By Noel T. Braymer
The 405 and 10 freeways in Los Angeles County are among the busiest and most congested in the United States. The 405/10 intersection is in the heart of West LA. LAX is served by both the 405 and 105 Century freeways. Both of these freeways are often congested around LAX most of the day. Yet there are no plans to directly connect this region by rail to downtown Los Angeles or the rest of California.
The Expo Light Rail Line now ends at the edge of Culver City just inside of West LA. At barely 8 miles and one year in service ridership already exceeds expectations. When extended to Santa Monica ridership can be expected to explode with new riders wanting an alternative to the always congested Santa Monica 10 freeway to downtown Los Angeles. The only plans for rail service to LAX is an extension of the Green Line from El Segundo in the south and with shared tracks for the now under construction Crenshaw Line running between the Green and Expo Lines. However there are no plans to run direct service from LAX to Santa Monica or downtown Los Angeles from the Crenshaw Line on the Expo Line; passenger will have to transfer between trains on separate levels.To get to Union Station from LAX on the Green Line will require a transfer to the Blue Line also at separate levels which will run to Union Station when the Regional Connector is opened by 2019. For passengers on the Expo Line to Union Station they will need to transfer to the Blue Line when the Regional connector is opened in Little Tokyo.
There was a railroad that connected LAX to downtown Los Angeles and the rest of the rail network. This was the old Santa Fe Harbor Line. This right of way is now publicly owned and is being used for construction of the Crenshaw line along LAX and through Inglewood. With this construction and by placing this line out of service during construction the chances of reviving this line for regional rail service are dim. What other alternatives are there then?
The old Pacific Electric may be the answer. From Watts Junction off of the old 4 track mainline is a branch of the old PE still in use which heads west to El Segundo just south of LAX. This line mostly serves an oil refinery in El Segundo. This line also crosses the old Santa Fe Harbor line in El Segundo. With a track connection trains could head north on the old Harbor Line to a future People Mover connection near LAX. The Light Rail tracks will be in a trench between Century Blvd and Imperial Highway on the old Santa Fe right of way.
Between Imperial Highway and the crossing of the old PE and Santa Fe in El Segundo there are no plans to use the right of way of the Harbor line for Light Rail construction. If passenger trains can be extended to Century Blvd or the People Mover extended to Imperial Highway then an LAX connection would be possible. Just as important will be connections to rail transit. Connections to the Green and Crenshaw Lines to passenger train service would be possible with a station at either Imperial Highway or Century Blvd.
From here where could passenger trains go? Half of the old PE Line used by the Blue Line between downtown Los Angeles and Long Beach is still owned and used by the UP for freight. Much of the freight traffic in this area now runs on the Alameda Corridor. Much of the traffic on the old PE Line north of Watts is local switching movements and equipment storage. Using this line for passenger service from Watts Junction north can use existing track connections to downtown Los Angeles and Union Station. One of the problems with the Santa Fe Harbor Line is it lost its connection to Union Station some years ago due to rail construction. From Union Station rail lines radiate to the east, north and northwest.
Just south of Slauson Ave off of the old 4 track mainline is another old PE branch line still in service heading east to La Habra.Using this old PE Line will allow connections from trains on the BNSF mainline at Santa Fe Springs out to Orange and San Diego Counties as well as Riverside County to the east. A station at Slauson would allow connections to the Blue Line as well.
LAX rail passenger service would not only serve passengers to and from LAX. But would also serve residents in Westchester, Culver City, Marina Del Rey, Inglewood, El Segundo, Hawthrone and Torrance along with other near by neighborhoods. The population around LAX is over half a million people. That’s the population of Fresno which is California’s 5th largest city. There is no passenger rail service in West LA closer than Union Station which is 15 to 20 or more miles away in this densely populated and affluent area. With such a service there would be connections to future high speed rail service to most of California and Las Vegas. Such service would give alternatives to the badly congested traffic in the entire West LA area.
To do this won’t be cheap. First an agreement with the UP to use their railroads will have to be reached to their satisfaction. These lines will have to be rebuilt to passenger service standards and so passenger trains don’t conflict with freight traffic. This route isn’t the fastest or the most direct either. The cheapest but least acceptable solution to connecting the PE Line to the Harbor line would be to create a track connection where the lines cross heading south. Then the trains would have to back up the roughly 2 miles north to LAX. The most acceptable and expensive solution would be a tunnel curving from east of the 405 freeway with a portal to the Harbor Line. But other alternative routes are much more expensive in this densely populated area for rail passenger service which would require all new rights of way and much tunneling.
By rail transit it will take over an hour to get from Union Station to LAX and require transfers between lines. Even today it often takes up to an hour to travel non-stop to LAX from Union Station on the Flyaway Buses for a distance of only 19 miles. Running times by direct bus will not get any faster as traffic will continue to get worse in West LA. Most major cities have rail passenger service to their major airports. These project often require major tunneling and are expensive. What does most of the rest of the world know that we don’t?