Report by Noel T. Braymer with Photos
Nothing beats going out and riding the trains to see what is going on by finding problems and improvements of local rail service. It is the only way to get photos of what is going too. Well I got to bed early for me just after midnight planning to try to get up by 6 AM after getting home from work around 11 PM. My plan was to catch Metrolink out of Oceanside at 7:35 AM and connect to Los Angeles in Orange County to a LAUS bound train. I was awake before 5 and got up, got ready and left the house just after 6 AM. Got to the station with time to spare for the 6:36 AM departure but with only 2 ticket machines both were busy. I foresee a bright future of eTicketing by mobile phones for all trains soon.
Odd that the ticket machines face east and of course at that time off the morning the sun is rising from the east so you are fighting glare as you try to buy your tickets.This is only a problem when the ticket machines are most busy in the morning rush hour. Most of the regular riders on this rush hour train were pass holders so buying tickets wasn’t a problem for them. The lady in front of me was a veteran rider and helped the newbie in front of her. She got a ticket from Oceanside to Pomona. I could have gotten a round trip to Lancaster if I had thought about it but had enough problems getting a ticket for LA: $30 round trip to LA and $28 round trip LA to Lancaster. It amazes me still that Metrolink recognizes transfers and has single ticket for Metrolink trips with transfers. But if I ride the 7:35 AM Metrolink Train out of Oceanside for Riverside, Metrolink doesn’t recognize the connection in most of Orange County to the train arriving in Los Angeles at 10:02 AM or the connection to San Bernardino by 10:50 AM. Off peak is the best market for connecting trains because that is when Metrolink has the most available seats and connections bring in more money than commutes.
Being on a rush hour train there was a good crowd on a long train going through Orange County. Lots of people getting on and off at Orange County stations, several of them with bikes. This is a reason there is planning between Metrolink and Coaster to extend Metrolink to San Diego and Coaster trains to Fullerton. There is demand for local travel between the two counties. This was recognized back in 1990 by former RailPAC President Byron Nordberg . He wrote the feasibility study for the Coaster in the early 1980’s and latter recommended that the Coaster be extended to Irvine to serve commuters from San Diego to Orange Counties. An extension to Irvine would also have improved the economics of the Coaster. It seemed this idea had been forgotten but discussions renewed the idea in 2011 between the agencies. By 2014 track improvement will be ready and this is when extending the services are expected. There was work on a grade separation in Irvine. They have the city yard clear where Anaheim is building the new ARTIC Station but nothing was torn up yet let alone construction started by late October. Caltrans is working on a new grade separation in LA County south of Norwalk and they almost almost finished a grade separation north of Norwalk at Pico Rivera. Both projects are part of 15 miles of triple tracking between Hobart Yard in the City of Commerce and Fullerton. Once this busy segment of the BNSF Mainline is grade separated a fourth track can be added in a few more years.
No problems getting into LAUS on time. I’m sure they could have arrived sooner if they tried. I got pictures of the new Number 7 platform for tracks 13 and 14 at Union Station. It is open to the public now but was not in use for trains as of late October. This new platform and tracks will be needed when tracks are taken out of service for construction of run-through tracks at LAUS. I just recently found out the plan now is to build 8 run through tracks not 4. That is 8 out of 12 passenger tracks. The claim is that will increase capacity by 40%. Is that all? Few long distance trains will use the station compared to mostly commuter and short haul intercity trains. I see no need to leave most trains at the station more that five minutes. Even with 10 minutes per train that is 6 trains an hour times 8 tracks or 48 trains an hour. That is 480 trains in just 10 hours and the station now is congested with just over 100 trains all day. Seems there are plans to build the run through tracks now by 2017.That will be great seeing the new tracks after talking about it now for over 30 years
Well the train wasn’t crowded for Lancaster at 9:20 AM. Busy railroad with mostly Metrolink trains between LAUS and Burbank. I found almost a dozen New Jersey Transit Comet cars parked in Santa Clarita. I wonder what the plans are for those cars? Great scenery most of the trip but slow with top speeds for much of the way after Santa Clarita between 35 to 25 miles per hour. Metrolink has started to upgrade the tracks and there is planning to get the running time at least for some trains cut in half from 2 hours between Los Angeles and Lancaster. Coming back I was in the Quiet Car which wasn’t quiet. This train had a good crowd going southbound with lots of families with kids and otherwise loud people in the Quiet Car. The Antelope Valley Metrolink Line is well traveled and has potential with service improvements of ridership growth.
I had lunch when I got back to LAUS by 1:30 PM at my favorite place near the station. After that I killed time at the station before catching the 3:20 PM back to Oceanside. No time really to go anywhere and have time to catch my train. Even in the middle of the day Union Station is busy with many opportunities for people watching. For example there was a young couple having their wedding pictures shot at the main hall of LAUS while I waited. Amtrak still has people lining up even for Surfliners in the waiting room before departure time. Looks kinda silly when the tunnel to the platforms is open and the Metrolink passengers just walk right to their train’s platform even before the train arrives. There was what seemed a long meet at Serra for a Metrolink train northbound from Oceanside. The best thing about leaving early was there was enough light to see the railroad and improvements such as the new bridge which should in use next year at Pendleton over the Santa Margarita River. I was also lucky to leave early because later that evening somehow a driver lost control of their car and flew off a highway bridge near Mission Viejo and landed on the tracks of the Surf Line. This delayed later trains that night and I was glad this time not to be caught in that.