If commuters are going to get out of their automobiles and into railroad cars, it will take more than simply having trains arrive and depart on time. The commuter’s experience while at the station can make a considerable difference in the choice to make the railroad a regular habit.
The train station at San Juan Capistrano is a terminal point in the Orange County Transportation Commission’s commuter train service, and it has the lure of history. Last week, after being closed 11 months for renovations, the 19th-Century depot reopened to some well-deserved fanfare by city officials, preservationists and commuters. That was important for about 500 commuters who now board trains out of the city-owned station, and for others who may be inclined to follow.
The renovation has been done with respectful attention to the past; the station first opened in 1897, when tourists came in by rail to take the waters at San Juan Hot Springs. The Spanish colonial revival architecture has been preserved, and the depot’s front yard has been converted into a patio for seating for a new restaurant. A continental breakfast bar is coming soon so that commuters will be able to await the train in pleasant surroundings.
The renovation work was done by the restaurant operator under the auspices of the city Redevelopment Agency. In the bargain, the restaurant got a guaranteed supply of customers, and the city got a remodeled station, complete with a new commuter waiting area. If the state comes through with hoped-for money for new and safer platforms, an old station will really be up to speed for late 20th-Century travel.
While San Juan Capistrano has centered restoration around a restaurant, Irvine, another important stop along the Orange County-Los Angeles commuter route, started from the ground up and built a spiffy new station that opened earlier in the year. These different approaches have provided two cities with wonderful train stations.
A good station of any vintage is a civilized place, and a welcome alternative to encountering fellow travelers while stuck in traffic.