Planning and Programming Committee Recommends Metro Board Take Next Steps on Rail-to-River ATC

The Slauson corridor that runs through South L.A. takes another step forward toward becoming an Active Transportation Corridor. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
The Slauson corridor that runs through South L.A. takes another step forward toward becoming an Active Transportation Corridor. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

On October 23, 2014, the Metro Board of Directors voted to adopt the Rail to River Intermediate Active Transportation Corridor (ATC) Feasibility Study and directed staff to identify funding for full implementation of the project. The Board also authorized $2,850,000 be put towards facilitating the environmental, design, alternative route analysis, and outreach work required for the project to move forward and requested the staff report back in May of 2015.

At this past Wednesday’s Planning and Programming Committee meeting, the committee filed the requested report detailing recommendations that the Board take the next steps of applying for grants from the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Discretionary Grant (TIGER) program and the state Active Transportation Program (ATP). To facilitate the application process, staff also requested the Board authorize an allocation of $10.8 million in hard match funds in time to make the grant programs’ June 1 and June 5 deadlines.

The report suggests the Rail-to-River project has the potential to be very competitive.

Sited along an 8.3 mile section of the Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor right-of-way (ROW), it will eventually connect the Crenshaw/LAX rail line to multiple bus lines (including the Silver Line), the Blue Line, the river, Huntington Park, Maywood, and/or Vernon via a bike and pedestrian path anchored along Slauson Ave.

First proposed by Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor and Metro Board Member Gloria Molina in 2012, it has the potential to effect a significant transformation in a deeply blighted and long-neglected section of South L.A.

Screenshot of proposed bikeway corridor. Phase 1 (at left) represents section that Metro could move on immediately. Phase 2 would proceed more slowly, as Metro would need to negotiate with BNSF to purchase the ROW.
The visuals included in last year’s feasibility study divide the project into two phases (to be implemented concurrently). The central segment runs along Metro’s ROW on Slauson, eventually connecting with the Crenshaw line, to the west, and possibly the river, on the east.

But it isn’t going to come all that cheaply.

Last year’s feasibility study put the total costs for the project at $34.2 million to build and $145,000 a year to maintain. The staff report submitted on Wednesday put the total project cost — now including the ROW easement acquisition (for the Phase 2 segment of the project) and the value of the Metro-owned ROW — at approximately $76.6 million.

The $9.6 million ATP grant would be applied toward the construction of Phase 1 (above) of the project: the 3.6-mile Central Segment and Western Segments of the corridor running between Long Beach Ave., on the east, and the Crenshaw/LAX Line, on the west. These segments are set to be tackled first because they presented the fewest obstacles to implementation and could most likely to be completed within four years, as Metro already owns the affected ROW.

Phase 1 funding via the ATP grant. Source: Metro
Phase 1 funding via the ATP grant. Source: Metro

The TIGER grant would be used to cover the costs of Phase 2 (below) of the project — running between Long Beach Ave., on the west, and the L.A. River (or, potentially, Malabar Yards), on the east — as well as any costs for the Phase 1 segments not covered by the ATP grant.

Phase 2: The Eastern Segment and its myriad options. (Feasibility Study)
Phase 2: The Eastern Segment and its four options. The Feasibility Study suggested Metro proceed with the Randolph St. option, although it is unclear which option Metro will finally pursue. (Feasibility Study)

Although both phases of the project will be implemented concurrently, the Phase 2 segment is expected to pose more of a challenge, as Metro will have to negotiate with at least one railway to get them to abandon their rights to the ROW.

Similar negotiations with BNSF for an inactive section of rail along the Crenshaw Line took three years and cost $4.5 million; estimates are that the process for this project could take as long as ten years, depending on which sections are ultimately abandoned. And the costs associated with easement abandonment will not be covered by the grants.

The original feasibility study came down in favor of the Randolph St. option (a Union-Pacific owned ROW) as a way to connect commuters with the river. It was the highest ranked option, when user experience, connectivity, safety, and ease of implementation were taken into account (see p. 76), and would “legitimize an existing informal active transportation corridor, serve residents and visitors to the Los Angeles River, and provide a connection to downtown Huntington Park.”

But, as seen below, the planned application for the TIGER grant sets the limit of the project at Santa Fe Ave. — the point at which an ROW heads north into Malabar Yards (controlled by BNSF) — making it unclear which of the options the active transportation corridor will ultimately take.

The TIGER Grant. Source: Metro
The TIGER Grant. Source: Metro

While it argues that funds from both ATP and TIGER will help kick off the project, the staff report acknowledges that remaining funds for the project will need to come from a variety of sources. Metro ExpressLanes Net Toll Revenue program funds (if available in the future for local matching), Measure R2, Proposition C, and public-private partnerships are a few of the potential sources.

