OCTA Metrolink Service Expansion Program Status

Starting in the 1990s OCTA worked on a light rail project that was to be known as CenterLine. Despite valiant advocacy by Orange County rail activists the project was buffeted by parochial NIMBYism resulting in multiple truncations of the proposed route. Finally, in 2005 the agency threw in the towel and cancelled the project. As a substitute to provide air quality improvements that the light rail was supposed to produce (and for which air confirmity was being relied on) OCTA undertook an expansion of intracounty Metrolink service, funded with the monies in Measure M that had been intended for CenterLine.

This was a very ambitious capital project to increase the coast rail corridor’s capacity that also involved the purchase of new railcars. But by the time the work was done conditions had altered as the economic downturn resulted in a 40 percent drop in anticipated sales tax revenue; operating costs has also risen as noted in a staff report on the program presented at the Nov. 26, 2012 OCTA Board meeting.

The OCTA Board in April 2011 approved a scaled down plan for six additional weekday trips between Fullerton and the Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo (LN/MV) Metrolink stations. They also introduced the OCLink pass good on Metrolink trains or OCTA buses within Orange County. One clever piece of marketing was scheduling service to serve home games of the Anaheim sports teams — the hockey Ducks and baseball Angels. Then in July 2012 an added peak period Inland Empire-Orange County roundtrip supplied the means to augment the late morning and mid-day intracounty service.

Unfortunately the resulting ridership has been rather dismal — 28 passengers per train! Although trains serving Angels games did significantly better — 246 passengers per train. A survey has found riders desire more frequent service, especially to adjacent Los Angeles and San Diego counties plus better transit connections at Orange County Metrolink stations.

Besides retaining special events service the staff report notes:

[OCTA] staff is evaluating options to create additional connections between intra-county trains and “91 Line” trains at Fullerton to allow new “through” trips between LN/MV and Los Angeles with a timed transfer at Fullerton, which is expected to increase ridership demand. Staff also will explore options to implement new Orange County (OC) Line trains that could fill gaps in the

existing service pattern between Orange County and Los Angeles, especially during the midday and evening (post-rush hour) time periods. However, the new OC Line trains are dependent on negotiations with Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway and the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) to secure additional timeslots between Fullerton and Los Angeles. OCTA is also working with Metrolink and the North County Transit District to extend select peak-hour Metrolink trains from Oceanside to downtown San Diego, offering passengers additional commute options between north San Diego County and Orange County. This service is expected to begin in spring 2013.

So changes are due in a few months, at the earliest.

  • C_Velas

    Thank you Dana for the update.  I take Metrolink everyday betwen OC and LA and sometimes have to take one of the new MSEP Trains (Train 643) that forces me to transfer to the 91-Line at Fullerton during the evening.

    This train has been a life-saver for many commuting in the evening to LA although it is a bit of a drag to have to get off Train 643 walk over the bridge to get on the platform to board the LA-bound 91-Line train.  This especially becomes an issue when Train 643 is running a bit late and the 91-Line train arrives early.

    Although the MSEP has worked in some instances (like mentioned above), its main problem is trying to have a commuter train operate as a intra-city LRT/HRT.  By adding more frequent and mid-day service to a system that has stations at least 2 miles apart and are mostly surrounded by parking, OCTA/Metrolink are setting themselves up for failure if they expect large ridership increases.  Especially since service is limited to county limits.

    Most of the system’s users are commuters.  Since the tracks mostly run through industrial areas of the county, there are very few areas where new stations can be added to increase system reach.  The county’s biggest transit corridors are along its busy arterials that provide nearby access to homes/shops/jobs/services, NOT along the tracks that the OC Line runs through.  Thus, adding increased service will increase system ridership, but not to the point where it can capture the casual transit rider that OCTA/Metrolink would hope for. 

    OCTA/Metrolink is on the right track, in seeking to expanding connections with points outside the county and increasing bus connections, but more needs to be done if they seek to continue on this route.

    OCTA/Metrolink should work with cities that own the stations to activate them and the neighborhoods around them.  Make them destinations, lease out space for shops/food, etc.  Target housing and job centers nearby stations.  It is not until such areas become destinations themselves that mid-day and more frequent evening service can bring in large ridership increases.

  • MarkB

    What a shock: people want to go somewhere! When OC first released its plans, I predicted it would be a flop because how many people would go through the effort of using Metrolink to travel the 10 miles between Santa Ana and Fullerton? Or Orange to Anaheim? Talk about “trains to nowhere”!

    But: Trains to LA connect to everything at LAUS; trains to SD connect to the streetcar system. Riders can travel a long enough distance to make it worthwhile. I’m amazed it’s taken them this long to figure it out.

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