Connections, Connections, Connections

By Noel Braymer, Editor, Western Rail Passenger Review — The biggest turn-off for most people using public transportation is the need to transfer between services to make connections to get to where they want to go. It has been estimated that half the potential ridership on a trip is lost each time people have to transfer. The problem is connections are often confusing, uncomfortable, time consuming or non-existent. Good, fast, simple and easy connections can make all the difference when traveling. Connections make it possible to greatly expand ridership and revenues at low additional cost. This is why airlines depend so much on hub airports. Connections allow longer trips which mean greater revenues when charging by the mile.

The problem for many operators is their trains are already full at rush hour and scheduling is a complicated process. Trying to schedule trains to connect with other trains adds more variables to an already complicated process. If the connections are with another agency then coordination is just that much harder. But not all trains have to have connections. With a little work a basic system of connections can be worked out to greatly improve service. Such connections will work best to encourage ridership on off-peak periods and trains going in the opposite direction of rush hour travel.

For examples of how things are let’s look at some Metrolink services. There are three weekday trains between Oceanside and Riverside with some trains going on to San Bernardino. Oceanside is a connecting point with the Coaster to San Diego. How good are these connections? Train 803 from San Bernardino arrives in Oceanside at 7:15 AM. Coaster 636 leaves Oceanside for San Diego at 7:15AM. The next Coaster leaves Oceanside at 7:40AM. Metrolink train 851 arrives in Oceanside at 12:55 PM from Riverside. The next Coaster train, the 648 leaves at 2:50 PM, almost two hours latter. Train 853 from Riverside arrives at 3:15 PM and connects with Coaster 652 leaving at 3:35 PM. Well, two out of three isn’t bad so far.

Now Metrolink train 850 leaves Oceanside for Riverside at 7:30AM. Coaster 631 arrives in Oceanside from San Diego at 7:32 AM! This is the earliest train from San Diego on the Coaster. Amtrak service is available arriving at Oceanside at 7:03 AM, but would miss stations at Old Town, Sorrento Valley, Encinitas, Poinsettia and Carlsbad. Train 852 leaves Oceanside at 10:35AM, while Coaster train 635 doesn’t arrive in Oceanside until 10:45 AM. Metrolink train 808 leave Oceanside at 4:25PM. Coaster 645 arrives in Oceanside at 4:38PM! The connection would have to be made with train 643 arriving at 3:14PM for a 71 minute wait.

Let’s now look at some Metrolink service connections at Los Angeles Union Station. Between Orange County and the Antelope Valley there are nine possible connections. Train 681 from Orange County arrives at LAUS at 5:30 AM which connects with the 201 to Lancaster which leaves at 635PM. Train 601from Oceanside arrives at 6:40AM, fives minutes after train 201 leaves. Train 603 arrives at Union Station at 7:20 AM and connects with the 203 leaving at 7:37 AM. Train 685 arrives at 9:18 AM while train 205 leaves LAUS at 9:20 AM. Not a guaranteed connection to be sure. The next connection isn’t until train 609 arrives at 5:30 PM and connects with the 217 leaving LAUS at 5:40 PM. The last connection is with train 689 arriving at 6:22 PM and trains 219 leaving LAUS at 6:30PM.

From the Antelope Valley you connect at LAUS on train 200 at 5:53 AM with train 682 to Orange County at 6:44 AM. The next connection is on train 204 arriving at 7:45 AM and leaving LAUS at 8:00 AM. Train 216 will get you to Union Station at 3:33 PM in time to see train 602 leaving at 3:30 PM. Train 218 arrives at LAUS 4:19 PM and connects with the 604 leaving LAUS at 4:35 PM. The last connection with the 220 arrives at LAUS at 6:10 PM and connects with the 608 which departs at 6:30 PM.

It seems that most connections are largely unintentional. In a perfect world connections would be well publicized, on the same platform, made with in minutes needing only a single ticket. Oh, that is the reality when riding BART or the San Diego Trolley. I used Metrolink as an example because I am familiar with the service. Connectivity of services has greatly improved but there is still room for improvement in many places in California. This is particularly true between different services such as between BART and Caltrain or Amtrak and Metrolink. Transit services often have poor connections with in the same operator and with other agencies. With expanding services there will be fewer excuses not to have decent connections between trains. This will be particularly true as additional trains are added on Orange County’s Metrolink trains and the expansion of Caltrain and ACE with the future reopening of the Dumbarton Bridge. Connections between trains and other services need to be a greater part of the planning for rail services.

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