By Noel T. Braymer
The best places to go to by train are those with lots of traffic, congestion and expensive parking. One place like that which is hard in California to go to by train are airports. There are several California airports with transit connections to train stations. The last time I tried to take the Coaster to the San Diego Airport I had to be at the airport to catch my flight before the first morning train arrived in San Diego.
When I got back to San Diego the last train to take me to my home of the night had left before 9 PM about the time I was getting my checked bag at the still busy airport. The good news is the San Diego Airport plans to build a train station plus a new terminal near the tracks with connections to the existing terminals. This is much better than the slow transit bus one needs to catch now 3 miles away from the downtown train station. But without rail service running at times the airport has flights it won’t be used by people that would need it for flying.
We see much the same thing at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank which has one train station already and is building a second one at a different rail line next to the airport. More trains will be needed at Burbank with service to most of Los Angeles County to get to the airport to catch planes on time and get home after you land. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is near Caltrain. But Caltrain passengers have to transfer to some of the BART trains at Millbrae which stops only at the International Terminal.To reach flights at any other terminal requires a long walk or transfer to the airport people mover. A better solution would be to extend the people mover to the Millbrae BART/Caltrain stations which would allow passengers on all BART trains and Caltrain to get to SFO. LAX is suppose to get rail transit in the near future. But the are no plans to have direct connections by rail from LAX to LA Union Station or any Metrolink station. Shuttle bus connection to airports from train stations can work well when trains run when people fly which will be needed at LAX without decent rail connections.
Near most busy airports are major business centers. Near airports there are large hotels, commercial building and major businesses. LAX is like a second downtown and SFO isn’t much different. A major employment center is anchored in Orange County near John Wayne Airport which is also near near UCI. But these activity centers are largely ignored in planning for future rail service. We can’t build new tracks in most cases where there are none now. But connecting services to these activity centers with heavy traffic is needed. For now this will mean bus service as shuttles or as part of a larger network to these busy activity centers.
Another overlooked activity center are large universities. Many universities have student bodies as large as small cities. Also not only do many people work at universities but many people work at stores and businesses near universities. A good example of this is Stanford University in Palo Alto. Silicon Valley is where it is because of Stanford. Stanford has one of the oldest and most respected Department of Electronic Engineering. Two early graduates of Stanford’s Electronic Engineering program were Dave Packard and Bill Hewitt. You may know their company as HP. Westwood in Los Angeles has UCLA and is a busy activity center. But there is no direct connections to Westwood by rail. Sometime In the future there should be a subway from Westwood to Union Station. But we could have a bus from the Van Nuys Station on I-405 serving Westwood and LAX now also serving Fullerton.
In San Diego the largest employment center is not downtown but in the area around UCSD. Not just at UCSD but also at nearby Torry Pines, University Towne Centre and Sorrento Valley. The Sorrento Valley Coaster Station is the busiest Coaster Station and it depends on feeder buses to take commuters to and from work. The San Diego Trolley is planning to extend service north of Old Town to UCSD and University Towne Centre (UTC). But the Trolley has no plans to build a transfer station with the Coaster let alone the Surfliners anywhere near UTC even though they will share right of way. The best chance now is in the future for a joint station at UTC which will require several miles of tunneling for commuter and intercity trains. Such a tunnel will reduce running times for Coaster and intercity trains even with with a stop at UTC but this isn’t likely to be funded before 2050.
Rail has some bright spots serving major attractions such as sporting events. You can get to Hollywood from Union Station by subway. It is also possible by subway to get to Universal Studios through I doubt many tourists use it since the station isn’t close to the main gate of Universal Studios. It seems odd that San Diego which depends greatly on tourism yet except for package deals has no direct connections at train stations to Sea World or the San Diego Zoo. Orange County is very busy creating connections to its Metrolink Stations to insure the majority of its residents can use local expanded Orange County Metrolink service for travel in the County. A good example of this is the new ARTIC Transportation Center now under construction in Anaheim. The new train station will continue to serve the California Angel’s Baseball Stadium and will also serve the nearby Honda Center which is home of the Mighty Ducks. As part of ARTIC there are plans to construct a streetcar line to serve Disneyland and many of the attractions near it. Orange County has or is planning connecting shuttle bus services at all of its Metrolink Stations. Another major project is a streetcar planned for the Santa Ana Transportation Center which will connect downtown Santa Ana to the Transportation Center and continue up a preserved former Pacific Electric Right of Way to Garden Grove. There is discussion of extending this up busy Harbor Blvd to connect at Anaheim to the ARTIC Streetcar line.
It is important to serve major activity centers by rail if it is to be a useful service. Some rail service can be expanded with new stations and new tracks. But in many places having connections from rail by rail transit and bus service are the only viable option. Just as important as having stations and connections is having rail service besides just during commuter hours to serve airports and entertainment venues at times people want or need to travel.