Henry Ivan Dorsett drove his 10-year-old smoky-gray Buick on Wednesday from his lifelong Lancaster home to Santa Clarita to board the first Metrolink train to ever travel to the Antelope Valley.
It was a trip made in hope.
“We’re in very, very dire need of good transportation,” said Dorsett, just before he climbed into the double-decker passenger car.
It will be at least five years before the Antelope Valley will get regular Metrolink service, Metropolitan Transit Authority officials said. But Dorsett was among a group of government officials, business representatives and others making the maiden trip of a Metrolink train to Lancaster, one of the initial stages in a study to determine the feasibility for making regular trips to the area.
Unlike other parts of the Metrolink system, where the passenger trains regularly speed along at 79 m.p.h., the route between Santa Clarita and Palmdale winds around and climbs over hills in the area, forcing trains to speeds as low as 30 m.p.h., said Peter De Haan, a project manager for the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission.
Wednesday’s trip, which took 75 minutes each way, was necessary to collect data on how much time it takes for the three-car train to travel various stretches of the trip, De Haan said. The data will be used to construct a computer simulation model that will analyze various options to overcome the slowness of the tracks, which were originally designed to carry freight trains.
Among the options are straightening out curves in the track, using “tilt-train” technology that physically leans the train as it rounds a bend, and “diesel-motive units” that are smaller but faster than regular Metrolink trains.
“Under different scenarios of increasing train speeds, we have to determine how that compares with someone driving on the freeway,” De Haan said. “If it was way slower, we would probably wait until traffic builds up on the freeway before building an Antelope Valley station.”
While many commuters already feel the Antelope Valley Freeway is overburdened, Peter Hidalgo, a spokesman for Metrolink, said funding for the line is in doubt.
“I don’t want Palmdale and Lancaster residents to think this is right around the corner,” Hidalgo said. “This is at least five to 10 years from reality.”
Antelope Valley officials have been lobbying hard for a new station, saying that it is vital to the economy of the area.
“A Metrolink station would mean a great deal to growth and would allow people to live here and work elsewhere,” said Bill Budlong, executive director of the Antelope Valley Transit Authority, a joint powers agency between Palmdale, Lancaster and Los Angeles County.
But even Budlong agrees that “finances being what they are, it will be well beyond the year 2000" before a station is built.
The line that currently runs from Santa Clarita through Burbank and Glendale to downtown Los Angeles carries about 1,000 total passengers a day, Hidalgo said.
For several months after Metrolink began serving Santa Clarita last year, there had been problems with railroad signals that led to trains frequently arriving late.
“We are upgrading the entire signal system, putting in state-of-the-art equipment,” said Hidalgo, adding that on-time performance has increased in recent weeks.