By Noel T. Braymer
April 22nd was Earth Day, celebrated by both LA Metro and Metrolink by giving free rides to the public for the day. This was also done as a promotion to encourage more people to use public transportation and for both agencies to announce how much carbon emission was not emitted by riding public transit instead of driving. My first idea was to ride as many services on the 22nd as possible on both Metrolink and LA Metro on Earth Day. But I realized I had other things that needed to be done on Monday. So I settled for a quick trip between Oceanside to Fullerton and back. For reasons unknown to me a few years ago Orange County wanted additional Metrolink trains that ran mostly in Orange County for travel within the County. Since these trains had few stations and were competing with local bus service, ridership has never been very good on these trains. Train 641 out of Oceanside goes as far as Fullerton leaving at 2:59 PM. At 3:26 PM Metrolink Train 609 departs Oceanside for Los Angeles. These are the last 2 Metrolink departures of the day on the Orange County Line out of Oceanside. These trains also have connections in Orange County to other Metrolink trains serving the Inland Empire region. I choose the train to Fullerton in part because I knew it was likely to be the least crowded. Also I had been thinking for a while of a short trip to Fullerton to take pictures of developments around the station.
Before 2:59 PM I got to platform #2 for train 641. There were more people waiting for this train than usual. Many people brought bikes and when the train arrived the conductor announced that the train’s bike car still had room for more bikes if the bike racks on the 5 other cars were full. At 3:00 PM however train 641 had yet to arrive. Train 641 arrived about 10 minutes late followed soon afterwards by train 609. Train 641 arrived at the #2 west platform and the 609 parked at the #1 east platform next to the main station area. Usually both trains use the west platform. We departed at 3:16 PM on a train with higher than usual ridership, but still with plenty of empty seats. As I rode I noticed a few things that had changed. There was new grading work at Camp Pendleton along side a mile or two the railroad right of way. But I wasn’t sure what it was for and if it had anything to do with the railroad, or if it was for Camp Pendleton. Going through San Clemente I notices some earth moving work near some of the bluffs at the base of the rail right of way. I wasn’t sure if there had been recent land slides in San Clemente or if the work was to prevent landslides from covering the tracks or something else. When we got to the Metrolink San Clemente Station which is at the northern edge of town we had to double stop the train. This was a 6 car train and the platform was only 5 cars long. The train had to stop first to assist a passenger with mobility issues. Then it could move forward for passengers to access the other 5 cars. What delayed the train were many of the waiting passengers were standing too close to the train by the car doors for the train to safely move one car length forward. It took several PA announcements by the conductor before the platform was clear to move the train.
Needless to say, late trains only get later. From the train while stopped at stations I could read track side messages reporting signal problems delaying trains on the BNSF. I was able to get more information of the problems for Metrolink from alerts on its website. “INLAND EMPIRE-ORANGE COUNTY 4/22/2019 3:38 PM Update: IEOC Line 808 to San Bernardino is delayed 45-60 minutes due to delayed train 684.” Train 684 was the 2:11 PM departure from Los Angeles to Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo which apparently couldn’t leave Union Station because of the signalling problems on the BNSF. The 684 was due to turn around at LN/MV as the 808 at 3:56 PM to San Bernardino This had a cascading effect.“91/PERRIS VALLEY 4/22/2019 6:56 PM Update: Today’s passengers of trains 602,702, 686, 689, 704 & 708 can receive reimbursement up to $50…” The 700 series of trains are from the 91/Perris Valley line which also use the BNSF tracks between Fullerton and Los Angeles. I arrived around 5 PM into Fullerton instead of the scheduled time of 4:24 PM. The question was when would the next southbound Metrolink train to Oceanside arrive in Fullerton? While I waited I took a few pictures around the Fullerton Station. The next Metrolink train for Oceanside arrived at Fullerton at 5:47 PM. It was Metrolink Train 602 due in Fullerton at 3:56 PM. The 604 had it been on time would have arrived in Fullerton at 5:10 PM and Oceanside at 6:37 PM.
It was 7:10 PM when I finally got back to Oceanside. There was still sunlight as I got off the train as we get closer the Summer Solstice. The amount of information about what was going on mostly with rail passenger service on Earth Day was rather limited. Clearly the BNSF unintentionally rained on Metrolink marketing plans to encourage more people to ride Metrolink. The segment of the LOSSAN Corridor between Los Angeles and Orange County has the highest level of rail passenger miles in California between Amtrak and Metrolink. At the heart of any passenger service is good and reliable transportation infrastructure. This is particularly true for rail passenger service. We have come a long way from the 1970’s when the State of California started spending money to improve local California rail routes for more reliable rail passenger service. We’ve come a long way, but still have much work left to do. We have many rail projects underway now in California which bring slow orders and cancelled service. Much of this is due to years of deferred track improvements going back over 50 years ago in some cases. In the case of much of the trackage Metrolink is responsible for the need for improvements for better rail passenger service goes back before 1990 when the railroads were selling much of trackage now controlled by Metrolink to local governments. Fortunately everyday for Metrolink isn’t like Earth Day 2019. There is money to make major improvements for California’s transportation’s infrastructure and California’s voters have overwhelmingly approved raising taxes for improved transportation, including rail passenger service. This includes future run-through track at Los Angeles Union Station which will allow even more rail service. And planned is 4 track railroading between Fullerton and Burbank with separate double tracking for passenger trains and for freight trains for smoother operation. This is all planned to be in service in less than ten years.