Back when Richard Nixon was President and freeways looked less like parking lots, folks could catch a train to or from Orange. Next month, thanks to the Orange County Transportation Authority, the trains will stop there again for passenger traffic, the first time since 1971.
OCTA began commuter rail service in the region several years ago, with its one morning train from San Juan Capistrano to Los Angeles and its one evening train in the opposite direction. Unlike Amtrak, which was designed as an intercity service that also happens to host commuters, the OCTA train is meant for the daily rider heading from home to work and back home again at night.
The stop in Orange will be a welcome addition to the existing stations in Irvine, Santa Ana, Anaheim and Fullerton. Also welcome was the addition of a bus stop for four lines at the station. Anything that makes mass transit more attractive is a good idea, as most county residents recognize: 69% of the respondents to a UC Irvine survey last year favored a commuter rail system.
A bit more than 100 passengers a day are expected to use the Orange station when service begins; traffic is expected to pick up next May, when two additional daily commuter trains between San Juan Capistrano and Los Angeles are scheduled to be added. By then OCTA should have been able to hand over the train operation to Metrolink, the commuter rail network that is expected to stretch from Ventura to San Diego and into the Inland Empire in the next few years. As part of the expansion, new commuter rail stations are on the drawing boards for Laguna Niguel, Tustin and Buena Park.
More such trains are needed to make commuting by rail more attractive. Commuters from Orange, for instance, will be able to get only the 6:30 a.m. train to Los Angeles and the train that returns to Orange at 6:30 p.m. That's it. Miss the train and they will have to find another way to make the journey. At stops like Fullerton and Anaheim, Amtrak trains are available as well, but they will not serve Orange because of federal bans on too many stops too close together.
The OCTA trains are comfortable, clean and a good alternative to sitting in traffic, frazzling the nerves, polluting the air and going nowhere for long spans of time. At $15 for an Orange-Los Angeles round trip, or $182 for a monthly pass, they're priced competitively with commute by auto, counting in gas, insurance and depreciation. OCTA was smart to add the Orange stop; now it must ensure that more trains ride the rails.