By Noel T. Braymer
Lately I just haven’t had the energy to get up by 6:00 AM to catch the last morning Metrolink train out of Oceanside. So I decided to splurge and take a late morning Surflner to Los Angeles and connect there with Metrolink to San Bernardino. One thing about buying a ticket from an agent is it seems to go faster than using a ticket machine. There is also less anxiety about missing your train waiting to get your ticket. When my Surfliner arrived the odd thing was the train crew only opened one door on the train out of 6 cars, even though most cars have 2 sets of doors on each side of the cars. Also Amtrak police were onboard with police dogs going through the train. I’m not sure why they only opened one door to one car, my guess is that was the car with the most empty seats. While this car had empty seats, all the window seats were taken. I noticed as the train went north through Camp Pendleton in the midday that south bound traffic on the I-5 was stop and go in places.
The day was sunny for once, but cool and windy. In Orange County Mount Saddleback was covered with snow after recent storms as well as adjoining ridges. Snow rarely last long just on Mount Saddleback. As the train reached Anaheim even more deeply snow covered mountains could be seen from Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties. This is quite a change after years of drought leaving even Mt. Baldy which usually had snow most of the year with almost none in recent winters. Well we arrived into Los Angeles 4 minutes early. I only noticed 4 open doors on a train with powered opened doors as I left the typical Bi-level Surfliner 6 car train. Two of these cars are Superliners Coaches leased from Amtrak which lack trainlined powered doors. It seemed odd on this trip that more doors weren’t being opened.
The next Metrolink train to San Bernardino was leaving in 14 minutes when I got to LAUS and I had no problems buying a ticket and getting on my Metrolink train with plenty of time to spare. What I noticed was there were no announcements on my Amtrak train of connections between this and other trains coming into Union Station. I also noticed as I got on Amtrak in Oceanside on the only car with an open door was that it was the Cafe/Coach car. While sitting upstairs in the coach area I noticed that there were no signs letting people know the Cafe was on the lower level of this car. On the upper level of a Bi-Level car where people can walk between cars, most coaches look the same. While the Cafe attendant usually gives announcements and sometime directions to the Cafe at the start and end of a trip, many people such as myself get on in the middle of the route.
One of the things I wanted to check out on this trip was the area between North Pomona and Montclair. The next installment of LA Merto Light Rail Construction east of Azusa is planned to start construction soon. What is now the Gold Line, to be renamed the Blue Line in 2021 uses the old Santa Fe right of way between downtown Los Angeles, Pasadena out to Azusa. This old Santa Fe right of way is also used by Metrolink from North Pomona east to San Bernardino. The Santa Fe line meets the tracks of Metrolink from the north side. Metrolink’s platforms at Claremont and Montclair are on the north edge of the right of way. The north side is were most of the foot traffic is. The right of way is more than wide enough for 4 tracks, 2 apiece for Light Rail and Metrolink. But there are likely going to be engineering challenges relocating the Metrolink platforms and adding Light Rail tracks and platforms. This will likely require grade separated pedestrian crossings at the joint stations.
My reason for going to San Bernardino was to check out construction of new run through tracks and platforms at the station. Metrolink trains at San Bernardino now terminate at stub tracks next to the San Bernardino ATSF station, but Metrolink passengers now don’t use the old station. With new passenger only tracks and platforms Metrolink service will be extended to a new station in downtown San Bernardino. By 2021 a new DMU service will run the 9 miles from Redlands connecting with Metrolink at downtown San Bernardino, When the construction underway at San Bernardino is finished Metrolink trains will be able to use new platforms at San Bernardino with direct access to the old ATSF station. Connecting the the new platforms to the station is an under construction bridge serving the new platforms. As well as future connections in downtown San Bernardino to DMU rail service to Redlands, there will also be better connections to local transit bus service.
The day was sunny but cold and very windy in San Bernardino. Because of the construction around the station it was difficult to walk around to get a better view by the old station. I made my stay short and got back on the train I came on to get back to Los Angeles to catch a train to Oceanside. The Metrolink conductor came up to the gate where the passengers were waiting. After the security guard unlocked the gate to the platforms, the conductor scanned all the tickets of the passengers heading to the train. The trip westward was generally uneventful. We were going against rush hour traffic and stopped for a meet just east of Baldwin Park and at a siding in the El Monte Busway. Things only got strange after dark and when we were about a mile outside of LAUS. We came to a full stop on the east side of the Los Angeles River not far from the throat of LAUS. First we were told that there was track congestion at the station and we were waiting for traffic to clear. Later we were told the problems was with station track signaling. We sat waiting for a while before we finally moving. I was glad that I got back on this and not the next Metrolink train from San Bernardino.
I had over an hour before I caught the 790 Amtrak train to get back to Oceanside. This gave me time to get something to eat and walk around a bit around and in Union Station. The 790 is the evening train from San Luis Obispo and this being on a Friday, it was the busiest train on the busiest day (Friday) of the week for the Surfliners. The arrival board said that the 790 would be arriving at 7:10 PM and Departing at 7:31. I walked along the station tunnel and saw a platform sign saying train 710 on I think tracks 11/12. This was around 7:00 PM so I went up so I could get on the train as early as possible. I saw a handful of other people at this platform with the same idea. I also saw on the next platform on I think track 10 a low level trainset parked there.The platform sign where we were said this was the track for train 790. Soon there were announcements and station employees telling me and the other people waiting for the 790 that we had to go to the next platform. When we went up the ramp to the next platform, there was the low level trainset with an open door between 2 cars and a conductor near the top of the ramp.
I got on the train and was trying to figure out what was going on. While we were waiting I saw a Pacific Surfliner trainset arrive at the other tracks across the platform from the train I was on. Not long after that even more people got on the low-level train which had almost no one when I first got on. I finally realized that the 790 from San Luis Obispo was the train that arrived next to the train I was on. Amtrak moved everyone off of that train to the “new” 790 train. This is what is planned if and when the Pacific Surfliners get the 2 leased Talgo trainsets in service: -have people transfer at LAUS for travel north and south of Los Angeles on different trains. But why were they doing this, this Friday night? I’ve seen this done before. This weekend all rail service in San Diego County would stop early Saturday morning during the weekend for several rail construction projects in the Country. My guess is Amtrak didn’t want the Surfliner trainset from San Luis Obispo stuck in San Diego all weekend with no way to be serviced. So they brought from the yard their low level trainset to spend the weekend in San Diego.
The conductor warned everyone this train was going to be full and would leave Los Angeles with standees. And it was. There were only spare seats when the train was in southern Orange County. Generally things went smoothly until we got to the Metrolink Station for Laguna Niguel/ Mission Viejo at 8:49 PM. This was the end of double tracking in Orange County. There is only Serra Siding south of San Juan Capistrano until you get to Camp Pendleton which is now mostly double tracked. We had to wait for a late 591 to pass us before we could get south of Laguna Niguel/ Mission Viejo. When I got off at Oceanside the train was 8 minutes late.