By Noel T. Braymer
I Love LA, and I love going to LA. But most people, particularly those who live in LA know that its traffic is a mess. I and others would love rail alternatives to driving to get around to more of LA. But the worst traffic in LA is where there are the fewest alternatives available to driving. This area can be called the Westside or the 405 Corridor. Just about every other freeway which junctions with the 405 such as the 5, Ventura, 10, or Century are where much of the traffic congestion is.
There are 6 alternatives under study now for transit improvements on the 405 in Los Angeles County between LAX and the San Fernando Valley. Four of these plans are based on Bus Rapid Transit and 2 are with rail.The plan getting the most attention calls for 2 tunnels. One is a large tunnel (58 feet in diameter) under the 405 for a toll road. The other smaller tunnel would be for rail service. This proposal is estimated at between $10-13 billion dollars with $1 Billion currently set aside for construction by LA Metro. This project would be built as a Public-Private-Partnership with mostly private financing which would be paid for from vehicle tolls and rail fares. One could expect premium fares for this rail service. The rail segment would have stations at LAX, Expo Line, Purple Line, Orange Line Busway and terminate at the Van Nuys Metrolink/Amtrak Station. There is hope to have this project fast tracked in about 10 years. Otherwise no project on this corridor is expected before 2039.
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Much effort in Los Angeles is now centered on building Light Rail connections to LAX for the Green and future Crenshaw Lines. But there is no planning to extend direct LAX/Light Rail service to downtown LA, Union Station or the rest of Southern California. For example for a person traveling west of North Hollywood by rail to LAX would mean a bus ride on the Orange Line, a transfer to the Red Line Subway at North Hollywod to Union Station, a transfer to a future extension of the Blue Line then either a transfer to the Green Line to LAX or a transfer to the Expo Line then to the Crenshaw Line to LAX. It is estimated that every time there is a transfer you lose half of your potential ridership.
There are some simple things that could be done to provide better connections by rail to more places to the Westside of LA. One would be to extend the Green Line to the Metrolink Station in Norwalk, a distance of 2.5 miles.This could be combined with the future Crenshaw Line as well for direct service to more of Los Angeles . Like most things in life this is easier said than done. In the 1990’s there were plans to extend the Green Line to the Metrolink Station. After local objections to surface or elevated construction the plan was to build this extension in a tunnel. This greatly increased the cost of this project. In 1998 because of budget shortfalls and cost overruns of other projects this Green Line extension was canceled. Currently there are no plans to bring it back.
There are or were existing rail rights of way that could be used to extend Metrolink to the LAX area with connections to the Westside. But for most of Metrolink’s history there has been an unwritten rule that it can’t be extended south or west of Union Station. By using an upgraded existing old Pacific Electric rail line it would have been possible for Metrolink trains to branch off of the BNSF Mainline near Los Netos to Slauson Juction where a connections could be made to the old Santa Fe Harbor Line to the edge of LAX where the Green and Crenshaw Lines will run and use parts of this old Santa Fe right of way. There are plans now to turn this rail line along Slauson Ave into a Linear Park.
It is still possible to use existing rights of way to extend Metrolink to LAX. Using the junction at Los Netos on the old Pacific Electric Metrolink trains could go to the Slauson Ave Blue Line Station. At Slauson there are tracks and connections now used by freights next to the Blue Line south to Watts Junction and another Pacific Electric branch to El Segundo. A connection would be needed at El Segundo to the Santa Fe Harbor Line but Metrolink Trains could be run up from there to LAX and connections to the Green and Crenshaw Lines. Trains from Union Stations and other points north of Slauson can also make connections to the tracks next to the Blue Line and also run to LAX. There are no plans let alone funding to do this.
What is being planned by 2024 is a service either by bus, light rail or mag lev on the old Pacific Electric West Santa Ana Branch from Paramount through Bellflower down to Orange County. This would likely end at the Santa Ana Transportation Center and train station. At Paramount this service could be extended north to downtown Los Angeles on the old UP Harbor Line. In Paramount by the old UP Harbor Line the old PE line points like an arrow to the Century Freeway and the Green Line which runs in it. In fact the Century Freeway was built up to this point using part of the old West Santa Ana Branch right of way. By running Light Rail on the West Santa Ana Branch it would be possible to build a connection to the Green Line and Crenshaw Line north of LAX from Orange County. But there are no plans to to anything like this at this time.
In the town of Stanton in northwest Orange County is an old rail junction. From this junction it would be possible to extend Light Rail trains not only to Santa Ana but also to Huntington Beach and Anaheim to the edge of Disneyland.
What is being planned in Los Angeles County for the Westside is an extension of the Expo Line from Culver City west to Santa Monica by 2016. There are also plans to extend the Purple Line Subway west along Wilshire Blvd. from Western about 4 miles to La Cienega by 2023. When it will get to Westwood by the 405 is uncertain as is future funding for this project.
The Green Line will be extended about 1 mile north of Imperial Highway to a Century Blvd station to serve LAX via a people mover. The Crenshaw Line will share the Green Line from Imperial to Century then run north and northeast up Crenshaw Blvd ending up under the Expo Line at Crenshaw and Exposition Blvds. Because the Crenshaw Line will be in a tunnel under the Expo Line, passenger, will have to transfer between lines. There are no plans for the Crenshaw Line to run on the Expo Line to either Santa Monica or to downtown Los Angeles. At 8 miles the Crenshaw Line will be the shortest LA Metrorail line in the system. The longest Metrorail Line will be the extended Blue Line which by 2020 will run from Long Beach through Union Station to Pasadena and out to Azusa for a distance of just over 55 miles.
It might be possible to extend the Crenshaw Line in the future to the Purple Line. This isn’t now in the plans and would likely require tunneling and a future joint station at Wilshire and La Brea since there are no plans for a Crenshaw Blvd Purple Line Station. Considering the competition for funding for other rail projects this won’t be likely in the lifetime of most adults.
The main complaints about the planning of rail service in Los Angeles County is the lack of connections and direct service between major transportation centers. This includes lack of junctions and shared use of lines. This also includes no connections to Amtrak or Metrolink outside of Union Station. The logic by Los Angeles Planners in doing this seems to be it would make the Metrorail Trains too crowded and overload track capacity on routes like the Expo, Gold and Blue Lines . These lines have bottlenecks on their street level operations.
The best hope now to connect the 405 corridor to more of Southern California would be to build light rail on the West Santa Ana Branch from the Santa Ana Transportation Center and connect with the Green Line on the Century Freeway. From there trains (possibly express trains) could run up to LAX. These trains could even be extended on the Crenshaw Line to serve more of West LA. The Green and Crenshaw Lines will be highly grade separated and should have plenty of track capacity. This could be done in the next 10 to 12 years. The hard part will be building the track connection to the Green Line.
Just as needed will be a rail line from LAX to the San Fernando Valley. It remains to be seen if the toll road/subway combo will go ahead. This is the only proposal that will link up the east-west rail lines with a north-south service to allow passengers to connect between the San Fernando Valley to the Westside. To make this a commercially viable project to fund construction privately for rail, it would likely have to include major new commercial and housing development around the stations which only rail service could feed enough passengers to work.
What would be cheaper and faster to do would be to run Metrolink trains using mostly existing railroads (greatly improved) to connect future Light Rail service at LAX for transfers to much of the rest of the Westside of Los Angeles County. But this is the least likely to happen soon since there are no plans, or funding for such a project.