By Noel T. Braymer
Recently, although this was likely years in the making. Kern Transit in Kern County which includes Bakersfield announced a new service between Bakersfield and Santa Clarita in northern Los Angeles County at its Metrolink station. This will allow passengers to ride Metrolink trains to connect between Kern and Los Angeles Counties. It has the advantage of bypassing much of the freeway stop and go traffic on just the I-5 south of Santa Clarita. No details have been given so far of connected ticketing or schedules between Kern Transit and Metrolink . Much of this can be done using smart phones to pay for combined ticketing and schedule information. Simply by using existing services, and connecting them with little in the way of new overhead costs, both services should see increased ridership and revenue.
There are plenty of other possible connections between rail/bus and transit. During the 2019 Thanksgiving Holiday weekend, Los Angeles International Airport aka LAX was encouraging passengers to ride transit buses to the airport with LAX picking up the bill. The reason for this is LAX is jammed with traffic year round. But it gets really bad during the holidays. In fact LAX is often gridlocked by traffic. If passengers from Los Angeles County ride the Green Line or the buses of LA Metro, Culver City, Santa Monica and Torrance Transit during the holidays and take a connecting shuttle bus to or from the terminals, LAX will pay the fare. LAX is also expanding its Flyaway bus service as traffic to LAX gets worse during the holidays. This is a holding action until the LAX Peoplemover is in service planned by 2023. The Peoplemover will replace all of the rental car shuttles, shuttles for economy airport parking and shuttles for passengers transferring from transit bus, Green Line and future Crenshaw/LAX Line rail service.
Of course people travel to other places in West Los Angeles besides LAX. Improvements in connecting services would both reduce traffic and provide a useful alternative. In the next few years Metrolink plans to run 2 to 4 trains an hour on many of its lines. The Orange County Metrolink Line is one of its busiest lines. At Norwalk, Metrolink has a station on its Orange County Line. There is also a Norwalk Green Line Station which is over a mile from the Metrolink station. There is a connecting Norwalk Transit Bus between the 2 stations. But it is hard to tell how many people use this connection. This would make it possible to travel between Metrolink and LAX. But it will require a bus transfer between the Metrolink and Green Line Stations, then a ride on the Green Line to its Imperial Highway station, then a ride on a LAX shuttle bus to the terminals. By 2023 the terminus will be at the joint Peoplemover, Green and Crenshaw Lines as well as transit buses at the 96th st and Aviation Blvd Peoplemover station. A better solution might be to run connecting buses between the Norwalk Metrolink Station and the LAX Peoplemover/transit center on Aviation Blvd by 2023.
What has been in the news lately is the announcement by Virgin Trains USA of the construction of High Speed Rail service between Las Vegas and Victorville. The plan is to start construction by 2020 and service by 2023. Of course there is a much bigger market extending service to Los Angeles and most of Southern California. There are plans to extend the Las Vegas High Speed Trains west of Victorville to Palmdale in a few years. At Palmdale the long term plans are to share tunnels and rights of ways with future High Speed Trains to Anaheim. This will connect with service from the San Joaquin Valley and the Bay Area. That is in the future. What is also possible in the near future is expanded Metrolink service between the Antelope Valley and Los Angeles. What Metrolink is looking at are self propelled multiple unit trainsets on the Antelope Valley Line. An example of MU trains are subway cars which run on electricity and every car has electric motors turning the wheels with cabcars at each end for the operators. This provides excellent acceleration and stopping. Diesel Multiple Unit trains or DMU ‘s are often used in areas of light traffic and or steep grades. Already MU trains are being built to run electrically with either fuel cells or batteries. Running EMU trainsets can go faster and at lower costs than locomotive hauled passenger trains for trains carrying less than 4 cars. There is interest in expanding rail service in the northeastern San Fernando and Antelope Valleys. This will likely be running before High Speed Rail between Palmdale and Burbank.
Perhaps the most overdue connection is the long awaited run through tracks for Los Angeles Union Station. All the tracks at Union Station now are stub-end or dead end tracks. This means trains have to back out of the station to leave it which wastes time. Extending some tracks over the 101 freeway at the south end of the station means trains can pull in, stop and then pull ahead in a matter of minutes to the next station going north or south, east or west. Not only does this mean that passengers travel faster in and out of Union Station. But it makes Union Station a better hub. Union Station with run through tracks not only can make it faster to travel though it in the same direction. But it allows easy transfers for people coming north but who’s final destination is to the east for example. Throughout just Southern California, where a station is near a junction, is a good place for a connection. Examples of this would be at Fullerton with connections to Riverside and Los Angeles. Or at Burbank with connections to the Antelope Valley and Ventura County. Expanded future rail service should include to Palm Springs and Phoenix. As well as services up the coast past San Luis Obispo to at least as far as San Jose and Oakland.
What will make this work is frequent service with connections to more places. Both Metrolink and the Pacific Surfliner services are planning more frequencies and better connections in the near future. This will include connections to more places, more often. The same is true in Northern California with the San Joaquin, Capitol Corridor and Altamont Corridor Express trains. One small example of a missed connection is between the “Inland Empire” which are the counties of Riverside and San Bernardino to San Diego. Metrolink does offer service to both the cities of Riverside and San Bernardino from southern Orange County. A few of these trains goes as far as Oceanside in San Diego County. It is almost impossible to ride the train from most of San Diego County to either Riverside or San Bernardino. A simple solution would be to connect trains at Irvine. This would mean having passengers ride the Surfliner trains between San Diego and Irvine. Then connect with a scheduled connection at Irvine to travel to Riverside or San Bernardino. We can expect changes like this in the next few years with faster, more frequent trains in California with more bus connections to even more places.