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Foothill Extension

Metro Moves Forward With Study That Could Eliminate Claremont Metrolink Station

From the east San Gabriel Valley, it’s a lot cheaper to ride the Gold Line than to ride the parallel San Bernardino Metrolink Line. Distance-based fares could narrow this disparity. Image via Metro staff report

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At today's meeting, the Metro board of directors approved proceeding with a study of how the planned future Foothill Gold Line extension can complement existing parallel Metrolink San Bernardino service. This includes studying the possibility of eliminating the existing Claremont Metrolink Station.

The Gold Line is light rail operated by Metro. Metrolink is commuter heavy rail, operated by the five-county Southern California Regional Rail Authority.

The Metro Gold Line runs about 120 trains daily (every seven minutes at peak) and sees 50-55,000 daily boardings (including both Foothill and Eastside Gold Line segments). Metrolink's San Bernardino Line is the busiest line in the Metrolink system, with 38 trains daily (every 20 minutes at peak), and 9,400 daily boardings.

The Gold Line offers cheaper and more frequent service into downtown Los Angeles, with travel times roughly the same. Taking the Gold Line from Azusa to Union Station takes about 50 minutes; Metrolink from Covina to Union Station also takes about 50 minutes.

Since the Foothill Gold Line was extended to Azusa last year, it has been presumed responsible for at least a significant portion of declining boardings on the parallel Metrolink San Bernardino Line. According to a Metro staff report, Covina Metrolink Station ridership has declined 25 percent, and overall ridership on the Metrolink San Bernardino Line has declined 7.6 percent.

Metrolink's ridership decline could become worse when the Foothill Gold Line phase 2B extends eastward; the new phase is expected to open in 2026. Both the Gold Line and Metrolink will operate in the same rail right-of-way. Under current plans, new Gold Line stations would be added adjacent to existing Metrolink stations in the cities of Pomona, Claremont, and Montclair.

At last week's Metro Planning and Programming Committee, Supervisor Hilda Solis introduced a motion that specifically calls for Metro to evaluate whether to eliminate the Claremont Metrolink Station. Today, the motion, in a somewhat modified form stressing cooperation with the city of Claremont, was approved by the full board. From the motion:

...three co-located Metrolink and Gold Line Stations - North Pomona, Claremont and Montclair - within a couple miles of each other may also prove to be redundant and therefore unwarranted. Construction of the Gold Line requires demolition of the existing Claremont Metrolink station and rebuilding a new one, which then presents the option of forgoing the Claremont Metrolink station altogether. This scenario offers a shorter commute time on the Metrolink San Bernardino Line while the Gold Line provides more frequent light rail service along the foothills. Eliminating the Claremont Metrolink station also reduces the overall construction costs for the Gold Line extension.

Two public commenters, including a Claremont city councilmember, urged Metro to serve Claremont with both Metro and Metrolink. Claremont officials have voiced similar sentiments in the press following last week's motion.

Also during public comment, Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority Chair Doug Tessitor relayed that the authority's board voted to support the revised Solis motion. Tessitor stressed that these matters need to be resolved expediently in order for the Gold Line Authority to proceed with a planned early Spring 2018 procurement for Gold Line construction.

The Solis motion directs Metro staff to report back to the board within 60 days.

In a related matter, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports a growing feud between Metrolink and the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority. According to the article, the authority charged that Metrolink is "making outrageous demands" that could increase costs and delay Gold Line completion. With environmental clearance completed in 2013, the Foothill Gold Line phase 2B was thought to be a shovel-ready project. Now Metrolink is requesting several additional grade separations (bridges) which would mean, according to Tessitor, “largely redesigning the project.” Tessitor further asserts that “Metrolink and [Metrolink CEO] Art Leahy are doing whatever they can to try and delay the project.”

Last night the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority board approved the initial construction contract for phase 2B. Though the contract is relatively small - for advance utility relocation work - it keeps the project on track for a groundbreaking later this year.

Even in the face of Metro studies, inter-agency conflicts, a small funding shortfall, and county-boundary complications, extending the Foothill Gold Line has plenty of momentum and remains very likely to be among the first Measure M rail projects to open.

Streetsblog L.A.’s San Gabriel Valley coverage is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

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