By Noel T. Braymer
With the prospect of being able to ride most of Metrolink services during the Memorial Day weekend in one day for $10 dollars: I wanted to make the best of it! Of course with Metrolink’s weekend schedules it was harder to make connections with reduced weekend services. So I settled on catching a midday Antelope Valley Line train as far as Santa Clarita. If I had gone any further I would have missed my connection home on the last Metrolink Orange County Line southbound train of the day. My main goal of this trip was to checkout the Antelope Valley line between Union Station to the Coast Line at Burbank Junction. Also I wanted to check out the Santa Clarita station on the Antelope Valley Line. The reason for this is based on plans in the future to create a bus bridge between Bakersfield and Santa Clarita to trains in the San Joaquin Valley. This way passengers making connections between Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley by bus wouldn’t get stuck in the heavy I-5 traffic in the San Fernando Valley. Also using Metrolink would provide more places and times passengers could get to Bakersfield with the bus bridge than depending solely on the existing Amtrak Thruway buses which often get stuck in heavy freeway traffic.
The plan is to build 4 tracks between Fullerton and Burbank. Even more tracks will be needed for all of Southern California to run more frequent rail service for both more passenger service and growing rail freight service. The majority of Metrolink’s trackage even today is mostly single track, much like it was when Metrolink started up in the 1990’s. As it is now almost all of the right of way between Fullerton and the BNSF’s Hobart Yard is now triple tracked, and will be fully tripled tracked by next year. North of Hobart yard to Los Angeles the BNSF freight trains already have separate double tracks from those shared by Metrolink and Amtrak passenger trains on their sets of double tracks. Leaving Union Station going north to Burbank the UP line now is double tracked. This right of way is half owned by the UP and half owned by the County of Los Angeles.The right of way is wide enough for 4 tracks in Los Angeles County. The bigger issue will be the need to build more grade separations particularly in the San Fernando Valley. This is needed to prevent road vehicle accidents at rail crossings and blocking traffic at busy roads.
Also being planned by Metrolink is greatly expanded rail passenger service over the next nine years on the Antelope Valley Line between Union Station, Palmdale and Lancaster. Metrolink is looking to expand service where more affordable housing can be built and connect people to jobs and services in the more developed parts of Southern California. As part of this are plans to expand service and provide more connections to more places on other lines. This will depend on more connections between trains at hub stations with short connection times between services. Also needed will be better transit connections. By 2028 the goal is to have Metrolink trains running twice an hour in each direction on most of their lines with service every 15 minutes on some lines.
The County of Los Angeles is particularly interested in improving rail service both for local transit service on the Antelope Valley Line with more stations with perhaps additional DMU self powered 2 to 4 car trains in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys. There is also more open land in the Santa Clarita and Antelope Valleys that can be developed to improve the local economies. What is not a good option is expanding more roads in the region which will only funnel even more cars on to already heavily congested freeways like the I-5 and 405.
I stopped at the Santa Clarita Station to see why this station was being considered as the stop for a bus bridge between Bakersfield and the Santa Clarita Valley. In a way the choices were between Newhall and Santa Clarita. Both stations were on the railroad, but neither were near the I-5 Freeway. The Newhall station is in the middle of town and seems to attract more passengers. But that might actually work for choosing Santa Clarita over Newhall for the bus stop. Also the closer the buses get to the San Fernando Valley, the heavier the traffic will be for the buses to get stuck in on the I-5. What really struck me though was the single track and platform at the Santa Clarita Station was next to a one way road which could handle buses. So several buses at a time could park right next to the platform, load or unload passengers and move out to make more room for more buses. Using the existing road loop would make for faster loading and unloading of the buses. What I also noticed at the Santa Clarita Station was the digital display gave plenty of warning when the train would arrive. The sound system at the station was also very good and more helpful than many pubic announcements at most staffed stations. This is helpful for announcements such as if the next train was on time or how late it might be.
When I returned back to Union Station I checked around for changes at the station and for things to take photos of or write about. Then I decided to ride on the Gold Line from Union Station to East Los Angeles. LA Metro is planning to cut back service with several of its Light Rail Lines including the Gold Line. I know during the Memorial Day weekend the Gold Line usually was fairly full coming into Union Station southbound. As the Gold Line train left the Little Tokyo station the train had plenty of empty seats. Most trains are emptier at the start and end of their runs and are often fullest at the middle of their runs. I also think with the completion of the Regional Connector tunnel, ridership to and from East Los Angeles will grow when the Expo Line is extended to East Los Angeles from Little Tokyo. I think its a good guess that people in East Los Angeles would rather have direct service to downtown Los Angeles and West Los Angeles than to the northern San Gabriel Valley.
I got back to Union Station with plenty of time before the last Metrolink train to Oceanside left. I got to the platform early enough to be able to sit down on one of the new benches at the platform. While I was waiting a small, mature woman came up to me to ask questions about taking the train home. She had bought a one way ticket at the station. But it wasn’t going to get her home which was in Riverside. She picked the right person to ask, because the only way now she could get to Riverside was to take the Orange County Line south to the City of Orange Station. At Orange the northbound Inland Empire-Orange County Line train would arrive about 7 minutes after the southbound Orange County Line train left. It would be a tight connection and I didn’t want her to get stranded because she couldn’t get to the right platform for Riverside on time. I took her to a Metrolink ticket machine and made sure she had a day pass good for both trains. I got on the same car as she did to make sure she got off at Orange and knew how to get under the tracks to the opposite track and platform for the Riverside train. After all the time I spent helping her I wanted to be sure she didn’t get stranded in Orange. Well my train left Orange on time and a few minutes later a Metrolink train went by us going north as we headed south.