By Noel T. Braymer
Metrolink has been slowly going downhill even before the Chatsworth crash disaster in 2008. Since 2008, safety on Metrolink has been greatly improved and will get better with the full implementation of Positive Train Control. But Metrolink’s problems stem from a lack of leadership and planning. Metrolink has been slow to adept to the travel patterns and travel needs of Southern California. Metrolink has not aggressively sought the funding it needs to properly maintain itself, let alone plan for the future for major programs such as electrification. This is reflected with the problems of its old and often failing ticket machines which is one factor in Metrolink’s declining ridership.
Metrolink can’t balance its budget by raising fares and cutting back service. The key to increased ridership and revenues is more and better service. More frequent service and service to more places is needed. This will require planning and funding support from the counties served by Metrolink.
Metrolink doesn’t have good connections to many of the major travel and job centers in Southern California. Some of these major travel centers include the coastal westside of Los Angeles County from the beach cities in the south, LAX, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Westwood. There is also major growth in parts of downtown Los Angeles not served by Metrolink. In the San Fernando Valley, downtown Burbank and Bob Hope Airport have Metrolink service. But they need better connections to the film and television studios in Burbank and North Hollywood as well as to the Red Line station in North Hollywood. Better connections are also needed in the west San Fernando Valley in job rich Woodland Hills.
The obvious long term solution to connect Metrolink with LAX is to extend the Green Line terminus in Norwalk to the nearby Metrolink Station. What can be done now is to run connecting express bus service from the Norwalk/Santa Fe Springs Metrolink Station on the HOV lanes of the Century Freeway to stops in the LAX area. These should include connections on the Green Line to the beach cities, to the shuttle buses to LAX, the LAX transit center and at job rich Century Blvd. Additional bus service from Norwalk could also serve West Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Westwood.
By 2020 the Regional Connector subway in downtown Los Angeles will make it easier for passengers at Los Angeles Union Station to get to Santa Monica on the Expo Line. No longer will a slow transfer be needed now from Union Station on the Red/Purple Lines to 7th and Flower to a different platform to the Expo Line. Instead passengers will be able to ride the Blue Line extended to Union Station and make a transfer in Little Tokyo on the same platform for the Expo Line.
An even more direct solution could be a new Metrolink stop by the Los Angeles River at the maintenance and storage yards for the Red and Purple Lines. LA Metro is planning to extend passenger service there with 2 new stations for these lines along the river to serve the housing boom in what had been an industrial area. A Metrolink stop near 1st street could open a direct connections to West Los Angles and Santa Monica on the Expo Line as well as connections on the Red and Purple Lines.
There is now decent local bus service provided by the city of Burbank between Bob Hope Airport, downtown Burbank, and the studios in Burbank and North Hollywood. These bus services are limited for now to the rush hours on the work week days. There isn’t direct service from the Orange Line Busway by the Red Line at North Hollywood to the studios, downtown Burbank or Bob Hope Airport. Expanded bus connections to these places with increased Metrolink service which will be coming to Bob Hope Airport with the start up of High Speed Rail service would open up many new markets and bring in more riders in this area.
Besides more frequent service, Metrolink needs to coordinate their schedules so all of their trains connect with each other. To do this, mini hubs are needed at downtown Burbank, Fullerton, Orange, Oceanside, Riverside and San Bernardino. Los Angeles Union Station would be the prime hub for the entire network.
At the downtown Burbank Metrolink Station, passengers should be able to transfer between Antelope Valley trains and Ventura County trains. At Fullerton, passengers should be able to easily transfer between Orange Count trains and the 91 Corridor trains which will see expanded service next year to Perris. At the Orange Station passengers should be able to able to connect between all Orange County and Inland Empire trains. At San Bernardino passengers from the Inland Empire Line from Orange County should be able to connect to the San Bernardino Line to Los Angeles.
Such connections are valuable where there are limits on the number of trains you can run. There will be single track for years to come between San Juan Capistrano and Camp Pendleton. Having connections between the Inland Empire trains and Orange County trains will allow more passengers to be able to travel between points with single track without running more trains. Passengers on trains from Oceanside to San Bernardino could transfer to Orange County trains to Los Angeles. Or people could transfer from an Orange County train from Oceanside to the Inland Empire trans. Its like 2 trains for the price of one. This could also be use to open more trips north of Fullerton for the short distance Orange County trains to additional 91 Line trains to points north towards Los Angeles. From Riverside connections would allow passengers from the Riverside Line and the 91 Line to transfer on Inland Empire trains to San Bernardino and the San Berrnadino line going to Los Angeles.
At Los Angeles Union Station with the construction by 2020 of the run through tracks, trains on the San Bernardo Line should be extended on the Ventura Line and visa versa. Trains on the Orange County Line should be extended on the Antelope Valley as well. No Metrolink trains should terminate at Los Angeles. This will make for more efficient use of equipment, while adding direct service to more places and reducing the need for transfers. This will also simplify transfers between the 2 remaining lines, replacing the need to transfer between 4 lines.
All these changes can’t happen all at once. But track work now under way and funded on lines that Metrolink use will allow expanded service in the near future. We need to work to fill these additional trains on these rail lines getting this track work. There is plenty of traffic congestion in Southern California that Metrolink can help to relieve. On a per capita basis the Swiss are more affluent than Americans. Yet the Swiss are one of the heaviest users of rail passenger service in the world. One way the Swiss make rail so popular was by simplifying their train schedules, by using the same schedule every hour of the day, 7 days week. The Swiss train schedule is very complicated since it has guaranteed connections not just to other trains, but to buses, ferry boats and airplanes. If we work to connect all trains to all the hubs on Metrolink with more bus connections elsewhere, all connections can be run to meet at the same time of the hour all the time with just one schedule.
These basic steps; more frequent service all day, all week long, with more and better bus connections to more places and hub connections to all trains will dramatically increase Metrolink ridership. This will mean more people and places will have a stake in keeping and improving Metrolink. This will be the key for support to continue to improve and expand Metrolink in the future.