Use Metrolink to get to the Airports

Opinion By Noel T. Braymer 

At the end of July LA Supervisor  Michael Antonovich as Chairman of LA Metro introduced a motion which passed unanimously calling for more rail and bus connections to the regional airports in the Los Angeles area. The following are some excepts from that motion.

Los Angeles County, home to 10.2 million people and adjacent to millions more, requires a regional airport system to provide effective air transportation options to support the region’s economy, mobility and quality of life.

Three airports-Bob Hope, Long Beach and Los Angeles International (LAX)-operate within the County, with a fourth-Ontario-just across the San Bernardino County border. A fifth airport-Palmdale-provides tremendous potential for future additional airport capacity to serve the region, especially with the development of the High Desert Corridor, upgraded Metrolink tracks from Los Angeles and future high speed rail links to Bakersfield and Victorville.

Of all these airports, the only one with a direct rail link is the Bob Hope Airport with an Amtrak/Metrolink station on its south side. For a region that would be the eighth largest state on its own,larger than Pennsylvania and just behind Ohio, this fact represents a failure of our regional transportation and government agencies to coordinate and prioritize the connection of our regional airport system to our regional rail transportation network… 

To be truly effective and multi-modal, our regional transportation system requires more projects that provide airport connectivity, such as the following:

• a Gold Line extension from Pasadena and an Orange Line extension from North Hollywood to Bob Hope Airport

• a new rail station at Ontario Airport that serves Metrolink and Amtrak

• the Gold Line Foothill Extension to Ontario Airport

• an expedited rail connector from the Crenshaw/Green Line to LAX

• an extension ofthe Green Line from its eastern terminus to the Norwalk Metrolink Station to connect Orange County to the airport via a Metrolink transfer

• Metrolink upgrades to decrease travel times from Los Angeles to Palmdale, with a rail connector from Palmdale Transportation Center to Palmdale Airport.

Currently there is  no funding for any of these possible projects. Extending the Orange Line Buses to connect Bob Hope Airport with the Red Line at North Hollywood and possibly the area around  the Warner, Disney and NBC Studios is a reasonable project that could be done a short period of time at fairly low cost. Ontario is a unique problem since it is connected with two separate railines both of which are owned by the UP. Amtrak has a stop in downtown Ontario on the old SP line from LA to Colton for the Tri-weekly Sunset. The old SP line goes right in front of the terminals of  Ontario Airport. Metrolink has a station at Ontario Airport but on the old UP line to Riverside which is behind the terminals and runways. Ideally a new Metrolink service could be created to connect Ontario Airport on the old SP Line to Colton out of LAUS. This would require additional track work and cooperation from the UP which is unlikely any time soon. Efforts to extend the Gold Line to Ontario Airport are ongoing. However there are problems with funding and because this would extend a Los Angeles County service to Ontario which is in San Bernardino County even though Ontario Airport is owned by LAX.

Nothing is easy about serving LAX by rail. Current plans are to extend the Green Line and build a new light rail Crenshaw Line to serve the LAX area. There is still no agreement on how passengers would get to the terminals. Most talked about is a People Mover to the terminals which would share a station at Aviation and Century Blvd with the extended Green and newly built Crenshaw Lines. Another proposal being looked at would extend the Green Line all the way into the terminals at LAX with the Crenshaw line passengers transferring to the Green Line to go to LAX. The Crenshaw Line which is expected to be running by 2018 is only 8.5 miles long and will meet the Expo Line at Crenshaw Blvd and travel down Crenshaw to Florence Ave where it will travel on the old Santa Fe Harbor Line which also runs along Aviation Blvd next to LAX and ends at Imperial Highway at the south end of LAX. For a passenger at Union Station this means in the future with the Regional Connector they will be able to catch the Expo Line at Union Station but transfer to the Crenshaw Line then to either the Green Line or People Mover to the terminals. LA Metro Planners think running Crenshaw Line trains on the Expo Line will create congestion on the Expo tracks. From LAUS passenger in the future could also catch the Blue Line and transfer to the Green Line at the Century Freeway. But only the current Flyaway Buses gives direct service from LAUS to the LAX terminals. The Green Line stops 2 miles short of the Metrolink Station at Norwalk. In the late 90’s the plan was to extend the Green Line to Metrolink with a subway. That project died due to lack of funding.

What would be a better, faster and cheaper alternative would be to run Metrolink from LAUS to LAX, Ontario, Long Beach, Palmdale as well as Bob Hope Airports. This can generally be done using existing rail rights of way although some of these lines may not be available for long. With track work and new connections Metrolink trains could run from LAUS to Aviation and Century on the old Santa Fe Harbor Line. For this to happen the Crenshaw Light Rail Line would have to be built so Metrolink could share the right of way but use separate tracks. The Green Line and the Harbor Line already share the same right of way south of LAX. The Harbor Line also runs along Slauson Ave which the local residents would likely want mitigation efforts to run more rail service on. Using the Harbor Line it would be possible to run run trains from Orange County directly to the LAX area bypassing LAUS. Doing this would be cheaper than 2 miles of subway in Norwalk and create direct connections on Metrolink to the Green and Crenshaw Lines near LAX. Serving Long Beach Airport is the old UP Harbor Line  which Metrolink  could use with a shuttle connections or track extension to serve the terminals. Metrolink would be able with improved track connections to run on the old UP Harbor Line from LAUS. The most difficult to achieve would be service by Metrolink to the Ontario Airport because of the difficulty of coming to an agreement with the UP. But by running Metrolink services from Orange County, the Inland Empire, the San Fernando Valley, the Santa Clarita Valley and High Desert with trains running through LAUS we could connect all these regions to LAX, Palmdale, Ontario, Long Beach and Bob Hope airports.

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