Opinion by Noel T. Braymer
The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) is currently conducting a study of what to do with what is left of about 20 miles of what was the Pacific Electric’s West Santa Ana Branch. This right of way has been publicly owned by the Counties of Los Angeles and Orange since the 1980’s between Paramount and Santa Ana. The SCAG study is looking at several modes including Mag-Lev, Commuter Rail, Light Rail, Busway and so on. SCAG plans to complete their study of what to do with this right of way by the end of this year. SCAG is studying service between the Green Line and 710 Freeway to Santa Ana with possible connections to LAX and or downtown Los Angeles. It would be possible to use street running on Santa Ana Blvd in Santa Ana for Light Rail connections from the Santa Ana Transportation Center to the West Santa Ana Branch. In fact the Cities of Santa Ana and Garden Grove have proposed doing that as a local streetcar service that would run as far as Garden Grove on the right of way. This right of way is eligible for $250 million in funding in Los Angeles County from the Measure R half cent tax as of 2015 and for possible Federal Funding after the completion after the SCAG study.
Here is where it gets interesting. There is the Orange Line Development Authority or OLDA which is composed of 13 cities and Bob Hope Airport. Some of the cities in this authority include Santa Clarita, Glendale and Bellflower. All of the cities in the OLDA are in Los Angeles County. Some of the cities such as Bellflower, Cerritos and Paramount are on the West Santa Ana Branch Line. This government authority is proposing a fast transit service from Orange County up to downtown Los Angeles and Santa Clarita. The Authority’s original plan was for building 110 mile per hour fully grade separated Mag Lev service. Their webpage has several images of elevated Mag Lev stations but the Authority is flexible about the technology.
How can this be done? Getting from Paramount to Santa Clarita is the easy part. Where the West Santa Ana Branch ends in Paramount is next to the old UP Harbor Line which connects to downtown Los Angeles and could be connected to Los Angeles Union Station and continue to Santa Clarita. The former UP Harbor Line is now owned by Los Angeles County but would need upgrading for passenger service. There are studies underway now for Santa Clarita and the San Fernando Valley about possible fast service over 100 miles per hour on Metrolink . North of downtown Los Angeles OLDA’s proposed service would need the cooperation of Metrolink since it controls the only viable right of way. The main problems will be on the West Santa Ana Branch. To have connections with the Santa Ana Transportation Center would likely require either street running or a tunnel under Santa Ana and would be competing with the streetcar project. One solution might be to run the streetcar service to Stanton Junction. At Stanton is a UP branch line that runs past the West Santa Ana Branch and can connect with the Anaheim Station. This route goes around Disneyland but not to it, there is a mile of street running and would require the cooperation of the Union Pacific. This UP Line goes almost to the back of the Disneyland Hotel and if there was a tunnel under Disneyland and the 5 Freeway, there could be a station for Disneyland and a faster connection with the future Anaheim Regional Intermodal Transportation Center (ARTIC). A problem with the West Santa Ana Branch is the major streets are laid out in a grid and the rail line runs at a diagonal across them. This complicates grade crossing and there will be strong local demand for grade separation.
It would make sense if the West Santa Ana Branch was built as Light Rail since this would allow connections to the Green Line from Orange County to LAX and much of the rest of the Los Angeles Metrorail service. But the plan of the OLDA is for service on both the old UP Harbor Line and PE West Santa Ana Branch. LA Metro shows possible service from the West Santa Ana Branch to downtown Los Angeles on their map of projects being funded by Measure R but doesn’t show this line going to Santa Clarita. One possible solution would be to fix up the UP Harbor Line and have Metrolink take it over. Service could begin in Long Beach or maybe even San Pedro and connect with the Blue Line. Near the Century Freeway there could be a transfer station with Light Rail trains from Orange County for the Green Line and LAX. At BNSF’s Hobart Yard a connection would be needed to get these trains to Los Angeles Union Station on the route of the Amtrak Surfliner and Orange County Metrolink trains. Such a service would need run-through tracks at Union Station to operate efficiently. From Union Station the service could use existing and future tracks improvements to Santa Clarita. Linking to the LA-Long Beach Blue line near downtown Los Angeles would be both slow and overwhelm the already busy Blue Line.
Linking the West Santa Ana Branch to the Santa Ana and Anaheim Transportation Centers makes a get deal of sense. The UP Harbor Line has a great deal of potential as a new connecting link. The OLDA has plans for a fast, fully grade separated project costing over 3 billion dollars. Given economic realities most of this project should be run as a Metrolink train using mostly available trackage. Depending on funding it may be possible to run this as Metrolink service to Stanton and on to Anaheim. It may be possible to share right of way with both Light Rail and Metrolink.This could connect with Light Rail in Orange County at Stanton to Santa Ana. Whatever happens will be determined by how much money is available.