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MetroRail/Metrolink Update: Signs, Lines and Paradigms

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GETTING THERE FROM HERE - It’s understood that many reading this (particularly those living in the Westside and South Bay) do not distinguish between MetroRail (the local light rail/subway rail service that stops every 1-2 miles) and Metrolink (the commuter diesel trains that often share freight train lines and stop every 5 miles).  Furthermore, many do not care (no access or local lines, and/or little to no desire to use these services), but the potential of these services continues to grow … in large part because of complaints and demands for better and extended service.


For example, while it’s difficult to determine who’s to blame for the engineering and signage problems in the portion of the Blue and Expo Light Rail Lines that share tracks downtown, at least the signage problems are being addressed in response to complaints that passengers were too easily mistaken into taking the wrong train.  Long Beach-designated trains will clearly use the Blue Line, and Culver City-designated trains will clearly use the Expo Line.

Other signage complaints, such as the confusing and inadequate signage on southbound La Cienega to turn on to Jefferson for the parking to the La Cienega Expo Line station, will hopefully be addressed as well.

However, engineering problems exist surrounding a portion of the two lines known as a “frog”, which is a small but vital piece of track that helps guide train wheels through a switch connecting the Blue and Expo Lines, and which is wearing out from excessive wear despite welding extra metal and reduced train speeds.  Despite the fact that there is NO immediate danger of derailment, the CPUC is weighing in and Metro is responding.

Again, it’s a good thing that the complaints and oversight exist, and it’s even better that Metro has as its CEO one Art Leahy who is as customer-focused as any transit agency has ever had (he started his career as a bus driver in Orange County). While the finger-pointing of blame is understandable, probably BOTH the Expo Authority and its lousy Phase 1 contractors, as well as Metro (to which the Expo Authority handed off operations of the Expo Line) are to blame.

An expedited, 24/7 effort to reconstruct and/or replace the faulty frog (insert your own punny joke here) will probably be needed sooner or later.  Again, it’s good that we have Art Leahy as CEO (the same person who established late-night rail service) to address the inevitable challenge of fixing this and/or any other problems.  Ridership of the Expo Line on some days is already over 20,000, and ridership of the Blue Line on some days is over 80,000, and with improving bus/Expo Line linkage, this ridership can only go up.

Meanwhile, the politics and planning of east Los Angeles County rail lines and freeways continue to vex and inflame elected and taxpayers alike (issues that should but often don’t register with Angelenos more focused on the western and central portions of Los Angeles County).  The Board of Supervisors—three of which as Metro Boardmembers voted to oppose the Metro Board approval for a Measure R extension ballot measure—now risks a lawsuit if it doesn’t proceed with its own vote on that measure.

Fortunately, an amendment has been devised by Metro Boardmember John Fasana to allow regional spending (Measure R MUST have spending on each region of L.A. County, because all who live and work in L.A. County are contributing sales taxes to Measure R projects) to be converted from rail to freeway projects, and vice versa.  It’s hoped that the Metro Board can approve this worthy amendment.

Unfortunately, however, the funding for the MetroRail project which enjoys the least consensus and support throughout the entire county (an extension of the Eastside Gold Line to either Whittier or the 605 freeway) cannot be switched to a more consensus-supported MetroRail project on the other end of the Gold Line (the Foothill Gold Line from Azusa to Claremont) because these two rail projects are in different spending/planning regions of L.A. County.

The Fasana amendment can, though, allow for one or both of the following two scenarios:

1) Switching funding from the I-710 freeway tunnel below South Pasadena to the Foothill Gold Line

2) Switching funding from the Eastside Gold Line Extension to the I-5 widening between the I-605 and I-710 freeways

These two scenarios are perfect examples of where a bad freeway idea (the I-710 tunnel under South Pasadena is too expensive, fraught with legal and engineering challenges, and enjoys nowhere near the support as does the I-710 revision in its portion adjacent to the ports) and a bad light rail idea (the Eastside Light Rail Line Extension is arguably likely to attract the lowest ridership of any new rail line) can be replaced with better and more immediately-needed projects.

Moving from MetroRail to Metrolink, it’s difficult to avoid the ideas and paradigms that both major transit agencies must now confront, because they’re now shared by the same man:  Supervisor Mark Antonovich.  In my last CityWatch piece, I described the interesting relationships (both alliances and rivalries) between Supervisor Antonovich and a variety of other elected, including Jerry Brown, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Ara Najarian and Antonio Villaraigosa. (Link)

 

Supervisor Antonovich is adamant about establishing a regional transit system that connects rail lines to airports, and which spreads MetroRail throughout the entire county of Los Angeles:  (Link)  http://la.curbed.com/archives/2012/07/metro_chair_wants_all_kinds_of_rail_connection_to_socal_airports.php

1) Ensuring that any extension of Measure R guarantees funding for the Foothill Gold Line Extension to Claremont

2) Expediting connections between the Gold Light Rail Line and Orange Line Busway to Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport

3) Connecting Metrolink, Amtrak and the Foothill Gold Line to Ontario Airport

4) Establishing Palmdale as a Metrolink and High-Speed Rail link to Union Station, central/northern California and Las Vegas

5) Expediting the planning and funding of a Green/Crenshaw Line link to LAX

6) Extending the Metro Green Line to the Norwalk Metrolink station so that Orange and Riverside County residents can remotely access LAX by rail

As a transportation advocate, it’s safe to say that many if not most ideas that Supervisor Antonovich supports are considered as overdue as the Wilshire Subway, so while it’s unfortunate that he’s clashed with Mayor Villaraigosa and Supervisor Yaroslavsky over spending on the Subway to the potential detriment of the rest of the county’s needs, Supervisor Antonovich doesn’t lack a vision and paradigm for our city’s and county’s voters and taxpayers to seriously consider.

And while Antonovich raised a few eyebrows over dumping  the experienced Ara Najarian from the Metrolink Board, and replacing him with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas (whose county district contains no Metrolink lines), it’s hoped that he can link up with Westside Councilmember Bill Rosendahl to confront the stymied progress of LA World Airports to contribute its fair share to a regional airport/rail system of connections and shared operations.


On a final note, and perhaps the most important note, LA City voters and electeds may not care too much about the rest of the county, but what they SHOULD care about is an insular (if not tone-deaf) LA World Airports that is too focused on northern expansion into Westchester’s commercial district (which would cost the City untold millions in commercial revenue) and not focused enough on encouraging a shared air/ground traffic load between LAX and Ontario Airports.

(Ken Alpern is a former Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee.  He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee, chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and is co-chair of the non-profit Friends of the Green Line (www.fogl.us).  He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .    The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)
-cw



CityWatch
Vol 10 Issue 61
Pub: July 31, 2012

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