Opinion by Noel T. Braymer
Building run-through tracks at Union Station to eliminate the need to back trains in or out of the station is a long held dream. This will be critical for High Speed Rail service for travels from Orange County to points north of Los Angeles. Construction is now underway to put back 3 former station tracks into service which are needed before construction of run-through tracks can begin. These additional tracks will be needed to handle current traffic as other tracks are pulled out of service for conversion to run-through operation. Run-through tracks are a high priority for LA Metro which owns Union Station. But it is unclear when funding for construction of run-through tracks will be available. Even at current track levels Union Station is often congested: a small yard was recently acquired to store Metrolink trains waiting to be positioned at Union Station. A possible solution could be to build a mini-station along the banks of the Los Angeles River that would serve downtown Los Angeles and allow some trains to bypass Union Stations. Such a station could be built near First St. There the maintenance facility and tracks for the Red and Purple Subway Lines run next to the tracks for SURFLINER and some Metrolink trains. The Gold Line crosses the river on First Street and a mini-station here would be near to a Gold Line Station.
This site currently has a small freight yard which might be used as the basis of a station which would separate station tracks from the mainline passenger tracks along the river. A simple start up station could be built with one low level platform on the west side and a high level platform for subway trains west of the passenger train tracks but on the east side of the subway tracks. This would be for limited service for just a few trains a day and all passengers would have to transfer on the subway to Union Station. A more elaborate plan could have fieldside platforms for both passenger and subway trains with a pedestrian tunnel linking them and providing an access to nearby streets for pedestrian traffic to the and from the mini-station to downtown Los Angeles as well as connections to local bus service and possible shuttle bus connections to the Gold Line.
Why would anyone want to build another station near Union Station? One reason would be to save time. If the current SURFLINERS Trains didn’t have to pull in and out of LAUS between San Diego and Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo these trains could save up to 10 minutes on their running times.That doesn’t include the long station dwell time at Union Station that might also be reduced with run-through service. Future Metrolink express trains that wouldn’t terminate at Union Station could also use it in the near future to have connections to downtown without the time penalty of going to Union Station. Another problem at Union Station is that its tracks are already congested and demand will increase for more trains to serve this area. Using run-through tracks with quick connections to the subway would be able to handle more than double the traffic as the same number of the current stub-end tracks at LAUS. Problems happen from time to time and tracks, even station throat tracks are out of service. This would give Union Station a handy back up when problems happen.
Rail Historians will love to point out that this site is less than a block away from the old La Grande Santa Fe Station and across the river from the old UP Station. The yard on this site likely has its roots from the old station tracks. Run-through service will be needed for the California High Speed Rail service which is likely to be built incrementally as scarce funding delays the completion of full service between Anaheim and San Francisco. If an extension of High Speed Rail reached Palmdale, better rail service would be needed to feed passengers to transfer there. Even without High Speed Rail, improved and faster rail service to the Antelope Valley will be needed. This spring the LA Metro Board requested a study by Metrolink detailing the improvements needed to run trains from Los Angeles to the Antelope Valley in an hour, half the time of the current 2 hour travel time. The distance from Los Angeles to Lancaster is 76 miles. Such a service to meet this goal will require an average speed of at least 70 miles per hour and running speeds of over 100 mph. Metrolink is also to study getting construction started on run-through tracks at LAUS. Avoiding the dead end tracks at LAUS will be a major part of providing faster and more reliable rail passenger service between many parts of Southern California.The day will come though no one will be sure when there will be run through tracks at Union Station. Would this eliminate the need for this “LAUS River Annex”? Maybe not. Demand for rail service will keep growing and the passenger tracks at LAUS will likely be congested soon or even when run through tracks are built. Until that day arrives, in the interim such a mini-station at First Street could be put in service quickly and on a budget until run-through tracks can be extended to LAUS.