By Noel T. Braymer
This May, Metrolink opened a new second station at the Burbank Airport. This new station is on its Antelope Valley Line between Los Angeles and Lancaster. This is in addition to the joint Amtrak/ Metrolink Burbank Airport Station on the LOSSAN Corridor between San Luis Obispo and San Diego. With this new station, Burbank Airport will have 14 trains a day to start on weekdays and 6 on weekends connecting Burbank Airport to downtown Los Angeles and the Antelope Valley. This is only the beginning. This station site will also be in the future part of a High Speed Rail Station for connections with Metrolink. Even before that, Metrolink plans to have in operation by 2028 what it calls SCORE for Southern California Optimized Rail Expansion. What this plan calls for by 2028 is service on most of Metrolink’s lines of at least service every half hour most of the day. In the case of Burbank Airport this would mean Metrolink trains every 15 minutes at both Burbank Airport train stations most of the day. This doesn’t include additional Amtrak services planned on the LOSSAN route and Metrolink services north of Santa Clarita to Lancaster in addition to 4 trains an hour between Los Angeles and Santa Clarita. To make this happen will require major track work with more double tracking, more grade separations and improved Quiet Zone grade crossings. Also in the long run more equipment will be needed and electrification is planned with possible overhead catenary and battery powered services on the busiest lines.
I recently took a trip north on Metrolink to the new Burbank Airport Station. I planned to catch a shuttle bus at the station to the terminal to check out the connection. My problem was I couldn’t find the shuttle. I only found it after the next southbound Metrolink train arrived at the new station. Minutes before the train’s arrival a blue Super Shuttle Van arrived to stand by to pick train passengers going to the terminal. The place the van was assigned to park was at the very northern edge of the new station. The current platform is built for 6 car trainsets which is the longest trains Metrolink operates. But the Antelope Valley trains for now run with 4 car trainsets. When the trains come into the new station, they park at the south end of the station. Basically it is very hard to see a van that far away from where most of the passengers get off from the train. No doubt the Van driver gave up and soon drove off before I found the spot the van was assigned to park way out in the boonies. The van should park right in the middle further south where the passengers get off the train. There should be a big sign saying free ride to terminal here! More printed information and public announcements on the train about how to use the van service to get to the airport would help. Even if passengers on the train aren’t going to the airport, hearing about it makes it more likely they will want to use it the next time they fly. Train service to Burbank Airport should do very well. One way train fare from Union Station to Burbank Airport is $6. The cost of the Flyaway Bus from Union Station to LAX is $9.75 one way. Once up to speed rail service to Burbank Airport can not only be cheaper that the Flyaway Bus, but faster and more frequent. But first passengers have to be able to find the shuttle if they want to use it.
Burbank Airport, with expanded Metrolink service could have the fastest and most convenient airport rail service of any airport in California, The only other airport which might come close in California would be Ontario Airport which has its terminals alongside the Union Pacific Tracks. All that is missing is a station and passenger service directly to Ontario Airport. With future trains running every 15 minutes on 2 lines, that’s at least 8 trains an hour in both directions to Burbank Airport. But these trains would serve more than the Airport. At the new Antelope Valley Line Burbank Airport station, LA Metro and Burbank City buses will stop there for with connections to the area around Burbank Airport. For passengers going to or from downtown Los Angeles or the San Fernando, Antelope and San Gabriel Valleys, Metrolink rail service to Burbank Airport will be faster, cheaper and more convenient than driving to LAX. To make much of this happen will require LINK US, which is the name for the planned run through tracks at Los Angeles Union Station. Link US will avoid having all trains terminal at Union Station and instead allow trains to continue through Los Angeles while stopping there for no more than 5 minutes. This will open up service and connections with Metrolink and other services throughout most of Southern California.
What Metrolink is planning now is a long way from 1992 when Metrolink first started operation. Having good connections, constant service most of the day and night 7 days a week and service with run through trains was standard in 1992 in most major metro areas in the developed world except the United States. The background of the planners who were hired at the start of Metrolink mostly came from commuter railroads in the East. They planned most of Metrolink based on their experience which was for rush hour service for travel to downtown.This didn’t reflect the travel patterns then in Southern California which Los Angeles is a hub, but not the final destination for most travel. Just in the last few years fewer people are commuting to downtown Los Angeles and increasingly moving to live downtown and get to work with a short commute. Its time that Los Angeles and Southern California had a truly Regional Rail service which connects most of Southern California all day and night, 7 days a week. SCORE goes along way towards that.
