Metro Board To Vote On “Link US” Union Station Run-Through Tracks

Preliminary rendering of future double-deck light rail tracks at Union Station, with the Gold Line below the future West Santa Ana Branch rail. Image via Metro staff presentation
Preliminary rendering of future double-deck light rail tracks at Union Station, with the Gold Line below the future West Santa Ana Branch rail. Image via Metro staff presentation

Tomorrow, the Metro board will be voting on a recommended alternative for future run-through tracks at Union Station. (Update: on 2/23 the Metro board voted to postpone/continue the item.) The new loop tracks would extend Union Station’s existing stub-end tracks. The project will include tracks running on a new wide 101 Freeway bridge just east of the existing Gold Line bridge. The new L-shaped bridge will connect trains to existing tracks along the L.A. River.

The Union Station run-through tracks mega-project has been on Metro’s to-do list for many years. It has also gone by several names: L.A. Union Station Run-Through Tracks project, SCRIP – Southern California Regional Interconnector Project, and now the “Link Union Station” or “Link US” project. Do not confuse “Link US” with “Connect US;” the latter is Metro’s plan for improving walk/bike access to Union Station. These projects are part of Metro’s Union Station Master Plan, which is explained well in Metro’s 2015 fly-through video.

Ridership expected to xxx by xxxx. Chart via Metro staff report
L.A. Union Station ridership expected to double from 2012 to 2040. Chart via 2015 Metro staff report [PDF]
Metro owns Union Station and is upgrading the historic landmark to prepare for future capacity increases. With population growth, Metro’s expanding light and heavy rail network, projected growth in Amtrak and Metrolink ridership, and future high-speed rail, Metro estimates that Union Station will serve twice as many passengers in 2040 as it did in 2012.

Union Station’s current track configuration features stub-end (dead-end) tracks. Trains going from Ventura County to Orange County pull into Union Station, and then must back out to resume their travel. Run-through tracks would allow trains to enter and exit Union Station without having to turn around. Per 2015 Metro estimates, run-through tracks would increase Union Station capacity (from 180 to 278 trains daily) and reduce dwell times (from 20 minutes to five minutes).

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Conceptual diagram for Union Station run-through tracks. Image via Metro staff presentation [PDF]
The Link US project includes three main components:

  • Throat and Elevated Rail Yard – The entire rail area through Union Station (including the “throat” tracks immediately north) will be elevated 15 feet higher than they are today. The “throat” will be widened to add additional capacity.
  • Run-Through Tracks – New elevated tracks will be constructed south of Union Station  The elevated tracks, on an extended L-shaped bridge (or viaduct), will cross the 101 Freeway, then turn east and parallel the freeway for nearly a third of a mile, where they will connect to main line tracks along the L.A. River.
  • New Passenger Concourse – Union Station passengers will utilize a new expanded concourse. The concourse will include new elevators, escalators, and stairs, and a new central retail area.

In addition, the project would improve the 101 Freeway, widen Center Street (including two blocks of bike lanes), and widen Commercial Street. Further active transportation facilities, including viaduct access to a future L.A. River bike path, are “being evaluated.”

Two years ago, Metro approved a contract with HDR Engineering to do preliminary engineering and environmental studies for the run-through tracks. According to the Metro staff report, the consultant evaluated 74 alternatives, winnowing them down to four final alternatives. The alternatives are very similar. They all feature six regional rail (Amtrak, Metrolink) run-through tracks, but vary in the number of high-speed rail tracks – from zero to four.

The recommended configuration Alterntive 1 features xxx. Image via Metro staff presentation
The recommended configuration Alternative 1 features six Amtrak/Metrolink run-through tracks, and four high-speed rail tracks. Image via Metro staff presentation [PDF]
Tomorrow’s board vote includes approving the recommended Alternative 1, which features six regional rail run-through tracks, and four high-speed rail tracks. In addition, the board is being asked to expand the scope HDR Engineering’s contract to include design and engineering for connecting the new concourse west into the historic Union Station and east into Patsaouras Plaza. A portion of the expanded scope would be funded by the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

If approved tomorrow, the Link US project draft environmental studies (EIR/S – California Environmental Impact Report and federal Environmental Impact Study) are expected to be circulated this summer. Once the EIR/S is completed and approved, the project would be “shovel ready” and eligible for theoretical state or federal grants. The latter could be difficult to secure under a Trump administration that appears to have pulled the plug on a major Bay Area Caltrain electrification project.

