking of the LOSSAN Corridor.
The complete double tracking of the LOSSAN Corridor may not happen in my Lifetime between San Diego and San Luis Obispo. There is a great deal of single track north of Chatsworth which may take decades at the current pace of construction to double track. There is good news: Los Angeles County is double tracking most of the railroad in the next few years in the San Fernando Valley for both the Coast Line of the LOSSAN Corridor and the Antelope Valley Line to Lancaster for Metrolink. In Los Angeles County the railroad between Los Angeles and Fullerton is already double tracked with many segments already tripled tracked. Most of Orange County is double tracked now. The problems begin in San Juan Capistrano with single track down past San Clemente to the San Diego County border. This is a major bottleneck for LOSSAN. In ten years San Diego County which is now about 66 percent double tracked will be 90 percent double tracked. But those last 6 miles of single track railroad are the most expensive to fix and it may not be fully double tracked by 2050. There are major improvements for double tracking on the way, but much more money will be needed to get the job done.
8. New passenger cars and locomotives.
This goes back to 2009 and the Obama Administration Stimulus Package. From this finally, California and other states will be getting more, new bi-level passenger cars and new low emission locomotives in the next few years. This will be helpful, but won’t go far enough just to meet current demand for Amtrak service supported by the State of California. More new cars and locomotives will be needed. Also we could upgrade existing “surplus” Metrolink cars that are now in storage and put them back in service as well as rebuild old locomotives to the new Tier 4 emission standards for less money than for new locomotives.
9. The improved rail service connections at San Diego Airport.
Actually its not just San Diego, but Burbank, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, LAX, Palmdale and Ontario Airports have and or will see improved rail service connections. In 2016 the first part of improved rail connections to San Diego Airport will start with airport shuttle bus connections to the San Diego Trolley next to the airport. The shuttle buses will use a new road built inside the airport just for buses, Trolley passengers will be able to take a short walk from the Middletown Trolley Station to a bus stop for a shuttle to the airport terminals. These buses will also serve rental car and airport parking passengers. This is only stage one of a much larger project which will include a People Mover for all passengers to ride to rebuilt terminals from a new airport entrance next to the freeway and railroad.This includes plans by the 2030’s for a new San Diego Train Station near the Airport People Mover for High Speed Rail, Amtrak and local Coaster service.
10. A 12th Surfliner train between San Diego and Los Angeles and a third train between San Diego and San Luis Obispo.
This Thanksgiving week, LOSSAN is sponsoring additional service using existing equipment for 2 additional evening departures to San Diego from Los Angeles and 2 additional trains from San Diego, leaving at 4:40 AM to Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo. The hope is if this service is successful during the holiday this could be a permanent service. The morning train to San Luis Obispo from Los Angeles has long been the weakest train for the Surfliners. The problem was lack of service from Orange and San Diego Counties. The other 2 San Diego to San Luis Obispo trains are by far the strongest trains. If this goes through, we will see additional service, more efficient equipment use and much more revenue with this new service. This would be a great Christmas present for me and other rail passengers if this comes true. Since the Surliner is a State supported train and the train slot north of Los Angeles is already established on the UP, if the LOSSAN Corridor Agency asks Amtrak to run this new service permanently, Amtrak will be more than happy to to put it on the State’s tab.