There is more that can be done by Metrolink. Recently Metrolink has been running more trains for special events like concerts, sporting events, county fairs, beach trains and so on. Metrolink is also promoting their connections to the other regional airports. One of its weaknesses now for connections to airports and theme parks is the fact that their trains don’t always run often enough to be convenient to catch planes or to spend a day and late night at a theme park. No one wants to miss the last train of the night stuck at the airport or Disneyland. And there is the issue of lack of connections within Metrolink to many places in Southern California and lack of Metrolink at all to many places.
One example of this is travel between San Diego County and the Inland Empire of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. There is the problem of limited single track capacity between San Juan Capistrano and Camp Pendleton which limits the number of trains that can run between Oceanside and Riverside/ San Bernardino. But there is a simple solution to this. Build in connection between trains to and from San Diego with trains to the Inland Empire from Orange County. One way to do that would be to have connections with Surfliner trains between Inland Empire/Orange County Metrolink trains at Irvine. The Surfliners tend to have plenty of seats south of Irvine but gets crowded north of Irvine. Amtrak already accepts Metrolink tickets on some of their Surfliner trains. With increasing use of on line ticketing by both Amtrak and Metrolink, ticketing shouldn’t be be a major problem. What also could be done would be to extend a few more Orange County Metrolink trains from Laguna Niguel to Oceanside and even to San Diego. Such extended Los Angeles bound Metrolink service could also connect with Inland Empire/Orange County trains as well as accept Coaster Train tickets and make all Coaster stops in San Diego County too. Many people travel between Orange and San Diego Counties who would not be stopping at Surfliner stations. There have been discussions of extending Metrolink trains from Oceanside to San Diego in the past. By 2025 90% of the tracks in San Diego County will be doubled tracked which will allow more frequent service.
There are plenty of other places to have more transfers between Metrolink trains. One example would be Downtown Burbank for transfers between the Ventura County and Antelope Valley Lines. At San Bernardino after additional track work which allow extending all Inland Empire Line/Orange County trains from Riverside to stop there, these trains could then connect with San Bernardino Line Trains and increase ridership for both lines. The city of Orange station already gets many transfers between Orange County Line trains with Inland Empire/Orange County trains.The primary transfer point will be at Union Station. With run through service available in hopefully the next 5 years the need to transfer at Union Station will be reduced with more one seat/one train service between the busiest Metrolink Lines. But there will still need to be connections to some trains which should be printed in the timetables and with clear signage at the stations so passengers don’t miss their connections. Connections are the cheapest way to increase ridership, revenue and public support for rail or any passenger service. With more frequent service most of the day, connections become even more attractive.
What is still missing are good connections to West Los Angeles and Metrolink. There is the Expo Line now between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica. But you still have to catch either the Red or Purple Lines at Union Station to get the Expo Line at 7th and Flower in downtown west to Culver City and Santa Monica.This will still be true even after the Regional Connector is finished in 2021. The Blue Line will be extended to Union Station but not the Expo Line which will head to East Los Angeles. A transfer between the Blue and Expo Lines will be an improvement with no need to leave the platform for connecting trains at Little Tokyo. The Purple Line is planned to be extended to Westwood by 2028. This will likely become the busiest rail transit line in Los Angeles County when running. But getting around most of West Los Angeles without a car will still be difficult in 2028 from downtown Los Angeles. The Crenshaw/LAX line is scheduled to open next year. This line will have connections to the Expo and Green Lines. But there are no track connections for trains to run on the Expo Line to the Crenshaw/LAX Line or to use the Blue Line and connect to the Green Line from downtown LA to get to LAX. For train passengers from Riverside, Orange and San Diego Counties to West Los Angeles most connections require an out of the way, slow connection to Union Station.
A simple, cheap solution to this is to run connecting buses to the Westside and Metrolink trains. Metrolink tickets are already good for transfers to most public transport connecting at their stations. LA Metro already has express buses to many places such as between Pasadena’s Gold Line and the North Hollywood Red Line/Orange Bus Line terminal. Another example would be the Silver Bus Line between El Monte, downtown LA and the Harbor Area. Something along these lines would work in Los Angeles County at the Norwalk/Santa Fe Metrolink Station. Such a bus could connect to Metrolink trains and connect passengers to the Green Line, Silver Line, the Crenshaw/LAX Line, LAX terminal shuttle buses, the Expo Line in Culver City and Westwood and the future Purple Line extension. Such a service would not only be used by Metrolink passengers, but by bus passengers looking to an alternative to driving in West LA. LA Metro has plans to improve service between the San Fernando Valley and Westwood in time for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics with connections to the Purple Line. But no definite plans have yet been announced. New connections to Metrolink and the busiest LA Metro transit services would increase ridership for both services and make it easier for more people to get around without a car.