Metro Approves Continuing Work on Union Station Run-Through Tracks

Today the Metro board approved funding to further design the planned Union Station "Link US" run-through tracks. Image via Metro staff report
Today the Metro board approved funding to further design the planned Union Station "Link US" run-through tracks. Image via Metro staff report

At its monthly meeting today, Metro’s board of directors approved moving forward with the “Link US” Union Station run-through tracks. The estimated $2.75 billion Link US project will add new loop tracks to extend Union Station’s existing stub-end tracks, resulting in decreased delays and increased station capacity. The project will also make Union Station compatible with future high-speed rail.

Conceptual diagram for Union Station run-through tracks. Image via Metro staff presentation [PDF]
Conceptual diagram for Union Station run-through tracks. Image via February 2017 Metro staff presentation [PDF]
For full background on the Link US project, see SBLA’s earlier coverage when the item was on the February board meeting agenda. At that meeting some boardmembers questioned where funding would come from, and questioned the viability of California high-speed rail. Then the board continued (postponed) the item for one month.

Today’s Link US approval is actually a series of approvals:

  • approve the recommended “6+2” alternative, with six local/regional rail tracks, and two tracks for high-speed rail
  • approve $13.8 million in additional contract funding for HDR Engineering, Inc. engineering and environmental clearance work (plus an additional ten percent/$1.38 million in potential contingency funding)
  • approve contracting with the California High Speed Rail Authority for $3.7 million to cover the high-speed rail portion of the work
  • approve a $9.2 million increase in the fiscal year 2017 budget
Approved Link US alternative 2, showing possible "offramp" with red high-speed rail tracks serving regional rail, and at-grade West Santa Ana Branch station. Image via March 2016 Metro presentation
Approved Link US alternative 2, showing possible “offramp” with red high-speed rail tracks serving regional rail, and at-grade West Santa Ana Branch station. Image via March 2016 Metro staff presentation

As a result of interactions with the state of California and the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the recommended alternative actually changed since the item was considered in February. In February, Metro staff recommended a “6+4” alternative, which would have built four high-speed rail tracks. For today’s vote, the staff recommendation shifted to the “6+2” alternative which includes only two high-speed rail tracks, and accommodates phasing in high-speed rail over time. With fewer high-speed rail tracks, Metro’s planned West Santa Ana Branch rail project is expected to operate at the same level as the other tracks, instead of double-decked as was anticipated in the 6+4 alternative.

The funding for actually building the project is not clear. So far funding has come from Measure R and CHSRA. Metro staff reports that they are “exploring” getting funding from Metrolink and Amtrak, officially via their overarching agencies: Southern California Regional Rail Authority (SCRRA) and Los Angeles – San Diego – San Luis Obispo (LOSSAN) Rail Corridor Agency. Potential additional funding could come from Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and/or state cap-and-trade funds via CAHSRA and/or the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP) grants.

To quell board fears about high-speed rail viability, Metro staff reported that the phased approach includes plenty of “offramps” where high-speed rail could be jettisoned from the project. CAHSRA is paying for the high-speed rail share of the design and construction costs. Further, from the staff report: “all the HSR project components in Link US are being designed with independent utility so that when complete all tracks and infrastructure can be fully utilized by Metrolink, Pacific Surfliner, and Amtrak until HSR reaches LAUS.  If HSR plans do not move forward, and Metro chooses to change the scope of the project because the CHSRA plans are not advancing, CHSRA will be responsible for actual costs incurred including without limitation any and all costs due in connection with reducing the scope items added to accommodate HSR.”

(Article updated 3/27 with additional visuals from Metro March 2016 staff presentation.)



  • Richard

    So if Express West ever makes it to Vegas there will be no platform for them in Union Station…..

    Even if they never made it, a major HSR corridor should have 2 sets of track and 2 platforms.

  • Matt

    Express West was never planned to go to Union Station. It will be Victorville and then Palmdale where it would connect to HSR.

  • Richard

    Well that seems like a major limitation. ExpressWest(or whatever it will be called) would very likely be willing to pay a usage fee to use the CAHSR track rights into LA. A 1 seat ride makes their project that much more desirable and profitable, and that fee would make the whole CAHSR more profitable.

  • Vooch

    6+4 would necessitate a double deck which would utterly blight the area forever

    6+2 is a very good solution

    On another note;

    Electrification of LOS-SAN-SB would cost 1/3 as much and provide 2x the service.

  • Richard

    I dont know if 1 double deck light rail platform would blight a train station. People expect to see transit stuff at train stations.

    As for your note?
    Is SAN = SD?
    Electrification of the line alone wouldn’t provide many advantages. Without through running tracks at Union station(this project) frequency and speed would still be severely constricted. Electric has the same speed limit as diesel, it just accelerates a little faster. Electrification is also difficult anywhere freight railroads will share track(some of that route) so would require ROW acquisition, which is the primary expense of HSR.

  • Vooch

    Electrification would increase average travel speed from current 30 MPH to around 50MPH

    simply due to increased acceleration.

    A 50MPH average speed would mean door-to-door travel times along the Surfliner corridor would be FASTER than driving the 405.

    That would likely triple ridership which would create a virtuous cycle of increased frequency, unsubsidized operation, True TOD at every station from San Diego to Santa Barbara.

    Sure there are technical challenges, but those challenges are not deal breakers.

  • Richard

    50mph is optimistic. The train still has to slow down and stop at all the intermediate stations to load and offload.

    Unless you have the through running at Union Station, you aren’t going to be able to run services more than every 40-60 minutes during rush hour. With that kind of long headway you won’t have true TOD, as the transit element really isn’t there.

  • Vooch


    like some french train boffin totally figured out the increase in average speed



  • I don’t see why they couldn’t just use the HSR platforms.

