By Noel T. Braymer.
October 5th was when Metrolink introduced to the media its first certified Tier 4 low emission locomotive built by Electro-Motive Diesel Inc or known to most people EMD. It is no longer owned by General Motors, but is now part of Caterpillar Inc. Metrolink has ordered 40 EMD F125 locomotives which will be put into service over the course of the coming months. This first locomotive will be in regular passenger service later this October.These locomotives have been parked near Los Angeles Union Station for a while now. But they must be fine tuned to reach their clean air standards which includes use of low sulfur diesel fuel. These new locomotives will replace many of the existing 55 locomotives used by Metrolink, many of which are near the end of their useful economic life. These new, more powerful locomotives will be able to carry more of the newer, heavier stainless steel Hyundai Rotem cars on a train than the current locomotives. The theme of the ceremony was the combination of better rail passenger service and cleaner air. This was in particular highlighted by the keynote speaker at the event on Track 14 at Union Station, California State Senator Kevin de Leon. State Senator de Leon was a major backer for funding these new locomotives. He is also a leader in cleaning the air in California. Most of the speakers were local officials several of whom were on the board of the Southern California Regional Rail Authority AKA Metrolink as well as on the board of their Air Quality Management District (AQMD).
After the speeches there was a short ride on the Metrolink train with the new locomotive. It was a trip up the Los Angeles River just past the Metrolink Yard at what is left of the old SP Taylor yard. The train then reversed direction back to Union Station. This left me with several hours until the first afternoon departure at 3:19 PM for Oceanside to ramble around. With my TAP chip embedded in my Metrolink Ticket which gave me an all day pass to ride LA Metro transit, I decided to check out LA Metro rail transit service. First I had to catch either a Red or Purple line train at Union Station. I then got off at the 7th and Flower station to transfer either to the Blue or Expo Line. I chose the Expo Line. What interested me was the sight of property cleared for new construction next to the La Cienega, Culver City and Sepulveda Blvd stations. At Culver City the original parking lot for the Expo line station is now torn out for use for development. There is lots of new development around many of the stations on LA County transit rail lines. I got off at Sepulveda to catch a Culver City #6 bus on Sepulveda Blvd. This parallels the 405 freeway and runs between UCLA and the LAX area. Not only were the buses clean, but the senior fare was 35 cents. The #6 buses run 4 times an hour most of the day. There is also Rapid 6 bus service on the same route for the same price and nearly same level of service. My only problem at this point was I couldn’t find the southbound bus stop for the #6 bus at the Expo station. But the northbound stop was right at the station. I finally asked for directions and it was up several yards at the corner of Pico and Sepulveda.
Taking the Culver City Bus #6 to LAX is a faster connecting between the Expo and Green Lines than on the Santa Monica #3 bus because the distance is shorter and traffic less congested. I didn’t see anything that really stood out with the construction of the Crenshaw/LAX Line worth taking pictures of. But taking the bus did save me some walking. When I got off the bus at the Imperial Highway Green Line Station I was going to transfer to the Green Line and then the Blue line to downtown LA. There was a group of 3 people trying to get to Norwalk blocking the door talking to the bus driver, then they blocked the turnstiles to get up to the Green Line Platform. I finally got around these people going up the escalator to the platform and I can see the eastbound Green Line train train at the station. Then as I rode the escalator I watched it depart. This was at 1:00 PM. I figured there will be other trains, how long will it take?. The next train showed up at 1:27 PM. The problem was west of the Imperial Green Line station which was disrupting traffic requiring some single track operation. Still 27 minutes is a long time to wait for a transit train. The San Diego Trolley runs 4 trains an hour on its Green and Orange Lines and 8 trains an hour most of the time on the Blue Line. This is service mostly at grade level. The Green Line has no grade crossings and is double tracked. It has the potential to operate trains every 90 seconds or 40 train an hour in each direction.