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Elevating the tracks will necessitate replacing the existing (historic) canopies. Above are several early concepts for future canopies. Image via Metro staff report [PDF]
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The existing tunnel area below the tracks will be greatly expanded, with expanded passenger-serving retail. Image via Metro staff report [PDF]
Metro’s Link US staff presentation features several diagrams and renderings showing how the expanded new passenger concourse might look.

  • GR

    Metro anticipates Gold Line and bus ridership to not increase…?

  • Joe Linton

    Good eye – now I am curious too as to why they are projecting a 14% decrease at Union Station in 2040

  • Isaac Nemzer

    Interesting. Especially with the Regional Connector, I’d think the ridership would increase a lot.

  • Steven H

    It’s my understanding that the bar charts only depict boardings and alightings at Union Station. Once the regional connector opens, fewer Gold Line passengers will need to transfer at Union Station. That’s my guess, anyway.

    I guess additional ridership growth on the Red and Purple Lines far outweighs any decrease due to fewer Gold Line transfers–which, given the westside expansion and the likelihood that future HSR/Metrolink transfers will probably skew towards the Red and Purple Lines, makes some sense–but it’s not clear exactly how that works out.

  • ExpoRider

    More nit-picking of the projected ridership growth:
    – What about the Blue Line? The Regional Connector will extend the Blue Line to LAUS, but the Blue Line isn’t shown in the graphic. Is the Gold Line forecast (-14%) supposed to represent the reconfigured light rail operations with the Regional Connector?
    – The Red Line growth forecast (41%) is inconsistent with the bar graphs. The bar graphs show the Red Line ridership growing from ~40,000 to ~100,000, which is closer to 150% growth than 41% growth.

  • Great project, but I wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to depress the busway and 101 instead of elevating the tracks?

  • cygp2p

    The 2040 numbers are a CHSRA projection, not from Metro. While Metro has done projections for Union Station, I don’t believe they have gone through the full EIR process to make an official projection yet, hence why they just used CHSRA’s numbers.

    My understanding is that a Draft EIR (complete with full projection) would be the next step for this project, after the board has decided what alternatives to study.

  • Vooch

    first electrify SD-LA-SB rail

    then this

  • neroden

    This needs to be done before electrification. (It moves the tracks up 15 feet!) That’s one of the reasons it’s so high on the agenda list.

  • neroden

    YEEEAGH — they did a final EIS severeal years ago. Build it already!

  • neroden

    More passengers ride right through Union Station on the Regional Connector instead of getting off to change trains.

  • neroden

    Nope. Water level.

  • Vooch

    I’ll argue the $300 miillionn required for electricfication of the line will be able to be completed quickly and have a greater impact on passengers than this $1billion project.

    Electrification can increase average travel time speeds from 30 mph to 50-60MPH. The Surfliner has decent passenger numbers at 30 MPH. Imagine passenger growth at 50 MPH !

  • Marcotico

    I like the overall project, but I would like them to keep the Patsouras Entrance portal. We have such little lasting architecture in LA, and I think we forget what a beautiful structure this is. Even though it may seem very 90s to some, I think it will age well.

  • Claude

    Have they looked at disassembling the existing canopies and rebuilding them on the new platforms?The existing canopies have more than just history behind them. They also continue the experience of the station to make the customers more comfortable.
    However dynamic a modern canopy is, if the contrast is jarring it won’t make passengers happy.

  • Subwaywhore

    they’ll never electrify the surfliner line to Santa Barbara or to San Diego… The freight companies run double stacked trains on thèse lines and métro/metrolink and San Diego Northern only partially own the lines, unfortunately. the first step to électrification is Amtrak/Metro buying the tracks from the freight companies — yeah right. The UP Will never sell its portions north of Moorpark and the BNSF operates its Transcontinental main line/intermodal xfer yard from just south of Amtrak’s 8th street yard. We will NEVER see an electified on these existing tracks. The ONLY option is building NEW rail lines between San Deigo and Santa Barbara – which the state will never actually spend the money to do. #loseloseforeveryone

  • Vooch

    dude – like the existing passenger trains are also double stacked

    the double stacked issue is not a technical hurdle

    sharing track is not magic

  • Subwaywhore

    Existing passenger trains aren’t “double stacked.” The size of a bi-level train car, which is what you’re talking about, is about the same size as one trailer on a freight car. The argument from the freight companies is that the double stacked freight cars are too tall to pass safely under catenary wires. I’m also a locomotive engineer, too, so I’m not just some rail fan commenting on this. I’d love nothing more than to make electrified rail happen in SoCal but the reality is that we operate passenger service on private property so it’s not really up to “us” (voters, the general public). We’re really at the mercy of those companies, BNSF – who is fairly warm to passenger service, and the UP – who could care less about our tiny little trains and mediocre service. The only way to create this kind of service here on the level it needs to attract real ridership is to build grade separated new tracks that only allow single level fright service or none at all. Just my professional opinion.

