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Union Station to get $350 million in track upgrades

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Union Station track improvements would slash travel times for many trains and accommodate future growth
All tracks dead-end at L.A.'s Union Station, but that would change for some under a $350-million project

Reviving a decades-old idea, Los Angeles transportation officials are planning $350 million in track improvements at Union Station that could dramatically reduce travel times for many trains and accommodate future growth of the famous terminal.

The Southern California Regional Interconnector Project is designed to benefit travelers by installing four sections of track that will enable Amtrak and Metrolink trains to run straight through the terminal, eliminating the 15 to 20 minutes it now takes to enter and exit the station at its lone north entrance. All tracks now dead-end in the terminal area.

The interconnector will significantly reduce turnaround times by extending several tracks out the south end of the station. They will cross over the 101 Freeway, turn to the left and connect with existing tracks heading north, south and east.

With the new layout, many trains would stop for just a few minutes or not at all if they were expresses. Planners say that would increase Union Station's capacity 40% to 50%.

"If you are coming from San Diego and can cut 15 minutes off your trip to San Luis Obispo, that is a pretty significant savings," said Don Sepulveda, executive officer for regional rail at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. "This important project is long overdue."

Metro officials say the project will result in flexible scheduling, the addition of express service, lower costs for railroads, and additional track for storing engines and cars closer to the terminal.

Railroads first considered run-through tracks in the 1950s. Nothing was done until the mid-2000s, when Metro began planning and an environmental analysis. But a lack of funding and other priorities stalled the work.

Sepulveda said about 30% of the project's planning has now been completed and the Metro board has hired a consultant to finish the earlier environmental review. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2017 and be completed in late 2019 or early 2020.

The project is being funded by state and federal grants as well as revenue from Measure R, the county's sales tax to raise money for transportation projects.

"This will be a game changer for intercity and regional rail in Southern California," said Paul Dyson, chairman of the Burbank Transportation Commission and president of the Rail Passenger Assn. of California and Nevada, a nonprofit advocacy organization. "The good news is that it makes better use of existing rail cars and locomotives, train crew hours and fuel, lowering the operating costs of both Metrolink and Amtrak."

Jane Reifer, a Fullerton businesswoman and avid public transit rider, agreed, saying the interconnector will make the rail system more user-friendly.

"Transit riders," she said, "favor reduced travel times."

When the project is finished, someone traveling from Fullerton to Simi Valley on Metrolink will probably experience a stop of only a few minutes at Union Station and not be required to change trains before proceeding northward. An express train might not require any stop at the downtown terminal.

To make the same trip today, riders must make the 45 to 50 minute trip on the Orange County Line to Los Angeles, get off the train at Union Station and walk through the tunnels of the platform area to find a Ventura Line connection for the hour trip to Simi Valley.

After arriving at Union Station "that person might have to wait 10 minutes or an hour depending on the schedule," said Jeff Lustgarten, a Metrolink spokesman. The interconnector "will allow us to bring trains through the station from all directions. It will increase our efficiency and be more convenient for passengers."

dan.weikel@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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