Both the Blue and Green Lines have been undergoing heavy maintenance in the last few years which is good. Ridership is suffering as a result. There is no secret to getting people to ride transit, it’s called good service. I transferred at the Willowbrook Station to get on the Blue Line. The station is a bit beat up and is scheduled for a major facelift. One thing that is planned and needed a long time ago is a pedestrian crossing from the station to a nearby modern shopping center. Getting there from the station now is rather roundabout. When I got on the Blue Line there was a guy walking up and down the train car selling stuff. First it was electronic accessories.Then he was selling cold drinks. Lastly he was selling clothing articles. Now this type of traveling salesman is fairly common on the Blue and Green Lines. But I had seen the same man selling the same stuff when I was on the Expo Line in the late morning.The passengers don’t seem to mind this activity as least on the Blue and Green Lines. There are announcements on the trains not to buy from these folks. But while you often see police now at the transit rail stations, your almost never see police of sheriffs on the trains even at random times. When you do see police it’s to check tickets. They tend to check tickets as a large group at a station which can cause you to miss your trains as they stop you. Most places in the world have ticket inspectors checking randomly on the trains and buses. Not only do they discourage people from fare cheating, but they are a form of security discouraging other activities.
I got back to Union Station with almost an hour to spare before my train would leave. I got a snack to eat and looked around the station. I had a treat in store for me. The old booking hall at the station has been generally closed to the public for years and used mostly for special events was allowing the public in. Above the old ticketing booths was a large portable mural which was on display for a time at Union Station. It is called “L.A History,A Mexican Perspective” and will be on display from September 29th to October 22, 2017. I took some pictures and was able to enjoy the restoration work ongoing at the station. Over 60 years of accumulated dirt and dust is being cleaned from the interior of the station.
Roughly 30 minutes before train time I went up to the platform to catch my train. It was a while before the train arrived and then some before the doors where opened. We left on time and everything seems normal until we were in the middle of the BNSF Hobart Yard and came to a full stop for quite some time. The conductor got on the PA to announce that the BNSF was having congestion problems with its freight trains. The train was on the right hand most track lined up for the train to stop at the City of Commerce. No freight trains where seen moving at the yard, but there were plenty of freights parked in the yard. At 3:47 PM a Metrolink train on the one empty track to our left flew past us. It was the 702, the first 91/Perris Valley afternoon departure passing us. We finally got to Commerce at 3:50 PM but we were scheduled to have left at 3:33 PM. As the old saying goes: late trains only get later.
It seemed the whole time we were on the BNSF mainline on triple track the middle and left most tracks had long freight trains which didn’t seem to be moving. These were long trains with some with locomotives in the middle of the train and on the tail end of the train. When my train got to the Laguna Niguel/ Mission Viejo station we were already well past our scheduled 4:40 PM departure. We were held even longer waiting for a northbound train on the single track south of the station to Serra siding. It was now 5:12 PM when we left LN/MV. When we got to Serra Siding we got stuck again waiting for a northbound train. We departed Serra Siding at 5:27 PM: we were scheduled to arrive at Oceanside at 5:28 PM. We finally arrived at Oceanside at 5:59 PM. This includes the 10 minutes of schedule padding included at the end of the line in the schedules so many trains can finish at their destination on time even when late at every intermediate stop.
Well we can’t blame Metrolink for this late train. BNSF was having its problems it seems which delayed the 602 train to Oceanside. But this is also a classic problem with the single tracking in southern Orange County. Once you miss a meet window you are screwed. Orange County is working on extending double tracking south of LN/MV to the northern edge of the San Juan Capistrano Station. What would help would be extending double tracking north of Serra siding on to the existing double tracking in San Juan Capistrano just south of the station. There was a news report that a new railroad bridge will be built to replace the old one over the San Juan creek. The question is: will it be a double track bridge? Extending Serra Siding to the south along the State Beach would also help. San Clemente has made it clear they are opposed to any double tracking without putting it in a tunnel. Yet there are several miles of single tracking from the north of Camp Pendleton in San Clemente where the tracks are some distance from the beach and housing which could easily be double tracked which would greatly help reduce back ups when trains are delayed and miss their meets with other trains.