At the time of the start up of Metrolink in 1992, there were miles of secondary rail lines available for sale by the railroads. Right of way is the most difficult part of a railroad to secure. Many miles of these secondary rail lines were bought by local government before 2000 and many are now a large part of Light Rail and Metrolink services in Southern California.
Today most of these secondary rail lines have either been put to use for rail passenger service or lost to other uses because of inaction by government. One of the few rail rights of way bought in the late 20th Century still without rail passenger service is the former Union Pacific harbor line between Long Beach and the rail yards east of downtown Los Angeles. What type of service would be the best use of this public right of way to improve transportation in Los Angeles County?
Metrolink is an alternative that should be looked at. It will be economical to upgrade this existing railroad at a fraction of the cost of rebuilding it as Light Rail. High capacity Metrolink trains can carry large numbers of passengers, but requiring fewer frequencies than Light Rail resulting in less time intersections will be closed for train passings. This will reduce the need for grade separations. Using existing but upgraded connections, service can be extended to and past Los Angeles Union Station. Plus there are places the old Union Pacific Harbor line can connect to other rail passenger services to increase ridership.
The end of this line would be in Long Beach. The old Union Pacific harbor line splits in north Long Beach, with one section heading southwest to the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor area. The other section continues south and ends at the edge of Long Beach Airport. A terminus makes more sense by the Long Beach Airport. With bus connections, Metrolink could serve the airport, nearby Cal State University at Long Beach, the Blue Line and the beach areas around Long Beach and Seal Beach.
A station in the Paramount/Bellflower area is a strong possibility. This area of Los Angeles County on the southeast edge of the county, so far is largely cut off from the existing rail passenger network in Los Angeles County, particularly for connections to service radiating out of Los Angeles Union Station.
A station is a must to connect to the Green Line (serving LAX by 2022 and the Crenshaw Line opening by 2019) from the Old Union Pacific harbor line. The old Union Pacific harbor line runs under the Century Freeway and the Green Line is built in the center of the freeway. A new Green Line Station would be needed over the old harbor Line. There are also plans to possibly build Light Rail on the old West Santa Ana Rail branch of the Pacific Electric between Santa Ana and Paramount near the old harbor line. This likely Light Rail project could share a short section of right of way and a station to the Green Line. This would provide good connections between Metrolink, the Green Line and future West Santa Ana Branch Line.
The Downy/South Gate area is another potential station site with amble population that is now underserved by rail passenger service in Los Angeles County. This would be a good area for a Metrolink Station. Another possible station would be in the area Huntington Park and the city of Bell. From here it is a short distance to Los Angeles Union Station. An improved connection would be needed for Metrolink trains in this busy rail freight area to get to Union Station.This would quickly and economically create service from Long Beach and southwest Los Angeles County to Union Station and the all the transportation services radiating from there.
But there is no reason to terminate Metrolink service from Long Beach at Union Station. Before it will be possible to run service from Long Beach, Los Angeles Union Station will have the SCRIP or Southern California Regional Interconnector Project. This will build additional tracks in and out of Union Station so trains don’t have to back in and out of Union Station. This means trains can come in from one route and leave on another so passengers don’t have to transfer to other trains. This will greatly increase the number of places directly served by rail service in Southern California without or with fewer needs to transfer.
A good place to extend Long Beach Metrolink trains would be north of Union Station to the San Fernando Valley and up to Santa Clarita. This would provide service to Glendale, Burbank, Bob Hope Airport and Sylmar as well.Such a Metrolink service would be more than just a train from Long Beach to Los Angeles. It can and should be a major connection to the people of southeast Los Angeles County to connect by bus, transit rail, Metrolink, Amtrak and High Speed Rail to Southern California and beyond.
Using mostly existing resources, it will be possible to quickly and economically start up such a service and connect it to the existing and near future passenger rail services within the next 10 years. Given the great demand for transportation spending and the slow pace of many projects, this would be a great transportation jump start for the now largely ignored areas of southeast Los Angeles County.