If the Board votes in favor of the staff recommendations at the end of May, the applications will be submitted the first week of June. Notifications of any awards will be given by the end of the year. Metro staff have already developed Statements of Work for preconstruction efforts, including technical and public outreach. Requests for proposals (using the Countywide Planning Bench) are anticipated to be released in June, 2015, the Public Outreach contract is expected to be awarded in July, 2015, and the Technical contract is expected to be awarded in September, 2015. For more information on the project itself, see our past coverage here, here, and here.

 

  • stvr

    Is this to build a bike/ped path? Or light rail? Three cheers to light rail. Three boos to a glorified walkway.

  • sahra

    It is to build a bike/ped path. The corridor has been studied and re-studied for rail and you can find the links to those studies in some of my earlier stories and in the comments section where folks debated this to death. If it were ever to be used for rail, that is at least a decade or more off in the distance. In the meanwhile, turning a blighted corridor into green space can bring significant benefits to an area where it is sorely needed. So save the boos.

  • Don W

    It really should be a light rail in addition to a bike / walk way.

  • stvr

    Just seems sort of wasteful to spend the money twice.

  • sahra

    Either way, the tracks that are there would need to come out, which I imagine to be a substantial part of the cost. So you can now rest easy knowing that some of the costs of this project will facilitate rail development in the future, should that ultimately be deemed viable. In the meanwhile, you can go and read the studies on the Harbor Division to see why it was not deemed viable.

  • Roger R.

    Sahra, I have read the studies and they are based on nothing but false assumptions. The Nov., 2009 study on uses of the Harbor Sub, for example, treated self-propelled freight-compatible railcars, commuter rail, and electric multiple unit trains as different options. In reality, all three of these can run on the same infrastructure–as they do in London, Paris, the East Coast, etc. The study authors either were unaware of that simple fact, or intentionally split the modes to support the political objective of using some of the Harbor Sub for the Crenshaw Line LRT. Another example: on Page S-43 of the executive summary, they rated “Regional” services versus “Express.” Those aren’t mutually exclusive at all–Caltrain, for just one example, does both on the same corridor. The study is full of nonsense like that. Furthermore, an older study dating back to the 1990s by the South Bay COG I believe looked at running commuter rail service on that corridor. They already had environmental clearances to run a few peak-hour trains because it was still an active freight line (in other words, no expensive EIR). All it would have required was a year or two to upgrade rails and ties and re-ballast–rather than ripping everything out and starting over, as will be required now. Now that Metro has effectively disabled this corridor by the way they’re building the Crenshaw Line, it’ll simply never be a rail line again from Union Station to San Pedro (and all points in between). Imagine if you could have boarded a train in say, Inglewood, and ridden directly to Burbank? Or Palmdale? Or San Pedro, or LAX? Imagine what a great service that would have been for those communities? This was myopia on a scale akin to ripping out the Red Cars in the first place.

  • Roger R.

    Not light rail. Mainline rail. You could still run EMUs on it for local services (basically, slightly wider LRT to match the clearances needed by mainline rail) and then share the tracks with Amtrak, HSR, etc., so they can have direct access to the Southbay and LAX. This was NEVER looked at in Metro studies (intentionally?) thus the stupid conclusions that now have us destroying another legacy Red Car ROWs we inherited.

  • calwatch

    Then you’re running heavy EMU service similar to Philadelphia regional rail which will require significantly higher costs spread out over lower ridership, with FRA rules.

  • calwatch

    You could have said the same thing about many former rail corridors. The fact is that many of the proposed express rail services would have required Title VI clearance which was impossible given the 1990’s climate at the MTA – imagine the political fallout over an express train from Union Station to the airport, running at 55 mph nonstop through the inner city and heavily Black and Latino portions of the city.

    The Harbor Subdivision is not on Metro’s long range plan, and Rapid Bus services in that area like the Florence and Manchester Rapids have failed to meet the ridership criteria to keep them alive. While there is demand from downtown to the Airport, most of that can be covered by Flyaway or the Crenshaw Line, which under a future sales tax would extend north to Hollywood and serve more of the region who works and lives west of Downtown. Overall I think that making the corridor look nicer, and useful for non-motorized transportation, is better than waiting 10-20 years at minimum for some hypothetical rail transportation.

  • Outside the LA bubble

    Lower ridership!? Who would notice, or care, if they’re boarding the train on the left (EMU) or the right (LRT)?