  • Subwaywhore

    Also, after Santa Barbara, we’re running on these sad single tracks from the turn of the century! The trip is beautiful up the coast but before electrification, I think resources would be better spent on simply double tracking and straightening the existing lines. It’s amazing how much time we waste every trip waiting on a passing train, and I think our average speed is 30-40mph. It’s embarassing. The line North of LA is mostly single track with sidings every 10 miles or so. We’re really in the dark ages when it comes to rail travel in SoCal. What do you think?

  • Vooch

    Dude – awesome that you are a real technical guy ! Now you’ll get a battery of questions from me:

    1) Wouldn’t it be technically feasible to add a passenger track on ‘most’ of the existing ROW from SD to LA ? Ignoring the ROW ownership issues, it appears possible to add at least one set of tracks ‘most’ of the way.

    2) Why do we use these ginormous train sets ? Every time I use Metrorail, I feel like I’m boarding a 1940s Super Chief. Why can’t we use something along the lines of https://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integral_S5D95

    3) regarding the proposed tunneling from roughly Old town SD to Del Mar – why in god’s name are they locating the commuter rail station miles away from the ‘streetcar’ station at UTC ?

    4) If door to door service on SD-LA increased from 30MPH to 50MPH does anyone have ridership projections ?

    5) How come virtually none of the SoCal commuter stations have bike racks ? The rest of the world uses bikes to solve last mile challenge ( video – https://m.youtube.com/watch?list=PLzNM_rzDSme6y8YTATu2poJvLThDRRtTe&v=llnGN1U6zw8 )

    thanks man

  • Subwaywhore

    haha awesome questions…
    1. yes. and that’s actually what the high speed rail is proposing between LA and Anaheim (probably because of the catenary issues) – so yeah, i think if california decided to really invest in the existing service and bring it into even the 20th century, we could do that on a lot of the route.

    there is absolutely space for at least a 2nd main track on most of the ROW between LA and SBA. I think if the state underwent a major double tracking effort the UP would be totally open to running more trains, even if they’re only diesel-electric. they just revamped the schedule so we now have a 4 trains between sba and lax almost every other hour. if we could have hourly service between LAX and SAN and a train every 1.5 hrs between sba and lax, i think you’d see a MAJOR uptick in ridership… but we currently lack the manpower and equipment for that.

    2. i have no idea. lol. i wonder this myself. i think its mostly a question, again, of investment from the state of california into our decrepid rail system. on the other hand, sprinter in san diego county runs these light rail vehicles (i think they’re called tram-trains in france) that are diesel-electric motors (no catenary) but they run on existing rail infrastructure – i THINK (i’m not sure) thats what’s pictured in the wikipedia article – i just glanced at it honestly…

    3. again, i think its a quesiton of money… i have no idea why they build these train station “islands” in the middle of nowhere without thinking about connectivity. it would be much more efficient (but super expensive) to tunnel under the hill between solana beach and old town… but the tracks snake (at 25 mph) up the hill.

    4. i dont know about exact ridership projections… but the key to successful rail travel is making it more convenient (efficiency + connectivity + speed) than driving… if california REALLY invested its money in double tracking the entire route from
    SBA to SAN, and continued to make it less convenient to drive (higher gas prices, less parking) then we would see an uptick in ridership… but unfortunately, its a tough sell because frankly the train just doesnt cover a lot of ground.

    i think we can totally make southern califronia a pedestrian/walkable/green region, but its going to take a concerted effort ie $$$ LOL.

    what do you think?

  • Vooch

    SoCal WAS built as a walkable place, it can be that again. Did I tell you about my design for Lincoln Blvd ? Expand the sidewalks by 10’ each, 2 10’ bike lanes each side, 2 exclusive bus lanes each side. Done

    Watch this and weep: TeeVee advert showing its faster to take train than fly or drive (200 km/h ) Munich to Berlin. New Service starting in a few weeks;

    what is most impressive is the sheer style of the advert.

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