LAX Rail Connections: What a Mess! June 13th, 2014
By Noel T. Braymer
The two most important passenger transportation hubs in Southern California, the 2nd most populated area in the country are Los Angeles Union Station (LAUS) and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). In terms of passenger miles generated, LAX is more important. Road traffic to LAX is also a major source of traffic congestion and pollution. LAUS is rapidly becoming the center of surface transportation in Southern California because of 3 major projects. There are run-through tracks that will be added which will allow trains to hub in and out of Union Station, connecting the whole region. There is the Regional Connector which will greatly expand local Light Rail service through LAUS. Plus there plans for a major rebuild and expansion of the area under the platforms to handle more passengers and improve connections between trains and buses. About the only important destination to LAUS not seeing improvement is direct rail service from LAX.
The current plan is to provide transit rail service via Metrorail to LAX on 2 lines. First there is the Crenshaw Line, now under construction between Imperial Highway and Exposition Blvd. Second, the Green Line will be extended on part of the Crenshaw Line between Imperial and Century Blvd. A new joint station for both lines about a mile from the LAX terminals at Century and Aviation Blvds is planned as the LAX Light Rail station. The Green Line now runs from El Segundo south of LAX turning east on the105 freeway to a terminal in Norwalk next to the 605 freeway.
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Neither the Crenshaw or Green Lines will directly serve downtown Los Angeles let alone LAUS. The Crenshaw Line will terminate at Exposition Blvd under the Expo Line. In the future passengers will have to transfer going to the surface to reach the Expo Line to go either to downtown Los Angeles or Santa Monica. A transfer in the future will be needed at Little Tokyo for passengers going to Union Station. With the Green Line from LAX to Norwalk, passengers will be able to transfer to the Blue Line at the Willowbrook Station directly to LAUS.
Other than with several transfers, there are no plans for new connections from LAX to either Metrolink or Amtrak. The Green Line Station in Norwalk is just over 2 miles west from the Norwalk Metrolink Station. Currently there are no plans to extend the Green Line east. The old Santa Fe Harbor Line now owned by Los Angeles County was a potential rail link to extend Metrolink to LAX. But parts of this right of way is now being broken up for construction of the Crenshaw Line.
Los Angeles County has funding and plans to put something on an old Pacific Electric right of way between Santa Ana in Orange County and Paramount in Los Angeles County. This project is still some years in the future and so far not even a technology has been chosen for this route (rail, bus or maglev). Part of this old right of way was used in the construction of the 105 Freeway which also includes the Green Line. It would be possible to extend a branch off of the Green Line on this right of way as far as Santa Ana and even to the Santa Ana Transportation Center and train station.
The prime travel market for passengers to LAX is the Westside of Los Angeles along the 405 Freeway. There are plans to build something parallel to the 405 between Van Nuys and LAX with stations also at Westwood and West Los Angeles. Funding however is limited and the talk for this project centers on the creation of a Public-Private-Partnership (P3) to build and fund this new service between LAX and the San Fernando Valley. This would include a separate toll road and rail service, revenue from both would need to collect enough revenue to pay off debt from private financing. A transit rail line on the 405 corridor would serve the Van Nuys trains station, the future Metrorail Purple line extension to Westwood, the Expo Line at West Los Angeles as well as the Crenshaw and Green Lines LAX Station at Century and Aviation.
The Crenshaw Line which is now under construction is going to have a station at Century and Aviation, which is in the center of many office buildings, hotels and jobs near LAX. Not far from this is where LAX is planning to terminate it’s People Mover at CONRAC, which is a centralized rental car facility. The plan is to reduce traffic in and around the airport by having all airport rental cars and their passengers use the CONRAC, then take a People Mover to the airport. This approach has already been successfully used in many major airports. Between the terminals and CONRAC is the IFT, which will be a massive parking structure built on what is now LAX Parking Lot C for parking outside of the terminals for LAX passengers. The People Mover would replace many of the shuttle buses serving Lot C and rental car agencies. At the IFT will also be a transit bus station which will replace the existing airport transit bus station now at Lot C.
The problem is after years of planning, there has been little in the way of joint planning by LAX and LA Metro. There still isn’t a good plan to connect the two services. A recent proposal by LAX was for LA Metro which is already building the Crenshaw Line to reroute it and build a new station (at great additional expense for LA Metro) at the IFT. The IFT site still wouldn’t be a good connection between Metrorail and the People Mover. There has been a history at LAX management which ranges from indifference to hostility to the idea of transit serving passengers at the airport. Earlier attempts to build the Green Line in the 90′s to better serve LAX was in part shot down by the airport.
But a major problem with the People Mover is current planning calls for only 2 to 4 stations to serve 9 terminals at LAX which have different levels for arrivals and departures. The cheaper and preferred option is for only 2 stations. The 4 station option would have the same frequency of service but the 4 stations option would only have half the service frequency per station of the 2 station option. For the 4 station option the trains would switch between two stub ends. This will not be a easy way for most passengers to use rental cars or rail service to get to and from LAX requiring much more walking and hassles. Instead it will encourage people to continue driving to LAX and do little to reduce congestion around LAX or the freeways to it.
Right now the best way to get to LAX from LAUS is the Flyaway Bus. This service has been popular from the beginning. The buses drop off and pick up passengers in front of every terminal at both the arrival and departure levels. For Green Line Metrorail riders today, their shuttle buses also serves all terminals and levels. For passengers from LAUS or the Crenshaw and Green Lines in the future going to LAX will be better served with shuttle bus service than what is planned with the People Mover. That is unless LA Metro and LAX can coordinate their planning and come up with a reasonable joint service that serves most of the terminals at LAX.