  • sahra

    thanks @calwatch:disqus — this conversation comes up every time this project takes a step forward. I understand that folks want to see more rail, but there are reasons that that ROW will be better served as a community asset for the time being, and you know them better than I do.

  • Phantom Commuter

    The ROW is very narrow and wouldn’t make a very good surface LRT or HRT alignment. It might work if the rail was elevated over the proposed bike path. Similar arrangements can be found on the BART Richmond Line in the cities of Albany and El Cerrito. It would be a lot faster and safer to elevate the line. The ridership is still a problem, despite what the airport fetishists think.

  • Ad hominem

    Airport fetishists? Skip the ad hominem’s please. Also, the alignment is wide enough. That’s just a fact. If these beasts could use it just a few years ago, what happened? Did it get narrower? (and yes, you can double track all of it) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HX825hGMqxY

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The difference according to the Metro alternative analysis is that the EMU technology would be a regional train with stations four miles apart and the LRT would have local service with stations one mile apart. The report anticipates several times more ridership on the LRT compared to the EMU. Having less stations lowers the cost. The downside to that is less passengers.

    The reason for listing the EMU as regional is that this requires a minimum of 15 minutes of headway and the LRT only requires a minimum 5 minute headway due to a much lower weight, which enables a shorter stopping distance.

    Either of those train technologies would require hundreds of millions of dollars to implement and a minimum of ten million dollars a year to maintain and operate.

  • Phantom Commuter

    Single track

  • Phantom Commuter

    Ink is cheap

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The railroad right-of-way was not destroyed when buildings were built on the Expo ROW and the Orange Line ROW by people who were leasing the land. Metro simply removed the buildings when it was decided to build a BRT for the Orange Line and a LRT along the Expo Line ROW.

    Building a mixed use path along a railroad ROW is not much different. The Chandler Blvd mixed use path was built by the city of Burbank on this railroad ROW with the understanding that Metro still owns the land and can remove this path in the future to install a transit line.

    The Orange Line BRT can also be converted to rail in the future. Having buses run on this ROW does not diminish the opportunity to install a train in the future.

  • Outside the LA bubble

    Sorry Dennis, but you don’t know what you’re talking about. Some EMUs are actually lighter than LRT.

  • Outside the LA Bubble

    Hahaha. Okay. Whatever. Visual evidence. Hard evidence. Doesn’t matter, does it? Expo was single track too and just as wide. You’re just posting nonsense sir.

  • calwatch

    Title VI. Please explain how running heavy passenger trains, at headways a couple orders of magnitude over the number of freight trains that have operated on the Harbor Subdivision in the last generation (25 years), does not cause an environmental justice impact to the Title VI protected community. You’ll have to add stations, which will slow down the line and consequently deter airport ridership. Again, airport commuter rail does not work. Metra and SEPTA prove it daily.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    Perhaps EMU trains could be lighter than LRT, yet it still is considered a regional train and not local in the Metro study.

    On page 20 of this Metro study it states about EMU:

    http://media.metro.net/projects_studies/harbor_subdivision/images/AA_study/03-Alternatives.pdf

    “Freight-compatible EMU run at higher speeds on dedicated ROW with top speed between 80 and 100 miles per hour and stop less frequently. Headways for the EMU option will be approximately 15 to 30 minutes at a minimum, with longer headways in the off-peak periods.”

    Regardless, installing a transit train along this right-of-way would take over a decade. That is if there were money to build it–which there isn’t. In the meantime, a mixed use path for walking and bicycling could be installed to benefit people in the immediate area. Train tracks without trains running on them is not providing any transit service.

  • Outside the LA bubble

    Narita Express passing through a local station without stopping. It’s done all over the world. What’s so hard to understand? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIIl6ZbYW9Q

  • calwatch

    Except that, when you have stations every mile or two, you’ll need passing tracks. There is no right of way for that on the Harbor Subdivision. The Hon line is four track. What’s so hard to understand? http://www.bae.se/kitayama/keisei1.htm#R59L1238

  • Outside the LA bubble

    Another example. Heathrow Express passing through a local station without stopping. It’s done all over the world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pnn5deNABFk

  • Outside the LA bubble

    https://youtu.be/HK3kZFWFtw8 Oh…and here’s a Gatwick Airport train blowing through a local station. Again, proving every day that this does not work, according to you.

  • calwatch

    I’m not the one that needs to be convinced. I have no decision making power. Convince the people who are drafting Measure R2 to add this into their tax increase – when Metro studies have shown this is a cost ineffective idea and much of the public, myself included, have no interest in paying a US-high 2.25% of every purchase on transportation (in addition to gas taxes and other transportation revenue).

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