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.