  • The faster acceleration of electrics can’t be understated and could allow two hour LA-SD service [link] because the trains are able to spend more time at speed.

  • Richard

    If the CAHSR is operating anywhere near it’s built capacity it should have 5-6 trains departing north in every hour or rush hour. Some will be through trains coming from Anaheim/San Diego but some will be originating in LA. Some will be semi express skipping Burbanks/Palmdale and others will be local.

    At that point is is very difficult to operate out of 1 platform. There wouldn’t be any room for ExpressWest. As I said even if ExpressWest never gets built, only 1 platform will really limit how useful the expensive line to SF can ever be.

  • Richard

    I understand the acceleration. The MARC Penn line between DC and Baltimore is served by both diesel and electric services and the electrics are markedly faster particularly when making all stops.

    The all stop service though would still be slower than 2 hours, as that timetable in the link is for a semi express.
    The costing also assumes BNSF would allow the route to be electrified. They might require a third track to be built so that wide/oversized loads can still navigate the route.

    Through running also would help more than just the Surfliner, but all Metrolink routes that use Union Station like the busy San Bernardino line.

    Still, even with 2 hour end to end time on an express or semi express, how much demand is there going to be if the train is limited to leaving every hour at best? To be useful transit, the train needs to compete with the any time availability of the car meaning it needs to be faster and be high frequency. Through running will make that possible, then electrification can be the next low hanging fruit.

  • wqjackson

    The Run-Through Tracks could be a game changer for Southern CA rail lines. Quicker service could increase ridership for Metrolink and Metro’s rail and Bus lines. Increase in ridership could turn LA around from San Diego to Santa Barbara.

  • kevd

    Where in the planning stages is XpressWest?
    Does it make sense pay for platforms for a service that may never even come to fruition?

  • Richard

    It was supposed to start construction in late 2016 but it got bogged down in federal regulations. One of the few things I thought Cheeto might actually be able to help with as president. Obviously I was wrong.

    Still I think even with the CAHSR it might be good to have 2 platforms and 4 tracks. Only 2 tracks is going to hurt CAHSR and prevent XpressWest from every getting there.

  • kevd

    Okay. Could a Metrolink platform not be repurposed for HSR (CA HSR or XPressWest) at some point in the future?

    With through-running current Metro Link frequencies could easily operate from a single platform with two tracks. Chatlet Les Halles serves 1/2 a million RER riders a day on 4 platforms and 7 tracks – with 2 trains a minute at peak frequency.

    I think a through running LA Union Station should be able to handle quite an increase from its 40,000 riders a day (some of whom wouldn’t even use LA Union station) on 4 platforms if it needed to.

    The plan is to through run MetroLink, right?
    Also, what would that look like? Be Lancaster to Oceanside? Ventura to Riverside? San Bernardino to Perris?

  • kclo3

    Yeah, I think Platform 7 could easily fulfill the role of a stub-end terminal platform for XpressWest. 1000′ is enough for a 12-car train. Any Metrolink service still terminating at LAUS should run-through/loop back to the yards anyway.

  • Steven H

    “To quell board fears about high-speed rail viability, Metro staff reported that the phased approach includes plenty of “offramps” where high-speed rail could be jettisoned from the project.”

    Problem number 1,432: Rail board doubts viability of rail.

  • neroden

    Oh Jesus. Just build it already, and leave room for four HSR tracks, because HSR is happening. And make the HSR tracks long enough, too, please? 870 ft is too short.

  • neroden

    Yeah, Metrolink shouldn’t actually need platform 7.

  • neroden

    *Sigh* you still need the through tracks. The trains have to go stupidly slow when going around the 180 degree curve to come from the south side of Union Station and enter it from the north, and then have to go stupidly slower to approach the bumper blocks of the dead-end tracks. Get rid of that, you cut, oh, 10 minutes off of every trip.

  • Vooch

    dude like 100 million versus 1,000 million costs and a decade difference in completion.

    let’s do both

  • HannahInManoa

    The most effective way to shorten LA-SD train times–and use the equipment more efficiently–is to tunnel Miramar Hill between Sorrento Valley station and Rose Canyon, cutting at least 20 minutes from the run. Yes, that would be expensive, but the same tunnel would be used by NCTD (Coaster), and eventually CAHSR–AND–the cliff-side line through Del Mar must be removed soon, as it is crumbling and the Coastal Commission would like it removed. I ride this line regularly and know that it is the biggest line inefficiency.

  • I don’t recall the finer points of how CAHSR gets into San Diego itself, but it’s supposed to go via Temecula. Would it then still use the Miramar tunnel?

  • HannahInManoa

    Yes, the plan is to go along the I-15 past Escondido and Poway and then diverting west around Miramar College to a point near Sorrento Valley, before following I-5 to a terminal station opposite the San Diego airport.

    Maybe Coaster and Amtrak can use a track *over* the La Jolla ridge–if the tracks are electrified, but freight trains cannot. Maybe a diesel-battery hybrid? Otherwise, the tunnel under the hill makes more sense. Remember that most SoCal hills are just mud and sand, not rock, and thus relatively cheap to cut or tunnel.

    The cost of electrifying the “Surf Line” through Oceanside and Anaheim to Fullerton is obviously daunting, but batteries might provide the needed horsepower to pull a train up the 3% grades through La Jolla. But sharing a tunnel wit

  • HannahInManoa

    P.S.; According to TransNet, the cost of tunneling under La Jolla hill would be about $500 million (presumably, relatively current dollars). Combining that with CA HSR would not provide such central access to La Jolla, but a direct connection with the Blue Line Trolley (currently under construction) and Sorrento Valey station would be better for circulation to that auto-oriented region, anyway.


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

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Metro will study an above-grade concourse as part of its LinkUS project. Image via Metro

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